Skip to main content

Millennial bashing unnecessary

By June 14, 2015March 8th, 2016Cultural Alignment & Change, Updates
millennial workforce

Millennial buzz

Recently Mary Meeker made some buzz with her presentation about trends that she sees in the tech world. Honestly, the part of the presentation that I was interested in and captivated me was some analysis on the different generations in the workforce currently. Millennials were painted to be narcissistic, which has garnered quite a bit of attention. That wasn’t all that was in her nearly 200 slides. One thing that struck me was the impression that millennials work with significantly more freedom as a core value. It shows up in several measures of values, how they work and how they are employed. Arguably there is some adaptation to the economic realities that make being part of an organization prohibitive to millennials in a timing sense.

It is common to deify things we don’t understand and try to create distance between groups that aren’t like us.

I saw a pattern of significant drive and persistence despite obstacles. At the top of their list from employers is training and development. Buried elsewhere in the slide deck I found that millennials are far more likely to buy their own tech and apps personally but use them for work. That says to me that they are committed to personal development, not necessarily narcissistic enrichment.

We fear that which we do not understand

Some of the confusion here may be a pattern that is seen by other generations that hold a different orientation and expectation toward work. Millennials value flexible work hours, and I can honestly say as a Gen X’er I want the same thing. It seems that their preference for cash bonuses, personal development and the desire to allocate time as they see fit flies in the face of command-and-control organizational concepts and could be viewed as self-centered all the way to the point of narcissism. However, narcissism is called out on slide 113 as the primary perception held by managers in a forced comparison with Gen X’ers. When you must choose between 2 groups as to which one is more narcissistic, it seems to me to skew the outcome because perhaps managers don’t see their employees that way but now must classify one as such. This has been the sensational part to be sure.

When I look at all of the information Mary Meeker collected I see a large, energetic, driven and independent cohort in the workforce that doesn’t conform to the set structures and beliefs in place today. I also see significant resistance from the coworkers and management because current systems will not control this population. The types of structures that so many leaders value today just are not meshing with the realities emerging in the workforce. One such aspect is the trend of an increasingly freelance workforce. Freelancing meets many of the values requirements of millennials. Some may see this as an extension of outsourcing or contracting work. I think the trend is much deeper and reflects a dissatisfaction with the corporate status quo in how to get things done. I don’t know for sure, but when 44% of the on-demand work force are millennials, that on some level there is a disconnect with the previously dominant culture.

To that end it was telling that millennials are twice as likely to prefer collaborating on-line and about 3 times as likely to use mobile technology to do work. This looks like a cohort that works in a new way, not an isolated, self-centered way. It is common to deify things we don’t understand and try to create distance between groups that aren’t like us.

At odds with the boss

The final set of mismatches are around specific work value differences millennials have with their managers. Let’s get pay off the table right away. Managers not only view millennials as selfish but also greedy. Yes, they prefer cash bonuses but not high pay when they decided about what they value at work. For managers, cash bonuses are reserved for high level and highly valued positions, not typically for younger workers. To meet this cash demand the typical manager’s toolkit (or HR’s for that matter) is pretty limited and offering a somewhat higher salary is the typical response. The slight increase in base pay was a lot of strain on the organization but of little impact for the millennial – recipe for a large disconnect on the value of effort and cash involved in a gesture to meet a demand.

Lastly, typical command-and-control organization rely heavily on employees falling in line for hierarchy and power to make things run. Millennials do not value this chain of command nearly as much as their managers. This looks like a huge power dynamic brewing out there. Smart managers and HR will pick up on the value millennials have that others do not have to nearly the same extent: meaningful work they can grow in. Millennials are looking for work they can emotional connect with and feel a sense of accomplishment. I don’t see this as narcissistic in the least but rather what many people encounter in the form of a mid-life crisis.

It seems like millennials are very misunderstood. My own perceptions certainly shifted seeing the slides. My own biases were brought into question and I even had some myths busted. All that said makes millennial bashing unnecessary.

Russell Lindquist

Author Russell Lindquist

More posts by Russell Lindquist