Last night I was at a social function and found myself standing with a group of adults in their late 50’s. Eventually the conversation turned to me and what I did for a living. When I explained that I work with millennials, I was faced with a barrage of questions.
‘What’s wrong with that generation?’
‘Why are their expectations so high?’
‘Don’t they have it a little too easy?’
I was somewhat aware of the angst directed at millennials but more often than not it was an unspoken undercurrent with throw away comments like, ‘What do they have to be so depressed about? They have everything.’
Thankfully the party guests were very open to my thoughts on the subject and after I shed some light on the mind of a millennial they appeared to have an ‘ah-ha’ moment. This got me to thinking that much of this lack of understanding is simply a communication issue. Two generations trying to co-exist in the workplace or home without understanding how the other one thinks.
So I thought I would address three common complaints against millennials to help bridge the communication gap.
Complaint One: They have no loyalty
The definition of loyalty to a millennial is different to what previous generations meant by loyalty. It’s not uncommon for our parents to have been in the same job for 10, 20 or 30 years. The organisation looked after them, and in return they stayed for the long haul. This was considered loyalty.
Today, loyalty is not the same as it was back then. Organisations no longer offer the same security they once did, and the statement 'I was made redundant' is increasingly common. This has changed millennials' definition of loyalty. No longer do we expect (or desire) an organisation to provide a position for us for the next fifty years.
Instead, loyalty is shown by pouring our heart and soul into a project because you want to see the project or organisation succeed. You won’t mind putting in a few extra hours because you genuinely care about the outcome you are creating.
This is what loyalty means today and if you can get it from a millennial than it’s worth its weight in gold.
So how do you get the loyalty of a millennial?
Loyalty to an organisation used to be easy. Just give a staff member a desk, a task and a paycheck and you could pretty much guarantee they would keep coming back every day. Today things are not so straightforward.
Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review revealed that millennials are more interested in opportunities for growth and the quality of management rather than opportunity for advancement and overall compensation. See table below.
So if you want to gain the loyalty of a millennial you must have a vested interest in their personal and professional development (for millennials these are one and the same thing). A good manager does more than track inventory or keep the bottom line balanced. They connect with their team and have a genuine interest in the individual's work and professional development. Millennials appreciate being asked what they need to grow in their role, how they can be stretched, what skills they want to develop. Knowing that their organisation genuinely cares about them and their work productivity will increase job satisfaction and gain their die-hard dedication and loyalty.
Complaint Two: They are afraid of hard work
I often hear the older generations say, ‘What’s wrong with young people today? It’s like they are afraid of hard work.’ From my experience at school, university and the workforce, millennials work their arse off. They also work faster and more efficiently than a lot of other people in the workplace. So why do they have a reputation for being... ahem…. lazy?
This accusation is often related to the workplace, with managers describing their millennial staff as being disengaged, disinterested, and putting in the bare minimum required to get the job done.
I can’t deny that this is perhaps true for some millennials in the workforce. However, it’s not because millennials are afraid of hard work. As we looked at earlier, millennials want opportunities for growth in the workplace - they want to be stretched and challenged in their role. They are not afraid of hard work - they want to be pushed to achieve goals and outcomes, perhaps more so than any generation before.
In previous generations, when your boss asked you to do a task, you did it, no questions asked. Today millennials ask ‘why?’ Not because they are arrogant or insubordinate but because they need to know how it fits into the bigger picture. They are driven by purpose and meaning, and therefore want to know how their role contributes to the greater good of the project or organisation.
Just saying, ‘Because I said so’, or implying it by not taking the time to explain why a task is important will not fly well for a millennial. Too often despondency is misinterpreted as laziness, when they are very, in fact, very different problems and need to be addressed very differently in the workplace. Taking the time to explain the WHY will go a long way with millennials.
Complaint Three: Their expectations are too high
I hear this ALL THE TIME! When a millennial quits their job because they don’t like it, or drops out of uni because they don’t ‘feel like it’s for them’, parents roll their eyes and say, ‘You just need to suck it up and get on with it’. This was the mantra of our parents' generation - the firm belief to put in the hard yards now to guarantee financial security (aka happiness) down the track - then it will all be worth it.
Millennials grew up in an era of affluence (generally speaking). We don’t know what it’s like to go to bed hungry, to walk to school with no shoes or to freeze in winter because your younger sibling now has your jacket. It therefore makes sense that we are not driven by wealth or material possessions in the same way as our parents were. Yes, we like to be comfortable financially, but not at the expense of our happiness. If we are not gaining a sense of satisfaction or meaning from our job or uni course we have no hesitation in moving on to greener pastures.
I see parents pulling their hair out over the million and one career paths or life directions their children make. They don’t understand the continual chopping and changing and come to the conclusion that ‘Your expectations are too high. Just pick a job and be happy with it.' For millennials, life is not that simple. Believe me, we wish it were. But when you’re looking for more than a paycheck, when you’re looking for a career, a relationship, a life that brings you meaning and purpose, well sometimes that takes a couple of u-turns and changes of direction to work out.
It’s not that our expectations are too high. It’s that we are looking for something that previous generations didn’t have the luxury of paying much attention to. It’s not that we are spoilt or ungrateful or that we are living with our head in the clouds. It’s that we are trying to find what it is that makes us tick, what brings us joy and meaning so that we can be the best versions of ourselves to the world. It’s not self-centered or self-absorbed. It’s the journey we are undertaking of making sense of the world and the part we play in it.
So don’t be discouraged if you are 28 years old and on your fifth career change. And parents, don’t fret if your child still doesn’t know what they want to do. They are navigating new territory that no generation before them has had to encounter. Their motivations, desires and dreams are different to yours and the best thing you can be for them is a listening, non-judgemental ear.
I would love to hear some feedback from both millennials and parents of millennials. If this is you, please shoot me an email with your thoughts.
Have a great day!