By Codrin Arsene
Anti-Millennial work bias: why employees can’t stand us and what we can do about it?
Millennials account for more than 40% of the current US workforce and represent the highest percentage of active employees across all generations. But Millennials’ rise to statistical dominance in the work force is not without controversy.
What if I told you that many employers are really fed up with some of the attitudes and expectations Millennial employees seem to exhibit and that to a large extent this is preventing many of us from achieving our true work potential?
In this article I will cover some of the key negative attitudes employers have towards millennials. And how to avoid reinforcing these stereotype. Even if most of these complaints are primarily based on perception and not reality, at the end of the day, many employers subconsciously look for examples in your work life to validate these attitudes. Avoiding these pitfalls will surely help you become more successful in your career.
Millennials expect too much from their employers
The overall workforce landscape has changed dramatically over the last twenty years. Whereas in the past, employees had pensions and generous contributions to their 401k, free medical insurance and limited flexibility in their work schedule (you had to be in the office promptly at 9 am), we all know much of this is no longer in place.
In contrast, especially after the recession most employers wiped off pension plans and reduced the company 401 contribution match and started adding copays on the medical plans. To compensate for this, many employers have started offering flexible work from home policies, more generous vacation policies and a wide variety of other benefits.
On the one hand, this shift has fed into Millennials’ expectations that a company should reward employees and create a fun and playful work environment. On the other hand, some of these benefits have reinforced the culture in which Millennials were raised which is predicated on rewards, incentives and praise.
In an excellent book, Alfie Kohn has written about how this new culture may actually do more harm than good. The book is called: “Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentives Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes.” In it, the author argues that incentives are external motivators. As children grow up expecting these incentives in order to behave in a certain way (e.g: do your homework / chores / job and you’ll get X), over time, a person becomes obsessed with constantly being rewarded before or after accomplishing a task.
What this author points to is a common problem among Millennials. We expect to get more and more benefits, flexibility, training, perks and other incentives from our employers. And even when some of these perks are there, we still think of and speak of “what other companies do for their employees which my company doesn’t.” Overall, when these incentives are present, we think very highly of our company and are more likely to work hard at our job. When they are not, we become disengaged. And it shows! Which brings us to the next issue.
Millennials have a distorted view on happiness at work
Inc.com wrote a provocative article titled: “3 Reasons Millennials are getting fired.” One of them is the issue of happiness. Many of us are really unhappy at work because we have a distorted view of what work should be. Since we grew up in a culture of rewards we inadvertently have these unreasonable expectations of what our employers should provide us with.
The problem is not so much with the fact that we expect our work place to be better than it is. What works against us is that a) when reality sinks our disappointment with what the company offers is visible to upper management and b) this realization has a negative impact on our overall performance.
What older generations seem to have been better at than Millennials is what Alfie Kohn refers to as intrinsic motivations. In simplest terms, employees need to define their own drive for success in the workplace. We can definitely expect our company to incentivize us with perks, gifts or monetary rewards. If they do, awesome, but if they don’t, we shouldn’t necessarily become disillusioned.
In other words, Millennials need to define their own path to success and happiness within and outside of the company. Play the hand that was dealt to you. And whatever that is, make sure you keep your poker face and don’t reveal to your management that you’re not really happy with your company. For better or worse, your employer is trying its best to keep you happy, even if their best is not good enough for you. Learn to appreciate that.
Millennials have poor skills when it comes to time management & attention to details
Last year almost 30,000 employers participated in a survey about their employees, most of whom were Millennials. One of the biggest takeaway from the survey was that employers believe Millennials are pretty bad at managing their time effectively and at paying attention to details.
There are various issues which employers perceive to be a problem with our generation.
First there’s the issue of taking initiative. Millennials appear to be really good at following and completing tasks but not as good at thinking independently, making decisions and taking initiative. As employers have tons of things on their mind, they expect their direct reports to operate more or less independently and to proactively come up with new ideas on how to get things done faster and more efficiently.
Second, because you’re expected to work independently, your boss, more or less, wants to see you when they assign a task to you and when you’re done with it. As such, deadlines are really critical to success. Mastering the art of providing accurate deadlines and communicating progress effectively is something many Millennials have not yet mastered.
One strategy that I employed in the past with my boss proved incredibly effective and solved many of the issues highlighted by these 30,000 unhappy bosses: every Monday I sent an email out with the tasks I planned on completing that week. Every Friday I sent another email referencing the Monday email and showing how much I had accomplished. This showed my boss I could manage my time effectively, think and act independently, deliver on time and also pay attention to the details of the tasks on my plate. If there were any issues with my understanding of the task or the timeline I proposed on Monday, my boss would simply reach out to me and address the issue.
Millennials complain but do not offer solutions
In another provocative article, the authors at inc.com talk about “5 office Mistakes Costing Millennials the Promotion.” On their list is the issue of complaining about problems without providing solutions. The author’s argument is that millennials were raised in a culture that encouraged them to share their views on a topic. I would personally add to that argument the fact that our liberal arts education system in predicated on the same principle – encouraging students to debate each other on the merits of abstract ideas and to weigh in the pros and cons of a concept. Just look at the SAT essay prompts and you’ll know exactly what I mean by that.
The problem when you get into the workforce is that your employer does not want to see you bitching day in and day out. And whereas you may very well be smart enough to identify a problem, your boss is not interested in you telling him or her something they probably already know.
Instead, they expect you to come up with constructive ideas on how to solve that problem which is where many Millennials fall short. Worse yet, as I’ve seen in my own professional experience, people who come up with problems and no solutions are often dismissed by their bosses even if their complaints have real merits.
Based on how we were raised and educated, our generation is quite good at easily identifying issues. However, in the work force it’s critical that we only present and raise these issues in the context of a proposed solution. That way our bosses can actually act on our feedback rather than thinking that all we are capable of is complaining about problems.
At the end of the day much of our work is predicated on perception: it is what and how people around us think of us. Millennials are fresh out of school and at the beginning of their professional careers. Whereas these four issues are often labeled as Millennial problems, I don’t necessarily think that’s true. However, because the world we live in runs on perception, reality, truth and facts are more or less irrelevant. Understanding that employees have these biases against us and finding ways to avoid the pitfall of reinforcing these stereotypes can really set us up for success. Millennial or not.
Also published on Medium.