September 12, 2017

The Millennial myth: Younger generations are not harder to manage

Millennial on subway.jpg

“Entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, lazy.”

Millennials: who’d have them?

Simon Sinek’s video (below) on the post-1980 generation shot to viral fame after being uploaded to YouTube in 2016. But Sinek was not the first to lament the shortage of skills and awkward expectations of the so-called ‘Generation Y’. Others are less eloquent and more scathing, citing mid-20s employees as the most demanding to manage in the workplace; as whiners and job-hoppers; as poor at timekeeping, with a sense of entitlement that leaves them unable to work up the ranks as older generations did.



Even Millennials themselves rate their peers poorly, with 59% of 18-34-year-olds regarding their generation as self-absorbed and only 24% viewing themselves as responsible adults.

Viewed another way, however, younger employees’ differences – if they actually exist – are their biggest asset to a business. So how should leaders approach and manage career starters' skills and talent? And what if there’s Millennial in all of us?

What do Millennials want?

Not beanbags, cereal and stocks of avocado on toast. Instead, younger workers seek fairness, fun and flexibility in their working life, where productivity is measured by output and not the number of hours spent in an office. That’s the message from Deloitte’s 2017 international Millennial report.

Employees in their 20s seek plain-speaking, passionate leadership, but not at the expense of team unity and not if this means radical change, says the report. They view businesses as having valuable potential to do social good and seek opportunities to take part in ‘good causes’ through their workplace. And younger employees seek to build strong social relationships at work, having blurred the lines between home life and work life through their constant connectedness. 88% want a fun and sociable workplace; 71% want their colleagues to function as a ‘second family’.

Most challenging for established businesses is the fact that presenteeism is less important to younger generations, who view digital technology as having removed the need to be in the room to be in work.

Flexible working options and being trusted to work elsewhere are now preferable to work environments bound by strict holiday and home-working rules. This is not to say that full-time work is anathema to younger staff. While Millennials have previously been considered disloyal to their employers, Deloitte reports that global political tension and the threat of job automation have made younger employees more willing to stay in their current role – favoring the guarantees offered by full-time employment over freelance insecurity.

Are they really that different?

Younger employees’ expectations are therefore not unreasonable or too different from those of older staff. Where differences do exist, they can be explained by technology. Flexible hours and home-working are typically written off as evidence of being workshy. But where is the necessity to stay in the office late into the night, or face long commutes, or put up with uninspiring work environments if our homes are more comfortable and technology has made work truly mobile?

Digital technology – and younger employees’ nativism with it – has thrown many of the unquestioned demands made by business into the spotlight. Aspects of young people’s behaviour that irritate older staff are rooted in Millennials not seeing a need to do what senior employees have spent decades doing.

Take Millennials’ entrepreneurialism. 67% of younger people say they want to found their own business. Technology has made it possible to build teams with few overheads anywhere in the world. In this way, setting up shop with a laptop and an idea is a manifestation of our collective desire not to be micro-managed by others. Entrepreneurialism is employee independence, writ large.

Arguably, the stories behind the likes of Facebook and Instagram have misled younger generations of employees into believing that working life can – and should – be a get-rich-quick story, with no need to spend time learning a craft over years. Educating new staff on the need for persistence and focus is essential – but a leader’s success in making the lesson stick will depend on their approach. Rather than being aggravated by junior staff’s reluctance to involve themselves in repetitive tasks, continue to offer these opportunities; explain why this is necessary in the context of learning skills for their work and career as a whole.

At regular intervals, leaders working with younger staff should ask themselves the same question: if digital technology had enabled virtually all other aspects of your life, would you be happy to perform the task you’re asking of your youngest team members?

Now, ignore all of that., because Millennials aren’t actually real...

Do they even exist?

Questioning what is meant by the ‘Millennial’ tag itself is equally important.

Digital technology has shifted virtually all aspects of our life, regardless of our age. 74% of US consumers aged 50-64 years own a smartphone; 52% of US Facebook users are aged over 35 years. So-called ‘Millennial’ behaviours are not confined the generation born between 1980 and 2000. And assumptions based on age alone are unhelpful and unrealistic. A 35-year-old has very different expectations to that of a 17-year-old. Yet in the classic definition of the term, both are ‘Millennials’.

Managers should regard the term ‘Millennial’ less as an age-group, and more as a mindset which expects life and work to be made easier by technology. Doing so can help businesses deal with, and even benefit from, the changes in staff behaviour enabled by tech.

Wouldn’t older staff also benefit from flexible and home working? Would less time spent by staff in the office increase their happiness and productivity inside and outside it? Evidence on the subject of flexible working alone is conclusive: 70% of workers are more attracted to job vacancies offering flexible working; almost one-third of employees of all ages would choose flexible working over a pay rise.

Done right, embracing a Millennial mindset can mean doing better business.

You might be a Millennial, too

Managers must stop building barriers against younger staff with false generalisations and ‘Millennial’ monikers. Instead, younger employees should be treated as their older colleagues: with respect, as individuals, with leaders taking the time to understand their needs and accept them as different to their own.

That is if their needs are different to older employees. When managers learn to embrace ‘Millennialism’ as a mindset – and not an age-group – interesting, valuable things happen. Digital-first thinking is an asset to your business. Encourage those with it – whatever their age.

Vistage peer groups help well established and new business leaders face the challenges of modern leadership. See how we helped Multiplay's Craig Fletcher in our recent case study.

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