Discussion about the “Millennials at Work” has become an obsession within our culture. This could be a casual talk at the coffee shop, at your water cooler, or in elaborate articles from well respected news outlets. Where ever you go, there is so much chatter, but so little clarity. So my goal is to end the chatter right now. Here’s how:
The Five Truths about Millennials:
- Millennials are young. (And they’ll probably act that way.)
- Millennials are not loyal to your company. (Because nobody is.)
- Millennials want purpose. (Don’t we all?)
- Millennials are distracted by social media. (But in different ways than you think.)
- Millennials are in debt. (Yup. Student loans like never before.)
If you are a senior leader at your organization, know that any discussion about Millennials presents a rare teachable moment for your organization. It would be a shame to miss this opportunity to move your organization forward. Do it right!
Truth #1: Millennials are Young and They’ll Probably Act that Way
Let’s start with the obvious, because like so many things, it’s often what’s right in front of us that is the hardest to see. Millennials are the youngest staffers in your building.
Nobody should be surprised when you find that a young staffer acts young. At their worst, young staffers are immature, naive, and irresponsible. At their best, young staffers are ambitious, idealistic, and unrealistic. These traits, bad and good, are traits not of this generation, but of every young generation. It’s not a Millennial thing, it’s a youth thing.
Conversely, nobody should be surprised when a senior staffer acts old. At their worst, senior staffers are stubborn, pessimistic, and resistant to new ideas. At their best, senior staffers are wise, informed, and responsible. These traits, bad and good, tend to be shared by each generation after decades in adulthood. It’s very possible that Millennials, 40 years from now, will look like this too.
What To Do
Create an environment that embraces the best traits of a young and old generation, and at the same time has zero tolerance for anything else. Be decisive and clear, and the people you lead will learn quickly what you expect from them.
Know that your example will be repeated by other leaders too. When the upper management gets together, don’t slip into a gripe fest about how Millennials are entitled or lazy or whatever. Also, don’t slip and gripe about how the senior staffers are too slow to figure things out. Treat everyone on your staff with respect and dignity, whether they are young or old.
Truth #2: Millennials are Not Loyal to Your Company
It’s been well documented that Millennials are ready and willing to leave your company for a better job. (Read a recent Gallup poll.) There are two primary reasons for this, both of which have to be properly understood.
Reason 1: Many Millennials came of age during the Financial Crisis.
Recent college graduates spent their middle- and high school years watching the fallout of the housing collapse, the stock market hitting historic lows, and the banking industry crumbling. Many Millennials watch their families struggle desperately when their parents lose their jobs. Now, these same children are all grown up, and they’re getting hired.
Hopefully, this new generation will be thankful for meaningful employment, but I cannot imagine that they’ll ever stick around for the sake of being “loyal to a company.” Loyalty didn’t work for their parents, why would it work for them?
Reason 2: It’s not in their best interest to stick around for a lame job.
If you have trouble keeping Millennials on your staff, pay attention. Whatever you do, don’t explain away this is as “not being loyal.” That’s a story told by fools.
Know that the reason some Millennials will leave your company is not unlike the reasons why some people stay at your company: it’s in their best interest. Sometimes the people who’ve been in your building the longest are not there because of loyalty, but because it’s too hard for them to leave. So instead they stay. It’s in their best interest. That’s okay, but don’t confuse this as loyalty.
What To Do:
Your obligation as a leader is to create a culture that attracts and keeps the most capable, talented, and effective staff. If you find that your most capable young employees are leaving for other companies, then you have a serious problem that has to be dealt with. What’s broken with your culture? Be humble and willing to upgrade your culture.
Truth #3: Millennials Want Purpose
Research shows that Millennials are the least engaged at work when compared to other generations in the same building. They want a higher purpose, something beyond sitting at a desk and attending meetings.
It’s not productive to compare the unengaged Millennials on your staff with the engaged Gen Xers on your staff. You’re just wasting time and creating unnecessary tensions.
Instead, recognize the beauty of youth. Young people have hopes and dreams. They want to know that they’re making a difference in the world. Ultimately, young workers (like all of us), want to believe that their lives matter. And the work that they do isn’t just for the paycheck, but because it is making a difference.
How can this be a bad thing? The only way this goes wrong is when you ignore their desire for purpose.
What To Do:
You don’t have to cure diseases every day to qualify as a workplace that is meaningful. Having strong relationships at work brings meaning. Having a kind mentor brings tremendous meaning. Doing excellent work brings meaning.
Here’s the good news. The same thing that excites the youngest members of your staff will also excite the rest of the building. Do it.
Truth #4: Millennials are Distracted by Social Media / Technology
Millennials are our first Digital Natives. They do not remember a world before social media, smartphones, and the Internet. This is in the cultural groundwater of this new generation.
There are outrageous examples of this. Some of my favorites are when a young staffer disses his boss on Twitter. Or when that one girl couldn’t resist taking selfies around town when she was supposed to be at work.
It’s not just that Millennials can do dumb things with social media. It’s not even that they have trouble staying focused on the tasks of their job because their favorite social stream is one click away.
The more real impact of social media is much more complicated. Millennials can benchmark their success in every possible direction. They can compare themselves to others through followers, fans, likes, hearts, and views.
Think about it. It used to be that you didn’t know how your friends were doing with their lives and careers until the 10- or 20- year high school reunion. That’s it! Today, we learn within seconds when someone gets a new job, a raise, a cool perk… So it’s more difficult for young staffers to feel satisfied with their job because everyone’s always bragging about how they have a cooler job.
What To Do:
Constant comparison. There’s no easy answer here. As a leader, you just have to adapt to a new world.
Truth #5: Millennials are in Debt
The cost of education has skyrocketed in the last 15 years. The reasons for the cost increase are many, but knowing how we got here doesn’t change the fact that we are here today.
Almost every Millennial that you hire will be shouldering a massive student debt, over $30,000 on average (CNN Money). It’s not uncommon to hear about students who leave with student debt topping $50,000. If you hire someone with a master’s degree, you can double that to $100,000+ in debt.
How would you feel as a 22 year old realizing that it’s time to start paying out $750 / month for your student loans? This is the heaviest bill every month, and it will stay with them for decades.
The burden of this debt cannot be dismissed.
As an employer, it’s not your job to solve the student debt problem by overpaying the youngest members of your staff because they bring with them greater student debt. However, it’s reckless to ignore this reality.
What To Do:
I think it would be interesting if more companies started to offer within their compensation package a chunk of money for student loans. I know that for decades, the companies sweetened their compensation packages by offering an allowance for a new car. Of course, the company never bought the car, but they reworked the numbers so that you got your salary, health benefits, and $500 a month to lease that BMW.
Why can’t more companies today use this old idea for a better purpose? Could you imagine how elated a college grad will be when you offer them $500 towards their student loans each month? There are two wins here: your company shows that you understand, and it also suggests to your new hires that taking care of student debt should be high on their list of priorities every time they get paid.
Summary. So really, any discussion about Millennials is a plea for understanding. We all want to be understood, and we all need a little help to understand others. Compassion goes a long way in the workplace.