Embracing The Millennial Opportunity

August 15, 2013

Written in 2009, this post is more relevant today than ever.  Engaging Millennials is fast becoming a talked about concern among executives and middle managers alike.  Check it out to get some more insight into this ‘AND’ generation.

By Michael Tatham Jr, President, The Tatham Group

Are Millennials lazy or just searching for an environment to thrive in?

The late 1990’s introduced an environment that expected more of Millennials, the group that falls into the approximate birth timeline of 1980-1999. This was a time when technology and more specifically the Dot Com phenomenon began. According to Wikipedia: “They needed to be faster and more efficient (with the advent of better technology), smarter (increase in college enrollment), and available (40-60 hour work weeks) than Boomers and Gen X. Therefore some of the defining characteristics of Millennials are tech-savviness, family-centric, achievement-oriented, team-oriented and attention-craving”. Being a Millennial myself, I won’t argue with the tech-savviness, having grown up with computers and watched the evolution of the world-wide-web, digital media and some of the fastest hand-held mobile devices on the planet. The other attributes describing my generation sound about right as well.

However, there is also another and quite different view of what Millennials represent – a bunch of entitled kids with their hands out, who’re not interested in working hard. They expect equality in the workplace from day one and believe that one must work to live rather than live to work.  Is this entitlement or is it laziness? Or have we figured this ‘life thing’ out?  We have only one life, after all; and in order to enjoy it, it must be balanced.

Why can’t we work for companies that support our family-centric, team-oriented needs while optimizing our achievement-oriented and tech-savvy natures?  Mainly because very few companies have figured out how to encourage, motivate and attract this generation of freethinkers. We’ve heard a million times that it’s the leaders who shape the culture of an organization.  With most leaders coming from the Boomers and Gen Xers class, creating a corporate culture that frees Millennial innovation and creativity is a giant leap forward.  From a quick poll of the many young professionals I know, it’s not really happening.  Consequently, we move around – jobs and industries – a lot. This is what likely leads to our flaky reputation.

Ask those 20 something’s why they left their last job or what they dislike the most about their current one.  You might hear that they hate being told:

–       “Sorry Joe the reason you have not gotten that raise, even though you may be outperforming your colleagues, is because you haven’t been here long enough”

–       “I’m sorry, Sarah, but you are going to have to work over the weekend to redo that presentation based on the committee’s feedback.  Also need a few reports from last quarter put together.”

–       “Hey John, I know when I first hired you I sold you on doing x because you love it, unfortunately we need you to do y because of our lack of resources currently”.

The question that must be asked is how are Millennials being measured? We have a different attitude, style and outlook on life.  Many of the measures of a good and loyal employee in the days of the Boomers no longer apply. For example, advancement should not be based on seniority, but performance, teamwork and innovation. Work should not be the only focus in a person’s life; and why not love what you do everyday?  We ask ourselves why many of those old measures are still practiced. Expectations are changing with the times, and some of the companies that have been around for a considerable time need to rethink about how to create a fun and relaxed, yet disciplined environment; one that questions the reasons why things are done a certain way. In order to attract and mobilize the best and brightest in future generations, companies need leaders who are willing to challenge the status quo. Millennials are the catalyst for changing the way businesses operate to be competitive in the future.

How do you fix this culture problem? Our generation’s needs are easy to see yet difficult to meet.  You need to change the way you do business, letting us be an integral part of the change. As you get started on your journey into the future – if you don’t start it will be started for you – here are some things about us you should know:

1.     We want the company we work for to be successful and we would like to be a big part of what made it that way. Cost reduction may be an important part of that however when we need approvals to purchase pens and paper where are we going to write down our brilliant ideas for revenue growth? You can’t cost cut your way to prosperity.

2.     Don’t hire someone to tell us what to do – We’re smart enough to figure it out. All right, you can teach us how to figure things out but it better be interactive and fun.

3.     We move as fast as the technology we grew up with. You’d better figure out how to keep up or we’ll move on to greener pastures, or faster servers.

4.     We need to challenge ourselves by doing things the best we can or accomplishing what everyone said we couldn’t. It’s what our parents have been insisting on since our birth and we don’t know how to stop!

5.     Stop making us do all kinds of stupid things so that we can do something worthwhile – like design a new product, make customers feel great…you get the idea.

6.     If you let us set our own pace, we’ll gladly work day and night to get done what needs to be accomplished, as long as we can take a longer holiday later, and provided it’s not one of those stupid things in 5 above.

7.     Whatever it is, tell us.  No news is insignificant enough or too terrible to share. After all, we IM, Facebook and Twitter our most intimate thoughts and mundane actions at ten minute intervals – to friends, customers, colleagues and complete strangers.

8.     Don’t say you hired us for our fresh perspective and capabilities just to tell us we’re too young and inexperienced to know what we’re doing. Our spirit is crushed when we’re asked to do administrative trivia, every day, without an end in sight.

As a business owner and coach to executives, I feel hopeful visiting an environment where the leadership and management understands and supports these needs. Actually, this list of needs is not much different from what everyone wants.  When a company figures out how to create this culture there is no limit to what they can achieve.

Why not break down that bureaucratic structure and build a new one to support the future. Better yet, challenge us to do it, give us the tools and we’ll be more than happy to do it for you. We are overachievers who want to push the limit and discover opportunities. We thrive on being recognized. Let us imagine our way into new opportunities for our customers, our companies and ourselves. Life is too short for us to spend 40-60 hours a week in a place we don’t want to be, doing things we don’t want to be doing. I know I can’t. Can you?


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