Managing Millennials in the Midst of Hyperbole

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This past week, Shane Ferro of the Huffington Post, published an article entitled Cranky Employer Blames Texting Millennials For Economic Problems. The inspiration for this simple-minded title was one comment made by an employer in the Dallas Federal Reserve’s Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. (Nothing like some cherry-picking journalism to guide a writer’s focus.) Aside from Ms. Ferro’s failure to perform professional research, however, she illustrated the fundamental challenge of managing across the generations – Few of us can resist the temptation to jump to uninformed conclusions.

There is plenty of responsibility to go around, of course. On one side of this disconnect, we have employers who still cling to some version of “My way or the highway.” It’s bee a while since I’ve heard one of these Neanderthals say that Millennials have no work ethic. But actions and off-hand comments are always more indicative of what’s thought than what is said in public. The plain truth is that many companies don’t do an effective job of integrating these eager young souls into the workplace.

To be fair, there are plenty of managers who do work diligently to on-board and develop the Millennials joining their organizations. They take time to explain the business, model behaviors, and adopt practices that work for both impatient young contributors and the firm itself. These leaders are rewarded with longer retention, more enthusiasm and better results, at least most of the time.

Then we have the Millennials. In the comments section of Ms. Ferro’s article, I was amused to see Damian Diersing’s insight that “We (Millennials) are the most educated and diverse generation, EVER. We have more critical thinking skills than any other generation.” It is ironic that the silliness of Mr. Diersing’s comment undercuts the very point he is attempting to make. This is not to say that most of this cohort believes their own press clippings. But between mainstream media, social media, the experts, and the advertisers, it’s hard not to lose perspective when you’ve been called “the next great generation.”

Is it any wonder, then, that many Millennials arrive at the employer’s front door with a vision of how things need to be without regard to the firm’s practices and traditions? Ask Millennials to explain the business model. Most can’t. Ask them to discuss the company’s role in the marketplace, industry and among its competitors. Most will fumble for an answer. Ask Millennials to place themselves in the shoes of those making the tough decisions. Most will give you a blank stare. There are exceptions to this of course. Those are the young contributors who can address all the questions I just posed and will be the first to say that entitlement has nothing to do with the equation.

So, what to do . . . Here’s a bit of advice for both groups –

Employers: Begin by doing a better job of hiring. Yes, there appears to be a talent shortage right now. But that does not excuse impatient or, dare I say, desperate selection. Continue by ensuring that every employee, regardless of position can answer the questions I posed above. Finally, set and enforce clear expectations. Successful managers will tell you this is harder than it sounds. But Millennials need to know that while you are invested in their success, you are more invested in the firm’s success. When the two coincide, everyone wins.

Millennials: Learn to look at your job through the employer’s lens rather than your own. Will you be able to effect change, make contributions, and develop the work-live balance you do desire? Yes, but over time. In spite of numerous attempts to change the inherent structure of organizations, the vast majority are still pyramid-shaped. Learn to work within it. Emulate the leaders you admire. They will tell you that working your way to a meaningful position requires the age-old attributes of patience, grit, resourcefulness, an element of risk, and an element of luck. Sure, you can express your discontent with the present state of affairs. But that’s more likely to harm you than help you in most organizations. Sorry, don’t shoot the messenger.

Sadly, the workplace and society in general have become so sensitized to the possibility of hurt feelings that we’re losing the value of the frank communication that may result in momentary discomfort, but long-term respect and growth. Enough with the blaming and generalizations!

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