The greatest part about living in the United States is that we have the opportunity to believe what we want and are able to speak our minds on those beliefs. That doesn’t make those beliefs right. It just makes them our beliefs. I recently read two articles written by the same person on why Millennials are getting fired at work and why Millennials aren’t getting promoted.
After a couple days of digesting them, I was still so unbelievably insulted I had to write. Being a Millennial myself, I am sick of all the misrepresentations about my generation. We aren’t little kids anymore. We aren’t in little league waiting for our participation trophy (which you bought, by the way). We make up the largest percentage in the workforce today. That isn’t going away anytime soon. You can’t buy our loyalty with iPads, ping pong tables, and flextime. We were born in the land of technology, which isn’t our fault. Like any other generation, we got by with the resources that were available to us.
Like members of any generation, there are distinct differences that made us who we are based on the experiences we encountered. Solutions 21 Founder and President Buddy Hobart wrote the book, “Gen Y Now: Millennials and the Evolution of Leadership.” In it, he discusses the myths that Ms. O’Donnell — and frankly a large part of the workforce — believe to be true. I strongly disagree with her stance and have always been told to stand up for what I believe in. If this is the type of attitude we have toward our future leaders, I am disappointed at our current leadership.
Ms. O’Donnell used the data from a survey in one of her two articles. An issue I have with surveys is that you don’t know the exact questions that were asked to gather this data. More often than not, they are slanted to drive the answers that are desirable.
To be clear, I am a 32-year-old former professional athlete who is just starting his business career. Neither any of my peers nor I display any of these biases that she is talking about. I would never work for someone who had this bias and self-serving attitude. I believe strongly in the same principles that my Baby Boomer parents taught me: Hard work, morals, loyalty, and ethics. I worked hard and earned everything that I have. More importantly, I have been fortunate enough along the way to have instrumental people in my life to direct my personal and professional development. Reading this upset me, and I am embarrassed for her.
Let’s channel this anger into a rebuttal, shall we?
Point: Employers don’t want to be your parents!
Counterpoint: Millennials do not want their employer to be their parents!
We are just fine with our parents. We don’t need or want a second set. We do, however, want to be developed and engaged, not pushed to the side like we should just be happy to be here. As a parent myself, my priorities are to teach my children lessons about life and help formulate, shape, and guide their morals and beliefs. What we are looking for from our boss is to help us get better at our job! We are looking to you for professional development and mentoring opportunities. Her suggestion that we should pay for that training is borderline comical. I asked a couple of my Baby Boomer clients when they were rookies in their career if their bosses ever asked them to pay for training. The answer was a resounding no. Millennials are graduating with some of the highest post-secondary education debt ever. Not to mention that we are coming into a workforce with some of the most stagnant wages in nearly a century. If small- to medium-size companies can’t afford to develop their employees, they are going to be in trouble. Ask any business owner what the most expensive piece of their profit and loss is. It’s unarguably their people. Failing to develop the future of your company is a huge mistake. Remember that it is only an expense if you don’t realize a return on your investment. Choosing the right solution to developing these folks is key. Cookie-cutter programs are expensive and don’t work! In “Gen Y Now,” Hobart writes that any company can attract top talent — not just the Fortune 500 companies — because Millennials want more than a paycheck. We feel like this is an opportunity for smaller companies to create a competitive advantage by developing them.
Ms. O’Donnell’s point about online resources is off base. Yes, there are plenty of resources out there, but why would you rely on something like online resources for something as instrumental as development? Assuming there is a one-size-fits-all answer that will cover the unique skills that companies require is ridiculous. As Millennials, we understand that you can’t Google wisdom! We grew up with the Internet and are quite aware of all its amazing abilities. Unfortunately, there isn’t a search engine in the world that can give us that. That’s why we are looking to you! LeBron James, arguably the best basketball player on the planet, still has a shooting coach.
Point: Employees are fed up with the anti-work attitude
Counterpoint: Millennials want to work hard
I wholeheartedly agree. If I owned a company I wouldn’t want anyone working for me that didn’t want to work hard or didn’t believe in our company. But this is where I stop agreeing. This concept that Millennials want a “party” environment is ridiculous. My peers surely don’t want that. What we do want is to work in an environment in which we are being challenged and stimulated and developed. Sure — who wouldn’t like a cappuccino maker in the cafeteria or a ping-pong table in the break room? Keep in mind we are the same generation that saw our parents struggle through two recessions. Seeing our parents and grandparents get laid off after 20 years of service to a company, given a cheap gold watch, and kicked out the door had an impact on us. Or even worse — work 30 years for a company in a job that they hated and were miserable because there weren’t any other opportunities. Yes, I get it, they did it for their family or a paycheck and we are forever indebted for that. But why do we have to do the same? Is it not the goal of older generations to make things better for younger generations? Most importantly, of the 28,000 bosses surveyed, if they hired Millennials or any employee and then had an issue with them being on time or being disrespectful, that falls squarely on the leadership. One of three things went wrong:
1) There were no expectations set, and if they were set they weren’t enforced.
2) The manager/supervisor stinks.
3) It was a bad hire.
All of these fall squarely on the leadership of that company.
The article mentions that simply being on time will make up for their lack of skills. Earning trust by just showing up is not enough. Don’t mistake presence for performance. What will make up for the lack of skills is intentional coaching and development. What will earn trust is performing and executing meaningful tasks. She also makes a comment in another article about Millennials being “clock-punchers.” In our research, we have found that Millennials will actually work 1.5 hours longer per day than any other generation, just not traditional hours. If we are expected to work a 9-5 job and we pull a hamstring running out the door, we may be going to pick our kid up from school, or head to the gym or maybe to a charity event. We also will crack open our laptop at 11 p.m. to finish a project without skipping a beat. We understand that there is not a work life and a personal life. To us, there is just life and the way we spend it doesn’t need to be the same as others. For Ms. O’Donnell to suggest that staying an extra 15 minutes will help solidify our work ethic is ludicrous. This is like bribing your kids with candy to eat their dinner. You mean to tell me that if I stay 15 minutes longer at work my boss will look at me differently? No. If you are getting better at your job, you are contributing to the team and meeting your company’s expectations. That will make your boss look at you in a better light and help gain his trust.
Point: Keeping Millennials happy isn’t the boss’ job
Counterpoint: A flashy office doesn’t make up for a miserable environment
I absolutely agree. Being happy is a personal choice. The last time I checked, people are unhappy at work all the time, regardless of age. There are plenty of things employees are unhappy about — not just Millennials. This stereotyping and old-school mindset does not work. In the article, she says that companies put money into nice, updated work spaces and amenities to attract Millennials — and it’s backfiring on companies. News flash: It’s not backfiring solely because of the Millennials. People quit people, not companies. The perks are great. Who wouldn’t love some of these things? But these amenities only attract employees. Great leadership retains employees. Attracting Millennials is the easy part. Keeping them is the challenging part.
I understand how difficult it must be to be a boss. But it’s really simple to stand on your perch from an authoritative position and have all the answers. It sounds good in theory and even feels good to say, but in our research this method isn’t effective with this cohort. Millennials are the future of work, and instead of demonizing them, why don’t we do what all good leaders do? Adapt your leadership to your followership to meet the times and create a competitive advantage for your company, instead of listening to the outdated noise that does not produce results!