Employers! Does iGen Require Parenting?

Yes, you read that question right. In her brand new book, iGen, San Diego State University psychologist and author, Jean Twenge maintains that, “Maybe today’s teens and young adults have an underdeveloped frontal cortex because they have not been given adult responsibilities.” The brain’s frontal cortex, of course, functions as our center for reasoning and judgment. (iGeners, by the way, are defined as those born 1995 and later, making the oldest 22 this year. Others have labeled them Nexters and Generation Z.) While this is a rather explosive hypothesis, Dr. Twenge has the research to back it up. Historically employers have assumed that young applicants arrive with basic life skills, this is no longer the case for many.

Teen participation in the workforce is also at a fifty-year low, meaning that the majority of new high school and college graduates applying for jobs have little, if any, understanding of the rigors and rhythm of full-time work. If you hire them, anticipate another level of complexity to your already busy days.

A business owner recently told me he started a newly-minted engineering graduate on a Monday. The next day was a payday for the organization. This young man asked why he didn’t get paid. The owner explained that payday is every other Tuesday and if he completed his time sheet every day, he would be paid in the next cycle. After two weeks, this young professional complained he still hadn’t been paid. Upon investigation, the owner discovered that no time sheet had been submitted. “Why do I need to complete a time sheet?” this engineer objected. “You see me in the office every day.” Does this sound familiar? Brace yourself. It will become more widespread.

So what should you do? Here are three quick and easy suggestions:

Send them an orientation video before their first day. Assume every new hire possesses little, if any, work experience. Include items like, what to wear, what time to arrive, where to park, where people eat lunch, what to expect the first week, and so on. Need ideas? Ask those hired the past six months what they wish they would have known beforehand. By the way, the video should “star” one of their age peers, not the HR manager or a top exec.

Be extraordinarily specific in your instructions for the first 30 days. The nature of communication has become more transactional. This means that many young people struggle understand nuance and are uncomfortable inferring what to do from off-handed instructions. Simply saying, “figure it out” may result in an employee who fails to act and is afraid to ask for clarification. This doesn’t mean you have to conjure up your inner control freak. As employees assimilate, back off from these specific instructions when they become more comfortable thinking for themselves.

Buddy them with a recent newcomer for the first few weeks. Those who have joined the organization within the past twelve months still possess empathy for those new to the job. Not only will this provide a bit of aid and comfort to the new contributor, but it might also give you a quick look at how the buddy coaches and trains others.

The iGen experience has been significantly different than that of previous generations, including the Millennials. Take time to get ahead of the attitudes and practices of this new cohort before they become a force to be reckoned with.

Teach Millennials Work Smarts Using These 5 Keys


Lonnie works as an analyst at a financial services firm. He graduated with a finance degree and a 3.35 GPA. But in spite of his training, Lonnie feels like he’s in over his head. It dawned on him a few days after starting that the recommendations he makes are the real deal. The firm could lose big money if someone follows his judgment and it doesn’t pan out. That really unnerved him. So he’s made a practice of checking in with his boss on anything he’s unsure of. But this week his boss took him aside and said, “You’ve got to think on your own. If I have to review every decision you make, I might as well do the work myself.”

In the past several years, I’ve heard countless employers complain that the Millennial generation struggles with making decisions. While this perception is may be unfair, the constant “checking in” they are known for contributes to this belief. One source of this behavior is the difference between what I call “book smarts” and “work smarts.” For most college graduates, the road to a full-time professional job has consisted of 16 years of formal schooling. They’ve learned to study, take notes, write papers, take texts and work on small group projects. The ones with the highest grades got this down to a science. But decisions on the job are far different than those in the classroom.

One of the elements missing for many Millennials has been the experience of working in the marketplace. Those in past generations found themselves working one or more jobs while in high school and college. These positions ranged from delivering newspapers and waiting tables, to mowing lawns and working in factories. While these jobs weren’t glamorous, they provided two things, spending money and experience in what it takes to navigate the work world. Sadly, many of these jobs have disappeared due to technology or assumed by older individuals trying to support a family on these traditionally part-time or seasonal positions.

The result is a generation of college students largely lacking in work smarts. I’ve had more than one manager lament that many new professionals don’t know what work “looks like.” When they enter the marketplace, they possess the academic skills but not the experience in discernment and problem solving required to thrive in the uncertainty of everyday business. So what can you do to help these emerging professionals adapt? Here are the five keys for doing so:

#1. Help them understand the context. Ask most Millennials to explain their employer’s business model and they’ll be at a loss for words. If you teach someone the big picture, they will naturally look for ways to solve the problems around them. Explain the larger context from the first day on the job. When young contributors see how their work affects the whole, they will begin to troubleshoot and solve problems on their own.

#2. Share your experiences. The experience of trial and error marries book smarts to work. Every well-placed example helps emerging professionals understand and accept that all decisions are based on judgment and calculated risk. When they understand that you’ve been willing to fail in order to succeed, they will be emboldened to do the same.

#3. Compel them to make judgments and decisions. The potential consequences of a business decision can be intimidating. But at some point that decision has made. Provide a strategy for making these choices. Help Millennials consider the options and possible outcomes. Have a heart-to-heart talk with them. Whatever you do, compel them to act.

#4. Process what goes right and wrong. Millennials lead the pack when it comes to impatience. There is great value, however, in taking time to consider the outcomes of decisions made. Make it an expectation that decisions of substance be discussed. What went right? What could have gone better? What’s going well? What can be improved? What specific steps can be taken? What does success look like?

#5. Celebrate the good outcomes and commiserate about the bad. It is human nature to remember more of the failures than the successes. Take time to consider both with your people. Failure inhibits the urge to take future action. Success sometimes emboldens carelessness. An effective decision maker maintains a balance between the two. This comes through discussion, reflection and experience. Little will build the confidence of Millennials more than knowing that you’re in their corner when making decisions, regardless of the outcomes.

How to Torpedo Your Job Prospects with One Poor Decision

I spend a good deal of time researching the myths and stereotypes about Millennials. Some are fair. Some are unfair. Some are accurate. Some are just plain stupid. In reality, no one perception can be representative of all 81 million people. It is rare, however, that I come across the writings a Millennial who seems to reinforce what many of her age peers desire to dismiss. But that happened last week.

Erin Heilman, writing a guest editorial in the Baltimore Sun, proceeds to lecture employers on her generations’ expectations for a working relationship. She writes in part, “We are the generation rising. And soon we will be the VPs, the CEOs. And you’ll see a new kind of workplace, where family comes first. Because when you think millennials are the ‘me’ generation, you miss the point . . . think what you might about millennials. We are the optimistic future. While you ponder the good old days and tell me ‘that’s what’s wrong with the world today,’ I will continue to make the world better.”

My first reaction was shock at her arrogance. But I concluded that this is more about her ignorance of the corporate world. Every firm knows that employee expectations are changing. But young people who use a battering ram to effect this change simply polarize the workplace. Perhaps she should study the context of today’s workplace before attempting to singlehandedly overhaul it.

It’s been said, unjustly so, that the Millennial generation is a cohort of entitled do-nothings. Ironically, Ms. Heilman appears to be leading that charge. I’ve thought about the disservice this young woman is doing to her generation by reinforcing these misguided perceptions. But in a laughable sort of way, what she wrote just demonstrates how out of touch she is with her age peers. (It also proves once again that editors will put most anything in the paper regardless of its accuracy, just to attract eyeballs.)

Out of curiosity, I searched for Ms. Heilman on Linked-In. She’s a graphic designer who graduated from a college in Pennsylvania and has held four jobs in the past seven years. As an employer, I would be reluctant to hire her no matter what her qualifications, just because of her seeming restlessness. I, like most small employers, can’t afford to hire people like her for a period of months only to lose them because my firm doesn’t live up to their expectations. She should remember that this emotional outburst will follow her around. Pretty much every company conducts an on-line search on all applicants. This editorial is sure to come up. She might want stay with her present employer for a while and learn how to work and play well with others.