In 2015, Millennials surpassed Gen Xers the largest generation in the US labor force, and the media has been absolutely fascinated with them ever since. At the top level of companies run by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, they have decided that Millennials are an entirely new breed of worker. There has been a caricatured painting of an entire generation as entitled, lazy narcissists, a categorization that is just as unhelpful to employers as it is to Millennial employees.
Having said that, of course not every generation can be expected to behave exactly the same as their predecessors in the workplace. There are generational differences and there isn’t necessarily a problem with understanding what makes different age groups tick. The problem comes when the perceived differences all reflect badly on those entering the workforce and encourage those in leadership positions to treat them in a way that not only hinders their professional growth but makes a cohesive working environment difficult to achieve.
There have been countless pieces written about how best to manage Millennials – all exclusively, it seems, written by non-Millennials – but these will only further entrench these largely negative stereotypes and ultimately turn good employees away. With this in mind, here is how not to handle Millennial employees.
1. Assuming they have no loyalty
One of the most common misconceptions about Millennial employees is that they have no loyalty and are keen to job hop regularly to further their own careers. This stereotype has damaging consequences, like employers being less likely to offer long-term training programs to millennial employees they perhaps see as ‘short-term’, or a lack of promotions and increased responsibility due to the (perceived) inevitable resignation. If you promote and pay anyone properly they will be more likely to remain in a job. Don’t get caught up in the idea that Millennials will leave before two years are up regardless of remuneration; many will stay if they feel their work is being valued, a gesture that has to be reflected financially.
There is, also, a lot of evidence to suggest that this prevailing stereotype is utterly false. In a CNBC survey from earlier this year, 90% of Millennial respondents said that they’d happily stay in a job for a decade if it meant both yearly pay increases and an opportunity for genuine career progression. These are hardly outrageous demands. The key reason Millennials cited for leaving a job was that they found a better opportunity elsewhere – this has always been the case, only better opportunities will present themselves far more often if the employee’s current work is offering zero progression.
2. Patronizing them
Thanks to increased university numbers and improved schooling techniques, it is generally accepted that Millennials are, on average, the best-educated generation to date. Today’s workforce has grown up with an entire world of information at their fingertips, and are all adept researchers to a degree. It’s a fact that, as a percentage, more Millennials achieve bachelor’s degrees than the equivalent age group in previous generations. Regardless of what this means in terms of crippling student loan debt and any suggestions of ‘entitlement’, businesses would be foolish to patronize and underestimate their Millennial staff. Make sure that your business doesn’t ignore suggestions from its younger employees; they might just bring a fresh approach and if they feel like their opinions aren’t taken seriously, they’ll leave.
Secondly, don’t assume that young people will be satisfied with faux-flexibility and gimmicky perks. A lot is written about Millennials demanding flexible working and in-office hours, as well as the ‘startup culture’ they all supposedly crave. Intelligent employees will be able to see through any companies offering gimmicks in lieu of genuine perks like monetary bonuses and a good amount of holiday days per year. Offer real value to your employees rather than gimmicky add-ons – this applies to all generations, not just Millennials.
3. Ignoring company culture
There is one stereotype attributed to Millennials that largely rings true – as a generation, they are concerned with company culture. According to a survey from Inc.com, nearly 80% of Millennials will check a company’s culture and its people to see if it fits them before taking a job and before they look at the career potential offered by the role. In a survey by Statista, Millennials chose a good work/life balance is by far the most important aspect when choosing a new job – if this means reevaluating yours to ensure you ensure you get and keep the best talent, then it’s surely worthwhile.
Importantly, it’s one thing to promise a positive company culture, and a very different thing actually engendering it. Ultimately, company culture comes down to adhering well to the first two points made in this article – create a culture with the purpose of keeping employees there for a long time, while listening to suggestions from those employees on how that culture could be improved. Don’t assume that company culture is unimportant – which was never the case before Millennials came along – or that just speaking about having a good one is enough.