Who are these people called the Millenials?

A robot woman head with internal technology

“The best crisis to manage is the one you prevent,” Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong speaking to the National Association of Environmental Professionals

You are hiring, like it or not, many members of the Millennial generation (The M-Generation). Most likely you are either a “Baby Boomer” or a “GenXer” doing the hiring. You are thinking that these people must not have grown up in the same world that you did. You think to yourself, we may have a crisis developing, and you have no idea why. You would be right in both assumptions.

Although some of what you read here will seem negative, try to maintain an open-mind. This description of the M-Generation is intended to be helpful and will show you how research and understanding is evolving to help us all better understand this generation.

Dealing with the M-Generation will be challenging, yet successful employers recognize the importance of learning as much about this generation as possible. Like it or not, they will be reshaping our world because by 2020 they will be 60% of our work force.

The basis of this series of six articles comes from the research, including “The M- Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace” by Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman (Harper Collins, 2010) and from the Internet site PWC’s report Millennials in the Work Place – Reshaping the World. We also have integrated the work from other consultants who specialize in the M-Generation and work with them daily.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if you get better informed about the M-Generation, you can prevent a major crisis from developing, or at the least, better understand how to deal with the crisis when it does. The idea is to understand and utilize the particular talents of the M-Generation because you will be hiring and/or working with people who have unique characteristics and challenging behaviors for years to come.

As a behavioral psychologist, I am fascinated by people’s behaviors and their responses to behaviors. The behaviors I see being exhibited by the M-Generation and the responses from the Baby Boomers and Gen X folks provide an extra dose of fascination.

Millennials are anyone of the 76 million young people who were born between 1982 and 2000. They are entering the work force at a rapid pace, and they are being hired by managers between the ages of 40 and 65 (the “Baby- Boomers” and “GenXers”). The hiring managers are somewhat bewildered by the people they are hiring, as well as learning that transitioning this generation into the work environment is rarely without issue and can be crisis inducing.

Why are there such generational differences between these three groups? Let’s look at the differences in the M-Generation’s cultural and historical memories. Just as World War II was only a textbook to those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 70s, the Vietnam War was is only a textbook memory to the M-Generation.

In our generation, we were just beginning to enjoy the benefits of such advanced technology as pocket transistor radios; the M-Generation is technologically savvy beyond any of our wildest expectations. Just stop and ask yourself, whom did you call to program your VCR just a few years ago?

I would suggest that there are three significant questions we must answer and understand to work with the M-generation:

  • How do they see their world and how do they process the information they see?
  • How do they expect and choose to operate in the world of work and why?
  • What do they expect to receive from their work and what do they perceive as rewards?

Research, surveys and analyses by many people more experienced than I am suggest that the good news is there are answers to some of these questions. The bad news is that many of our generation can’t relate to those answers and the M-Generation perspectives.

Some key findings to be sensitive to when dealing with the M-Generation:

  • They will share information of all types and of depth across many different platforms and with many different people – discretion is not part of their typical vocabulary;
  • They require – read – must have – personalized attention;
  • They must be always winning and be recognized for even coming to work on time;
  • They use a variety of social media and social networking, unlike any generation previously, and their knowledge and use of this technology can be impactful to an organization, as well as society at large;
  • They are talented in certain areas of endeavors and less so in others;
  • They are critical and don’t hesitate to voice their views and opinions.

Seniority and your feelings are irrelevant to many of the M-Generation. For example, they may understand how to use Microsoft Power Point, yet invariably would explain to you how to use Apple iPhoto to get better results on the presentation that you spent hours on developing.

They have trouble dealing with lines of authority, and command positions are simply irrelevant to many of them. In fact, they would without hesitation go straight to a CEO and argue their case against a change in the organization’s protocols without your knowledge.

And their parents, well, they also can be an issue. Fathers and mothers (think “Helicopter” parents) of the M-Generation have been known to reprimand employers at social engagements over incidents their children just mentioned in passing to them.

Now, having laid this foundation, allow me to caveat it by saying not all M-Generation people are of this ilk.  However, research and experience show these generalizations are not that far from the reality of their behaviors in the work place. So then, how do we deal with the M-Generation at work?

As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore!

Next: Part 2 – How do we deal with the M-Generation in our work place?

 

Sources: The M- Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace” by Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman (Harper Collins, 2010)

 

PWC.Com – Millenials in the Work Place – Reshaping the World https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/managing-tomorrows-people/future-of-work/assets/reshaping-the-workplace.pdf

 

Part 3 – The Greatest Complaint – The Millennial Sense of Entitlement

Cheerful guy sitting in front of desktop computer

 “Yes, I am entitled to apply for a vice president’s job. I was a community organizer for two years and have been here a year already”!

What is the singular greatest complaint leveled against Millennials?

Many employers would say that this generation sees each new undertaking with a “sense of entitlement” that is entirely out of proportion to their age and experience. After all, as the M-generation sees it, shouldn’t they at least be allowed to apply for a vice presidency of the company where they have worked for one year? After all, a community organizer can become president.

They are not taking into consideration that this president had a law degree and was a law professor for 12 years before he was a three time State Senator, and a U.S. Senator for two years  before he ran for the office.

Simply, from childhood the M-Generation has developed a reputation for “being overconfident and spoiled”. They expect praise (even coming to work on time to them is an important recognition) long before they have earned it. Also, remember they probably have no understanding or appreciation for the reporting and accountability hierarchy in an organization.

As the authors of “The M-Factor” say, “This generation shows signs of being far too impressed with their own value and importance”.

Now, before you beat me with the proverbial wet noodle of indignation, I acknowledge this trait is tempered by individual personalities. While one Millennial may exude “cockiness and arrogance” that turns off even his/her peers, another one is a model of humility.

Authors do say that anecdotal evidence, along with the general trends, suggests that at some point you will shake your head in disbelief at the unreasonable expectations you have just discovered in your new employee.   Despite their intelligence and competency in many areas, the Millennial has a lot to learn.  But, in a different time in a different way, didn’t we all?

Let’s examine a few generalized expectations you may encounter so you will be prepared:

Millennials may expect to advance quickly. Once they have mastered their current responsibilities, they want to be promoted to higher positions or greater responsibility NOW.

They often have a very low tolerance for the mundane work that usually falls to the lowest rung of the workplace ladder. They don’t understand the concept of seniority, and to them that is an anathema of their value system. They value capability over experience and believe that a fresh, young perspective is always more valuable than the tried and true methods of the “old gray heads”.

The ideas of “doing your time” within a role and job and “paying your dues” just do not make sense to them and are at odds with their expectations.  The kind of work and status that M-Generation new hires are likely to encounter in any job may not be to their liking.

Many employers, when they encounter the M-Generation employee’s high expectations and impatience with their low status, are tempted to conclude that he/she is just plain “spoiled rotten”.

As a path to understanding, let’s consider how we acted out our own social norms of the 1960s and 70s and were complacent to “climb the ladder” appropriately by gaining experience and education.  The M-Generation new hire and his peers are simply acting out the social norms and experiences and examples that have thus far shaped their lives.

Many behavioral psychologist and sociologists have concluded that one prevailing norm for the Millennial has been the constant availability of choice. Simply, in all aspects of life, at home, at school, in extra-curricular activities and even the marketplace, they often could choose their experiences. Everything from what playlists they might load to their I-pod to what reading list they preferred in high school or college was a personal choice. For them, their world has been easily customizable.  It is going to be a shock to some of them to find out that life is not always that way.

In my mind, members of this generation can be overly-sensitive. This can certainly be a factor in their  employment lives. For example, there were college students who were appalled at “chalk drawings of presidential candidates” on the sidewalks. Few employers are expecting or prepared to deal with an employee reduced to crying over inanimate objects and even fewer are going to provide “safe spaces”, cookies and hot chocolate when something upsets one of their new hires.

Let’s remember that many of the parents of the M-Generation believed and practiced that praise and self-esteem were the first priorities in parenting and teaching realms. The child learns that if you play on the little league baseball team, you get a trophy for showing up. Turn in your homework, and get a gold star for turning something in with your name on it regardless of the content.

While effort is important and trying your best is important, life, and certainly the business world, does not necessarily hand out trophies for these worthy attributes.

Millennials often hear “You can accomplish whatever you want in life” hundreds of times by the times they are adults The flip side of that coin is that hard work, perseverance and some luck are usually the prerequisites.  And, even with all that in place, there is still no guarantee.  Millennials may have a hard time grasping this.

Granted it will be difficult to alter the high expectations about choice, and the need for quick and constant affirmation, of the typical Millennial.   Many employers may see it as impossible!  But fear not – there are ways to approach your new hire’s expectations that will minimize conflict and frustration while utilizing their potential.

Next: Part 4 – Minimizing conflict and crisis when dealing with a Millennial

Sources: The M- Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace” by Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman (Harper Collins, 2010)

PWC.Com – Millennials in the Work Place – Reshaping the World https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/managing-tomorrows-people/future-of-work/assets/reshaping-the-workplace.pdf