Millennials difficult? Entitled? Not so much

Millennials — Entitled! Ignorant! Immature! Difficult to manage! NOOOO!!!!

I wish I could eliminate the word Millennial from our work vocabulary. I talk to two to three clients a week who complain about their Millennial employees, and it’s driving me crazy. It is not about the generation; it’s about their age. For those of you who are 40-plus years old, your managers used to complain about you, too.

I am a Gen-Xer, and I drove my manager crazy when I first started working. My first month working at IBM, I remember asking my manager when I was going to be promoted into management. HA — how entitled of me!

He didn’t roll his eyes and scoff at me like most of the managers I coach do to Millennials today. I was lucky to have a very good manager at IBM who gently taught me what I needed to do to reach that promotion. He treated me with respect, but also showed me how much I really had to learn before I was going to be ready for such a great responsibility.

There are two things we need to do if we really want to get along as multi-generation workforces. First, it’s best to understand what happens as we age and mature and focus on those transitions in life more than labeling the generation. Second, seasoned managers need to teach our young colleagues how to have a job, as well as teach them what we need them to do in the job.

Think back to when you were 22 and starting work (come on, I know you can remember). Almost all people in their 20s are idealistic, ambitious, high energy, and excited to have our adult lives begin. We arrived at our first company eager to contribute, make our mark, and watch as our careers exploded. This is the feeling that every talented 20-something feels. As seasoned managers, we confuse their idealism with ignorance and immaturity. We treat their ambition and desire to make their mark as entitlement. We see their desire to have a career path as difficult to manage.  This lack of understanding around our youthful colleague’s general life milestones make us label them inappropriately. Mislabeling them means that we don’t find ways to engage them and help them be successful.

We are also frustrated with how little they know of the norms.  “How dare they send an email to the CEO?” or “The gall of them to think that they could organize a customer event without planning?” (these were the two questions I had to answer this week for my HR clients).  Believe it or not, the young employees in question had no idea that these two things were not acceptable norms. When we have more maturity and more experience, we know these things intuitively, but it’s common for new employees who’ve had little work experience to fully comprehend and grasp these basic norms. Part of our jobs as managers in our organizations is to teach our young colleagues how to have a job and not get frustrated by them when they don’t know these things. We didn’t know those things either!

In general, I find the incoming generations to be amazing. Half my team is made up of Millennials, and I love what they bring to the table. Yes, I’ve had to do more coaching than with my older workforce, but once they have context around their job, they have done more for my company than I ever expected.

This struggle is not a new one. The poet Hesiod (a contemporary of Homer in eighth century BC) said, “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.”  It sounds like what we say today!!

Kendra Prospero is the CEO and founder of Turning the Corner, a Boulder-based organization that does recruiting the way it should be done for job seekers and companies.


 

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