Yes, Millennials Can Drive One Nuts, But If You Adapt It Pays Off

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 12.23.22 PMBy 2020, millennials will make up 50 percent of the workforce. By 2025, that number is likely to reach 75 percent.

Given the huge millennial population, companies must hire them in increasing numbers. A study done late by my company, Scout Exchange, and Oracle HCM Users Group, sheds light on what we can expect from this generation of Americans born between 1976 and 1994.

This survey of over 20,000 human relations professionals shows that while many millennials fit their negative workplace stereotype, there is reason for hope, too.

Here are what many of the HR managers said: 

Young employees have overoptimistic expectations about how quickly they’ll be able to climb the corporate ladder. One HR professional set up interviews for two millennial candidates with the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. Not only did they both cancel at the last minute, but they asked if the interview could be done over Skype instead of in person, because it was too inconvenient for them to travel from the East to West Coast.

Millennials’ sense of entitlement is frustrating. As one HR professional noted, the younger employees feel that they are owed more respect, opportunity, and pay than their experience, ability, or knowledge merit.

Millennials lack face-to-face communication skills. Noting that this age demographic is most comfortable texting and can often seem socially inept, those surveyed say it borders on entering an avoidant society. Still other survey respondents say they are concerned with millennials’ need for flexible working conditions, including where and when they get work done.

Millennials’ work ethic is troublesome. Besides wanting to work remotely from Starbucks, millennials are often unwilling to put in more than 40 hours a week. Their propensity for leaving the office early — according to one respondent, for a 3 p.m. yoga class — is particularly problematic.

HR professionals know that their companies can’t avoid hiring millennials, but question investing in training, given that they expect younger workers to leave after two to four years, or earlier. Does the return on investment ever justify the expense?

Some HR executives say, “yes,” because millennial hires can offer rewards.

“Technology is the big difference with this generation. Millennials are conditioned to have the answer at hand,” one respondent says. Another HR professional offers this: “Technology is almost an inherent part of their makeup. It is ingrained in their communication and in the way they work. A company has to provide a strong platform to support their natural use of technology or they become frustrated.” Other respondents appreciate the way millennials challenge traditional ways of doing things.

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With more millennials entering the workplace and job-hopping every couple of years, companies that learn to embrace change will be the ones who win in the talent capitalization game.

As the president of a rapidly growing start up, from 11 employees a year ago to over 50 today — and one who’s workforce is made up of over 70 percent of employees under 30 — I’m often asked for tips on how to work with millennials.

It’s simple. To not only get the best and brightest, but get what you need from them, you have to adapt. Socializing is important to millennials, so we have happy hours and trolley bus tours through the city. We also know that millennials are very money motivated. That’s why we give frequent shareholder updates — so they can feel like their company shares are paving the way for their future. Millennials also like flexible work environments, so I’m playing around with the idea of holding meetings outside.

We’re doing a lot of things right, but, like any company, there’s room for improvement. Frankly, one of our weaknesses is communicating with millennials in a way that gets their attention. We need to quickly adapt by not sending out important information as Powerpoints and long emails. Instead, we should be doing text blasts and using videos and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to communicate.

As one HR professional in the survey sums it up, “Just like with any generation starting in the workplace, they have a large learning curve ahead of them.”

Perhaps, we all do.

Sean Bisceglia is president and founder of Scout, the world’s largest recruitment marketplace directly connecting employers with specialized recruiters using performance data.


17 Comments on “Yes, Millennials Can Drive One Nuts, But If You Adapt It Pays Off

  1. An important question is how does the leadership give Millennials these things and still maintain internal equity in the workplace. For example, how do you compromise on work ethic and entitlement issues and not alienate non millennials?

    1. For starters, you realize that things like what are mentioned here aren’t examples of shoddy work ethic.

      The larger problem, here, is the idea that a butt in a chair in an office from 9-5 equates to a productive employee. It doesn’t. Output does. You can be in the office from 7 am to 10 pm, but that doesn’t mean you’re being productive. Presenteeism runs rampant in many companies.

      Remote working and having control of one’s own hours do not necessarily equate to slacking, and that’s easily illustrated when you have objective measures of productivity in place. This is especially the case when you’re looking at knowledge workers and consider that some 70% of companies have embraced the “open office” floorplan model, which is actually *detrimental* to the productivity of knowledge workers.

      Also, don’t assume that the behavior only comes from some kind of sense of entitlement. Most of us came into the job market right around the time the recession hit. As a result, we’ve been in a “buyer’s market.” This kind of market tends to encourage companies to treat employees more like a commodity to be used and tossed. How can you expect loyalty from any employee, if you don’t treat them with respect and invest properly in them? Yep, some Millennials are entitled. So are some GenXers and Baby Boomers. Believe it or not, though, most (in all three generations) have good work ethic and want to be loyal to their companies. They all just have different standards for what they’ll put up with and how best to do their work.

      Instead of just saying “oh, it’s Millennial entitlement to want to work remotely,” *talk to them* and find out why they want it. Odds are, you’ll receive objective (at least on a personal, if not cohort level) reasons for it, including things like the fact that they’ll likely be healthier and more focused, because they don’t have to drive an hour each way in horrible traffic, they can work in an environment most conducive to their workflow, they can better control distractions, etc. Then, if you *still* want to insist they work in the office, find ways to address the concerns they have that are within your control, and possibly compensating them for things that aren’t. Odds are, you’ll benefit *all* of your employees with these changes, in some form or another.

      1. The reality is Millennials were sold a bill of goods; everything from flexible hours to a normal work week to paperless offices. All while they grow up with near instant access to information during one of the biggest technological revolutions in world history.

        Then they hit the workforce and the same people who sold them this bill of goods want them to work 70 hours a week, never take breaks, never take a vacation, sit through endless meeting which accomplish nothing, and they get all their messages on hand written sticky notes because their employer won’t put in a post-sixties phone system with extensions and voicemail. The salary they get won’t even cover a room in a house with four other housemates, the benefits they get, if any, are paltry when compared to their European cousins. As in, not even in the same league. And then the people who made all the promises and failed to deliver get mad at… the millennials. For reacting badly when they realize they got sold one of the biggest packs of lies in social history.

        Oh, and that’s after some of them volunteered to fight in two ill advised wars because their ‘country’ said it was the right thing to do, and the ones who managed to come home in one piece without traumatic brain injuries or missing limbs joined the rest of their generation in entering the job market during one of the worst depressions in world history, only to get constantly berated for wanting such horrible things as decent pay and a social life, or ie NOT working 80 hours a week.

        How dare millennials…

  2. “Young employees have overoptimistic expectations about how quickly they’ll be able to climb the corporate ladder.One HR professional set up interviews for two millennial candidates with the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. Not only did they both cancel at the last minute, but they asked if the interview could be done over Skype instead of in person, because it was too inconvenient for them to travel from the East to West Coast.”

    I can see issues on both sides of this example (which I think is a pretty poor one for the point it seems to be trying to make, which doesn’t seem to relate at all). The company in question asked candidates to go to the other side of the country for an in-person interview. Did the company pay the hotel and transportation for this? What was the nature of the interview? Was it just a standard in-person interview, or was it also a tour of the facility and more in-depth information? Why did the candidates cancel at the last minute? Could it have been because they couldn’t get the time off or swing the costs (both monetary and non) of such a trip?

    To imply that the example was some sort of Millennial entitlement is disingenuous, at best, when no context whatsoever is provided.

    Should the candidates have cancelled at the last minute? Certainly not, if it was avoidable (but that’s the thing — we don’t know whether it *was* avoidable). I’m willing to bet there are other factors at play in that example.

    I think one of the problems here is that most of your assumptions are incorrect, which colors how you’re viewing particular circumstances.

    Brookings has the following to say about the generation ( ):

    – 89% expressed a stronger likelihood that they would buy from companies that supported solutions to specific social issues.

    – 87.5% of Millennials disagreed with the statement that “money is the best measure of success,” compared to about 78% of the total population

    – 64% of Millennials would rather make $40,000/year at a job they love than $100,000/year at a job they think is boring.

    – The average investor aged 21 to 36 has 52% of their savings in cash, compared to 23% for other age groups.

    – 83% of Millennials agreed with the statement, “there is too much power concentrated in the hands of a few big companies,” more than all other generations

    In other words, not so money driven, but rather morals and values driven. Millennials don’t want to work for companies just because it’s a paycheck. They value being valued and having leadership that holds good values. They value companies that give back in more than just lip service. They value companies that value proper work-life balance and not sacrificing personal health for one’s jobs. The problem a lot of company leadership runs into is that Millennials *enforce* these values, forcing companies to treat employees like adult human beings, instead of cogs in a machine.

    I highly recommend reading Cal Evans’ book “Culture of Respect.” It’s technically geared toward companies that hire developers, but most of it is applicable to most skilled positions. Additionally, Cali Ressler and Jodi Thompson’s book, “Why Work Sucks (And How to Fix It)” is another valuable read.

    1. Having known of instances where the company expects candidates to pay their own way to an interview no matter the location, I agree with your comments. Simply respect should be a given. I would like to read Cal Evan’s book, but couldn’t find on Amazon. Any ideas?

        1. Thanks! As a virtual recruiter I can commiserate with your comments and consider myself a hybrid Boomer Millennial type. The angst is in educating upper mgmt on these cultural shifts and how recruiting should change to accomodate.

          1. I hear you, often my conversations are falling on deaf years, it is a significant amount of change management for hiring managers to understand both economic and cultural changes. I just keep at it and slowly I will increase their level of awareness.

  3. Point by point…

    “Young employees have overoptimistic expectations about how quickly they’ll be able to climb the corporate ladder.”

    I’d ask what ditching an interview with a CEO has to do with being overly optimistic about climbing the corporate ladder? I’d also want to know was the travel from coast to coast on their dime or the company’s? Cross country travel for an ‘interview’ isn’t exactly cheap. I’d also love to know what the Glassdoor rating of that CEO’s company is, to get an idea of whether or not they should expect good employees to begin with.

    “As one HR professional noted, the younger employees feel that they are owed more respect, opportunity, and pay than their experience, ability, or knowledge merit.”

    By whose standard? Was there even an attempt to objectively measure this stuff, or did you guys just hand out a survey that said, “Would you agree or disagree with these negative stereotypes?” Does respect mean being listened to and acknowledged, or does it mean the boss decided to scream at them on this particular day and, unlike baby boomers and GenXers, they decided not to put up with that crap and gave as good as they got?

    “Millennials lack face-to-face communication skills.”

    I’ve yet to meet a Millennial that lacked face to face communication skills. I have met many Millennials who correctly assume email is an appropriate means of communication in many instances. Not everything has to be face-to-face, and the insistence of older generations to have thirty meetings and twenty phone calls over every single issue is tiresome and inefficient. I can just as easily turn this example around with an anecdote of my own, a manager who valued face to face communication so much that he didn’t check email, let his voicemail fill up and never emptied it, and redirected all his phones to his cell, which he never answered. Only a boomer would be dumb enough to think that an appropriate way to respect communication is to shut down all means of communication but one. I also recall one of the primary reasons this manager loved face to face communication is because there was no record anywhere of it, so he could say whatever he wanted. I, in turn, backed up all our conversations with a recap email, which he never checked of course, so he wasn’t aware they existed until he tried to lie his way out of a screw up and I had back up.

    Millennials don’t have face to face skills? Learn how to use Outlook, for Christ’s sake.

    “Millennials’ work ethic is troublesome.”

    Are they getting PAID for more than forty hours? Who is it that has been selling the BS line about ‘flexible’ work for the last ten years? It wasn’t Millennials, it was the existing HR and recruiting professionals. Now they want what you promised, and you can’t deliver, that’s their fault? God forbid they expect a normal work week and some flexibility…

    I’m from Gen X and I’m getting sick of articles with these nonsense stereotypes about Millennials. They didn’t make this world, their parents did, and now their parents have the gall to bitch and moan when their kids actually expect them to deliver on the promise of the American Dream? Say what you will about Millennials, they’re great at catch a line of BS when someone is pitching it to them.

    1. Considering the number of us that work in positions considered “white collar” and exempt from FLSA’s overtime mandates, the answer to the “are they getting paid for more than forty hours?” is a resounding “no” for a fair chunk of us.

      If refusing to work beyond 40 hours most of the time (barring reasonable reasons to work over, and no, impossibly tight deadlines don’t count, especially when I tell you said deadline is impossible) means I have a “troublesome worth ethic,” then so be it. I’ve found enough companies that value that (and my health) enough that I’ll rarely, if ever, want for work.

      1. “Considering the number of us that work in positions considered “white collar” and exempt from FLSA’s overtime mandates, the answer to the “are they getting paid for more than forty hours?” is a resounding “no” for a fair chunk of us.”

        Which is one of the ‘problems’ employers have with Millennials, because employers have repeatedly and for the most part successfully equated ‘exempt’ with working 25 hours a day, 8 days a week. And the flip side of exempt, meaning the ability to work fewer hours here and there as well while not being docked pay or vacation time, have never materialized for most people.

  4. Consistency and internal equity is important. Some of the “perks” we offer are going to appeal to Millennials and not to other employees. I think companies have to offer a variety of things to their employees that will resonate with different audiences. For example our new office in Boston is going to have a “Starbucks” like environment with big farmhouse table family style seating for employees looking for that and a “Library” for people looking for quiet. Its about striking a balance.

  5. I’m turning 30 this year, and I find millennial chatter funny and misguided. How can you group people aged 30+ to those just entering the workforce? It’s absurd. By 2020 I will be 35, in 2025 I will be 40. Peak working age is between 30-40, so why should millennials not be dominating the workforce? We are not special or any different from any other generation. What makes us different is our access to technology. We had to teach our parents technology, and they were often suspicious of its use. Baby boomers branded us because we know how to get things done better and faster (and work remotely!) using technology. I’m hoping these articles will end, just embrace technology and stop whining about a group of people that knows how to use it better than you.

    1. It’s that very technology which is causing this. Instead of just grumbling or yelling at kids to get off the lawn, now the complainers are on Facebook. You probably should have just kept your parents away from the tech, you would have saved yourself some heart ache.

  6. How condescending. Your generation leaves us a country run by corporate lobbyist, a world that resents us to the point we have to worry about terrorism every day, an environment that basically guarantees total destruction within our lifetimes, and almost guaranteed healthcare and educational related bankruptcy. But of course, we are lazy, entitled, and lack face to face communication skills, and that’s the major problem here.

  7. I actually have a significant amount of respect for the millennia’s approach to the employer-employee relationship. They are the truly embracing life-work balance. I am a baby boomer that never “got” the concept and left my soul in my office somewhere within corporate America. What is wrong with respect, dignity and wanting to move up quickly and as far as more pay goes, face it the majority of us do not feel we get paid what we are worth. As far as communication goes I don’t like to read long emails – geez who has time, make it short, sweet and to the point. Frankly, I am enlightened by their approach – if you value me show it. They seem to be saying, show me what you got – why should I work for you? Go Mils, Go.

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