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The Millennial Myth

The subject we get asked most to speak about is the perceived ‘problem’ with Millennials. Regular readers know that we have written a couple of articles about this group of individuals that are about to ruin the world but it still appears to be creating a great deal of angst with employers.

Apparently the symptoms look like no work ethic, entitlement issues, no respect for authority, distracted by social media and generally they are likened to zombies in the Day of the Walking Dead.

Our definition for Millennials is an individual born between 1980 and 2000. Make no mistake, this is a significant population – they already form 25% of the workforce in North America and over half the workforce in India. By 2020 Millennials will form 50% of the global workforce. If we have a problem, it is a significant problem.

So are Millennials actually any different from previous generations or is it just hype?

Well certainly some attributes can be explained away by their age and relative lack of responsibilities but their use of technology does indeed set them apart. They have grown up with internet, smartphones, video games and the dreaded social media – they have a far better grasp of technology than the existing workforce that they are due to replace.

However, they also behave a bit differently too with a heavy emphasis on their needs as opposed to the needs of the organization. They tend to be uncomfortable in rigid corporate structures and they expect rapid progression with constant feedback. They are also more likely to jump ship if their needs are not being met. Latest surveys for Millennials suggest that they expect to work for six or seven different companies during their working life. On average 38% of working millennials state that they are currently looking for new opportunities.

Millennials have seen from past generations that corporate loyalty doesn’t necessarily bring rewards or even long term security. Also they struggle to understand why current workers are rewarded for hours worked rather than results achieved and we all see companies where long hours are rewarded (and expected) without any measure of productivity in place.

So they like flexibility, they like to be challenged with meaningful work, they want an appropriate work-life balance and they want to be rewarded and recognized for a job well done. They are tech savvy, agile in their thinking and they consider the world as a global entity with few barriers. They are attracted to companies with brands that they respect and that have values that match their own.

At this point you may see where we are going with this. Isn’t it actually a positive that they think this way? Don’t all the management books speak of nurturing our employees to achieve success? Don’t we constantly speak to the need to change out dated and out moded command and control environments……..?

Most organizations still cling to a rigid model of fixed working time and bricks and mortar which was better suited to the industrial age. Millennials want to work in a way that suits them best and certainly the lines between work and home have been blurred through their appreciation of, and reliance on, technology.

Millennials could be exactly what the doctor ordered for poor management practices, poor leadership capability and the lack of ability or desire for corporations to be adaptive in a global economy. For sure there will be intergenerational tensions for a few more years to come as Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials collide like some kind of primordial soup with conscious and unconscious biases to the fore. The fact is that this is not complicated – the generations are just different and the level of understanding between each needs to improve.

But as leaders this is our job! To find out what makes each individual tick and work with them to ensure their needs are met whilst meeting the needs of the organization.

We say “bring it on”. Let this Millennial generation force us into taking leadership seriously. Let it force us to meet the needs of the employee, to challenge and motivate them, to measure outcomes rather than presentism, to ensure that we provide meaningful work and constant feedback and to utilize their unique talents and capabilities to deliver the agile organization that we need to compete on the global stage…..

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