Millennial Expectations

Cropped screenshot of Loretta Young from the t...

Cropped screenshot of Loretta Young from the trailer for the film Employees’ Entrance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Periodically, articles cross my desk providing “expert guidance” on how to attract, and keep, young employees — the needs of whom, owing to the hyperkinetic, information-saturated environment in which they came of age, presumably differ radically from those of members of the less dynamic ancien régime.

One of the most fatuous such service articles in recent memory (which came to me via LinkedIn, always a reliable source of shallow “thought leader” material) is entitled “How to Work with Young Employees,” and appears on the blog of New Brand Analytics. The author of this profundity identifies five “simple tips to keep Millennials engaged”:

  1. Listen to their ideas for how to improve the organization.
  2. Make work fun.
  3. Give feedback often.
  4. Provide frequent, public praise.
  5. Don’t bore them with repetitive tasks.

Mirabile dictu! However, shortly after the scales had finished falling from my eyes (indeed, while they were still clattering on the floor at my feet), I found myself wondering whether there was any employee, irrespective of relative burden of years, who wouldn’t want these things. “Millennial employees absolutely love receiving praise and want public recognition,” the post’s author gushes, as if sharing the inside-est of inside dope. I answer: Well! Who doesn’t?

Granted, I may succeed here only in further burnishing my already shimmering credentials as a Cranky Old Fart. But it does seem reasonable to raise, as an alternative working hypothesis, the possibility that the current crop really isn’t that different from the generations that preceded them, and thus shouldn’t be encouraged to entertain radically different expectations about the long-term trajectory of their careers. At some point, the dull, repetitive tasks still have to get done; indeed, doing them has traditionally formed part of the hodgepodge of corporate realities roped together under the tired but still-apt cliché of “paying one’s dues.”

Also, we might ask ourselves whether we do young employees any real favors by pandering to them. A January entry on the Washington Post’s “On Leadership” blog cited a survey commissioned by Bentley University that suggested a profound disconnect between the expectations of young workers entering the job market and of the older workers who actually will be hiring them. Among the perceptions of the survey’s older respondents, said the article, “were that recent college graduates are harder to retain, lack a strong work ethic and aren’t as willing to pay their dues as previous generations were.” And those perceptions, correct or not, have real-world consequences for the members of this demographic:

Perhaps as a result of this, half of the business professionals who responded to the study said that their companies tend not to invest in young workers’ career development, out of a sense that they will change jobs quickly and aren’t worth the investment.

Based on my own very positive interactions with Millennials on the job, I have strong doubts that any of the perceptions about their supposed lack of work ethic are actually true. But feeding the idea that this generation is somehow a breed apart, and needs to be constantly praised and protected from the occasional boredom endemic to any job or they will jump ship, can only reinforce the notion that they aren’t worth investing in. That really would be a tragedy.