Caution: You may have to take some bitter medicine too.
Millennials have a reputation for feeling entitled, lacking a plan, and general disengagement from their career. Is it justified? Yes, No – and Maybe.
Yes. This generation is far more programmed than the Xs or the Boomers. Schools, parents, and organized activities have answered the question, “what will I do next” since before they were born. Their wired world has connected them with a global community of peers who all validate their expectations. These people think that a better option is always coming down the road.
No. Student loans. Income inequality. Failing environment. There are plenty of struggling, gritty young people who want little more than half a chance to succeed. What younger workers lack in skills they make for in enthusiasm – and determination. Your job is to find the people who are motivated to succeed within your organization.
Maybe. Exclusive, elite schools are going to produce more than their share of entitled, demanding potential hires. But there are plenty more ambitious, highly focused grads with strong motivations to succeed. It all depends on where you are looking – and what you are looking for.
Entitlement is a two-way street.
Millennials are no picnic, for sure, but what about YOU? Are your expectations realistic? During the last 20 years of staff reduction and cutbacks, many of the middle-management positions that had responsibility for on-the-job training, onboarding, and general supervision have been eliminated. Organizations are flatter – and that puts senior and middle managers in greater contact with newer, less experienced managers.
- Do you expect quiet acquiescence to directives, or are you engaging your younger staff in substantive discussions about tasks and projects?
- What’s the variance between HR assessments of your corporate culture and the real thing? Do your new staffers feel like they were sold a bill of goods?
It’s a Culture Thing
If you feel that younger staffers don’t have the same toughness and determination of previous generations, you will find plenty of older managers who agree with you. But senior managers who work overseas have come back with similar complaints about their overseas teams. Senior managers at home should start approaching Millennials as a separate culture. More special treatment? Yes. (Sorry.) Here’s how to do it:
Treatment for Millennial Entitlement Syndrome:
- Accept the reality. It’s real (at least some of the time), it’s consistent, and it’s stable (not necessarily permanent, but not changing soon). Stop whining about their whining. Deal with your emerging business landscape.
- Plan better. You know that they don’t have the kind of career map that Boomers or X’s had. So you should plot out a career map or two (fairly generic), and make your new Millennial Management Development Programme (ironic spelling for Brooklyn area) one of your bargaining chips during recruitment and hiring. Millennials say they don’t like too much structure – but the reality is that many of these folks have never had anything else.
- Training and Onboarding. Remember those “bloated layers of middle management” that we used to fret about in the pre-gig economy? Well, they were same people doing all of the informal in-house training that senior managers like to talk about. They’re gone, and so is on-the-job training. The cheapest way to manage the culture shift in your office is to develop a bare-boneslist of skills you want your people to command, and then having HR outsource it. A simple onboarding program will go a long way to smoothing the friction with Millennial staff – or at least uncover some of the causes.
- Select the right people. You want grit, determination, and self-starters? That’s not something you’re going to train in to them. You’re better off finding individuals who are already hungry and then training-up their skillset. There are plenty of financially motivated candidates out there – student loan debt sharpens one’s focus. A common complaint is that Millennials have “a sense of entitlement”. It’s not hard to figure out which candidates feel that the universe owes them something. Make it a knockout factor.
- Pay attention. A lot of their gripes are understandable, if not downright sensible. They want to discuss task and project issues to death? In many cases, it makes sense for managers to know how their work integrates with the organization – especially if they are ambitious and want to move up.
- They don’t have a plan? In the old days we called that “career development”. It was a pretty common topic when you were coming up through the ranks, even if you didn’t always see it
- Open communication. They have feelings and opinions and want to express themselves. It’s great for them, and it will be for you too if you can direct this potentially valuable energy towards productive means. Think SWOT analysis or STEP or SMART, at the beginning, and work your way up to more strategic or market-oriented challenges.
- Social good. The only thing worse than caring about your company’s social impact is NOT caring. This is a corporate culture issue. You grew up in a “shareholder” world that was owner-centric. They grew up in a “stakeholder” world where everyone gets a say. If you can’t direct this energy in a productive direction, then you aren’t trying hard enough.
- Over-arching sense of entitlement. Nope, nothing virtuous here at all. Not every young person is saddled with this problem though. Keep looking.