Visit our archive

As a management consultant with over 25+ years’ experience, I’ve helped to influence business strategy and management teams across multiple industries and markets. Over the course of a few taxing and focussed months, I navigate different experiences, cultures, personalities and prejudices, and cajole and convince cross-functional teams to think and do “business unusual”.  It’s fun, challenging and feels good to see large teams of people progress and grow their business. But these days there’s a new challenge – a Millennially-sized challenge that is a long walk from fun and just feels exhausting.

The formal statistics on the millennial generation makes for dire reading. In 2016 a US Gallup report found:

  • 16% of millennials are actively disengaged, meaning they are more or less out to do damage to their company.
  • The majority of millennials (55%) are not engaged, leading all other generations in this category of worker engagement.
  • 50% millennials strongly agree that they plan to be working at their company one year from now

So essentially, millennials don’t care and won’t stay; hardly joyous reading for those of us having to stomach some pretty toe-curling behaviours, and even more alarming for those deciding where the training budget should go.

 

Young workers bursting with ideas seem to be matched with those bursting into tears. Managers confused at expectations for applause at the beginning, middle, and end of the day. HR professionals scratching their heads over another 23yo resignation because they don’t have a direct report, and recruiters gritting their teeth at requests for jobs with 6 figure salaries, a 10 am start and days off for emotional support.

 

It’s all very #feelingsuperior, but indulging in a “Millennial” moan complete with stereotyping, prejudice and bias is becoming a great story to tell. One of today’s most popular storytellers on the subject is Simon Sinek. Author and motivational speaker, Sinek made much-needed sense of this new generation of workers in his December 2016 interview entitled “Millennials in the workforce”. Viewed over 5 million times, Sinek’s synopsis appears to have catapulted him to guru status on all things “Millennial”.

 

Sinek explains that “Millennials” – those born between the late eighties and early noughties are, “through no fault of their own”, the most taxing generation to ever enter the workforce. Raised by parents who typically told them they were “special” and mostly gave them what they want when they wanted it, they’ve entered the workforce as the most entitled, impatient, and insecure generation ever.  Thrust into the real world, they complain easily and quit readily.  Practiced at living through a glazed lens of selected approval they lack basic coping skills and struggle to form meaningful relationships. Add to that a diet of immediate answers sourced from social media, they are largely ill-equipped for conscious thought and general rigours of work.

 

Cue exclamations of “Wow!” and “Nailed it!”, and quickly I forward Sinek’s interview to my friends and colleagues. Oh the self-righteous joy I feel as my friends start to “Like” and “Share” my, I mean Sinek’s thinking.

 

High on new found wisdom, I take my dog for a walk and listen to Dolly Parton’s 1980 smash hit “9 to 5”, and a little shade of my own insight starts to dawn on me; Dolly Parton is singing about Millennials. Which is interesting given that they weren’t born in 1980.

 

Here are a few of the verses that I think sum up the supposed ambitious, dissatisfied, entitled, insecure and impatient generation that we non-millennials are moaning about.

Tumble out of bed

And stumble to the kitchen

Pour myself a cup of ambition

And yawn and stretch and try to come to life

Jump in the shower

And the blood starts pumpin’

Out on the streets, the traffic starts jumpin’

For folks like me on the job from 9 to 5

 Hmmm, ambitious, tired and unhappy about working 9 to 5. Yup, that’s a “Millennial”.

 

Workin’ 9 to 5

What a way to make a livin’

Barely gettin’ by

It’s all takin’ and no givin’

Definitely “Millennial” thinking – They get free food, sexy coffee machines and bean bags, and it’s still not enough. Their idea of “gettin’ by” is based on how many designer clothes they can buy from a salary already inflated because they threaten to quit if it’s not. Entitled “Millennial”.

 

They just use your mind

And they never give you credit

It’s enough to drive you

Crazy if you let it

There it is, the never-ending search for approval and the “crazy” reaction when they don’t get it. Insecure “Millennial”.

 

9 to 5

For service and devotion

You would think that I

Would deserve a fat promotion

 Oh, here we go! She thinks she deserves the promotion because she’s maybe been there a year, done all 50 on-line marketing training modules and her best friend already has a team working for them. Classic Impatient “Millennial”.

 

Want to move ahead

But the boss won’t seem to let me

I swear sometimes that man is

Out to get me, hmmm

Well, this is so “Millennial”, it’s funny.

First, she wants to move ahead – hardly original.

Second, “her boss won’t seem to let” her – Or is it that she’s not ready, or the boss has promised what she can’t deliver, or perhaps she doesn’t know her because she works in another country – which isn’t quite their fault but I’m a smug non-millennial so….

And then there’s the third and final “Millennial” paranoia expressed about her boss being out to get her. With rolling eyes, I think “As if managers these days have the time to think that much about her”.

 

And that’s when it hits me, managers really don’t have time to think these days. 

 

Suddenly I think about my own introduction to the workforce in 1989 and I don’t feel quite as smug. I was ambitious, impatient and insecure enough to be arrogant. With many years, mistakes and dumb stuff behind me, I can now safely admit that I didn’t really have a clue, but my degree and my mum suggested to me that I did.  And, if truth be told, there were a few cringe-worthy tantrums that I, and no doubt my superior’s would rather forget. I was definitely a “Millennial”.

 

My turning or “growing up” point came in the form of a fabulous manager. Present, authentic and without his head bent over his phone or placed indelicately elsewhere, he took the time to tell me some hard truths and teach me how to navigate the minefield of the corporate world. His advice was not something I could have learned from any online training course, monthly team conference call, or by some other form of corporate osmosis. I took his advice because I knew him and I trusted that he had my best interests at heart.

 

Fast forward to today and I don’t see many managers willing or able to be like that. In a world of virtual office arrangements, different time zones, different cultures, and with managers so stretched they can only prioritise their boss, who do the younger generation turn to? How can an on-line training module teach them the politics and truths of human nature that profoundly impact how they work and are perceived? Is it fair to complain about the younger generation’s obsession with immediacy when there isn’t an executive alive who isn’t scrolling through their smartphones during meetings, on conference calls, and even while on the toilet because their boss has become used to 24/7 attention? When do people get to talk or form relationships when they don’t see each other? And, how on earth does someone feel genuinely appreciated when the primary source of communication is hastily (often nastily) written and largely unanswered emails and texts?

 

Granted, there are some people in the workforce who are incapable, impatient, entitled, and needy but that’s not a generation thing – that’s a people thing. I think a lot can be learned from Dolly Parton who reminds us that the pain we feel from “Millennials” is less about a generation of people but rather a generation of managerial practices, training and communication styles that too easily allows people to forget about people…. “working 9 to 5”.