The Work Ethic of Millennials

Blogs are full of anecdotes about Millennials and how lazy, entitled, or self-important they are. They don’t want to work long hours. They want lots of benefits. They’d rather be chatting with their friends than working. They get bored with their jobs. They leave perfectly good jobs with excellent companies every three years. They’re always complaining. They have no loyalty to the company, they won’t do what they’re told, and they’re generally loafing, constant pains in the neck who won’t shut up about how things could be better.

If you look through the old lens of Corporate America, then yes, the average Millennial seems to fit the bill. But let’s look at the past five years or so and see what the world looks like through the eyes of the young American worker.

The economy is terrible. Some unethical people in the financial industry made some poor choices and now there’s widespread belt-tightening. There have been layoffs on what seems like every other Tuesday. Work is far less fulfilling, as cool projects’ funding dries up and top companies start to compete for less inspiring work. There are fewer people left to do that less inspirational work, too, so the few people remaining in the office have to work longer hours on more frustrating projects. The C-suite and upper/middle leadership are constantly out pounding the pavement to fill the backlog, and so there’s diminished leadership left at the office to provide learning opportunities. Younger workers are left holding the majority of the workload, with little prior experience to draw from, few experts at the office of whom to ask questions, fewer formal learning opportunities… In short, everything that makes a place a great company to work for has dried up. Everyone is stressed, nobody feels invested in, and there’s the omnipresent spectre of being laid off.

It takes two full-time incomes to comfortably float a family with a mortgage and student loans (which have ballooned insanely). Day care is extraordinarily expensive, and costs are far higher than what they were when the working generation were children. What it means to be a “family-oriented company” has entirely changed. With both parents in the office nowadays, flexibility is the name of the game. With technological advances like the smart phone and the Internet, the Millennials are used to working from wherever there’s wifi… They are willing to be flexible if their employer meets them halfway.

The paradigm of employment is changing. It has to change, with societal and technological revolutions like the ones we’re seeing.

Millennials don’t want to work long hours because they know they don’t have to in order to get the job done. They understand how to use tools in order to streamline their work process, so they can get more done in a shorter amount of time and achieve a better work-life balance.

They want lots of benefits– chiefly, workplace flexibility. They’d like to be allowed to use the tools they have at their disposal so that they can achieve a better work-life balance, so they can relieve their spouses from 50% of the childcare duties, so that work does not define their entire personhood.

They’d rather be chatting with their friends than working? Not so. They’d rather have the opportunities to network with their colleagues to solve problems more efficiently. AIM and Facebook are just the modern iteration of the drive-by coffee break… You know, where a colleague stops by with a cup of coffee to chat about a project and touch base with their coworker. Many companies have figured out that chat tools and Facebook actually help their bottom line, allowing employees to reach out to their in-house and greater networks for help on problems.

They get bored with their jobs, or rather, with how they’re forced to do their jobs– “tail in seat” syndrome. They leave perfectly good jobs with historically-excellent companies every three years, because they realize that these “great companies” are stuck in the past. They’re always complaining about managers who refuse to realize that they’re swimming against the current of the times. They have no loyalty to the company who saddles them with inappropriate responsibility under the constant threat of termination, and they won’t do what they’re told when they know fifty tools that would help them do things a better way.

And who would want them to? Give me an independent thinker who challenges the “because we’ve always done it that way” folks, who brings me new tools to use and play with, who challenges me to be a better manager and get more work done with less (time, materials, personnel, money…). Give me that worker any day, and I will give them all the flexibility they desire.

There are those managers who ask, aren’t there people who will abuse this flexibility? How can we trust our employees to do the right thing if we give them that much slack?

I don’t understand people who ask these questions… There are people who abuse their employers in the old paradigm, too. We’re constantly combating employees who are late to work, who take long lunches, who pilfer envelopes for personal use.

However… if you treat an employee well, they will generally do right by you. My employees are awesome– they work well on their own. They advertise for my company on their own time because they BELIEVE wholeheartedly in my company. They are PROUD to work for my company because they know that the company is proud of them and invested in them and their development. They go above and beyond what I ask of them, because I give them freedom and I hold them to a high standard. Hire employees you can trust, and then trust them.

Hire Millennials, and give them the tools they need to excel. Just have a good understanding of what their needs actually are and what their lives are like before you start measuring them against an outdated standard.

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