Do Millennials Measure Up?

Loyalty and Laziness – A Closer Look at the Gen Y Work Ethic  

 So often the “millennial conversation” is very negative. We point to generalizations, many of which I’ve listed below, and conversations can quickly become a knee-jerk discussion  about “how difficult millennials are to work with” — instead of focusing on the immense potential this group of young people has for business.

We twentysomethings make up the generation that doesn’t want to necessarily feel that it has to pay dues and bend to a traditional hierarchical structure. We are entitled and noncommittal; we may find new jobs every two years; and expect to make big moves fast, rising up and out of companies rapidly. We demand fast-paced work environments, a seat at the table, and constant change.

This is who we are — and managers don’t know what to do with us. But:

Millennials are great for business. Why? Because they:

  • Challenge status quo and drive change

  • Value authenticity and transparency

  • Want to make an impact on the world

  • Have entrepreneurial drive

  • Lead with influence, rather than power

  • Have large ambitions

But it’s true that we are entitled. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Cara Silletto of Crescendo Strategies, an expert on the Huffington Post’s Millennial Mindset.  One of the first times we spoke on the phone, I asked her, “Cara, am I entitled?” Her response was, “Yes, Maggie. You are.” She then told me that she had previously spent six months arguing that millennials were not entitled but soon — after doing all of the research and having the conversations — she knew that she was wrong.

We are who we are. Cara, also a millennial, attributes our entitlement to the fact that we grew up with our opinions constantly heard, with parents who did things like ask us where the family should go for vacation, and gave us participation awards for coming in second- to-last place. Clearly we have big demands and high expectations – that’s what the Deloitte Millennial Survey shows. We expect more from ourselves as future leaders, and also believe that businesses can be achieving more, innovating, and making more of a societal difference rather than focusing on the profits.

As a whole, Gen Y wants to make a difference in the world. We are less motivated by salary and title and more motivated by a “sense of purpose.” In a survey of over 2000 people, six out of ten millennials said they wanted organizations to understand their personal values before asking them to do something, and 53% would work harder if they knew they were making a difference to others.

It all comes down to those values. To name a few, Gen Y cares about:

  • Authenticity

  • Individuality

  • Self-expression

  • Flexibility and family

  • Collaboration

  • Social responsibility and helping others in need

How to Build Loyalty from a Millennial 

We’re not loyal in the traditional sense, but given the right leadership and autonomy, I truly believe that all of us in this confident, expressive and bold generation can be fiercely loyal.

Leadership Millennials are at their best when we know the why behind our daily tasks. Instead of answering to “because I told you so,” we want to understand what impact our work has on the bigger picture.

Gen Y is the most egalitarian generation ever. We respect our bosses for their expertise and leadership styles, but think of them more as friends than as authority figures. That is why traditional hierarchies don’t appeal to us — and this is threatening to our Gen X bosses who feel a need to cling to the power that sweat, tears and years of work has earned them.

For millennials, leaders who lead with fear and power come up short, compared to those who lead with influence. Loyalty and respect are earned, not given automatically. We expect close relationships and frequent feedback from our bosses. We expect our interactions to be collaborative, and our environment casual. When those needs aren’t met, we leave. The number one reason millennials leave their job is directly related to the boss.

Autonomy Only 28% of millennials say their organization makes full use of their skills. Millennials are jacks-of-all-trades, not subject matter experts. We work quickly, and we believe emphasis should be put on the end product, rather than the time spent to complete it.

So, give a millennial a project and let them run with it. In my role, I have complete control of my work schedule. I am often alone in the office and have little accountability day to day. There is no running tally of the vacation days I’ve taken (except the one I keep for myself).

And because I have this level of responsibility, I think I work even harder. I will bend over backwards for my organization and my leaders, because I have ownership. It comes with a certain level of pressure on my shoulders, but I know that what I am doing matters and that I am needed (and appreciated).

How do I Manage Millennials?

Millennials become frustrated by companies who refuse to evolve and change. If we don’t have what we need, we leave. And as everyone knows, that comes with a major cost to employers.

I’ll leave us with a final lesson from Cara Silletto. In her work, Silletto consults organizations every day. She says you have two options:

1. Keep doing what you are doing. Don’t adapt and change. And stop hiring millennials – because it won’t work for them, and you won’t retain them. 2. Hire millennials, and allow them to drive change. And learn to manage them.

Cara gives five tips to do just that:

  • Communicate expectations

  • Listen more

  • Utilize their full capacity

  • Align for advancement

  • Recognize their contributions

I hope our leaders use these tips to better work with Generation Y — because come 2020, just five short years from now, millennials will be half of the workforce. This group will decide the future of business. We will continue to push forward, innovate and challenge the way things are done. And I’m interested to see what will unfold for our ambitious generational cohort in the crucial next half-decade.

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