Stop Blaming “The Millennials” for Your Organisational Deficiencies
I am amazed by the frequency with which millennials are used as the go-to scapegoat for all that is wrong in the world. Organisations are far too quick to attribute their own failings to the shortcomings of the incoming generation of employees. Finger pointing and reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ serves only one purpose: proving to the world that your organisation is living in the past.
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
I am guessing that this sounds familiar to many of my readers. It's not the latest hyped-up thought leader talking about millennials, it's a quote from the somewhat less modern thought leader- Socrates.
I am not a millennial, I do not deny young people entering the workforce pose challenges different to those of previous generations. I do, however, strongly believe that, if we looked a bit closer at the reality, we would find answers to these fresh challenges within ourselves and our organisations.
Let's look at three of the criticisms levelled at the millennial workforce:
Millennials want agile & innovative workplace cultures
Millennials don’t want to work for slow moving, rigid, bureaucratic monsters! Who would believe it? Any organisation that believes the problem rests on the individual’s shoulders is very much mistaken. Organisations need to maintain core systems of operations, processes and beliefs. Beyond that flexible working practices, personalised career pathways and project-based teams can promote increased interest, cross-functional cooperation and higher employee engagement- all without purchasing a single beanbag! You don’t need to be a start-up to foster start-up cultures. Intrapreneurship or internal innovation incubator programs can be implemented in large organisations, with the added advantage of increased resources, financial stability and potential for large-scale application. If your organisation does not employ modern day working practices, how can you expect to attract and retain the best talent of any generation? When companies say they cannot provide a creative or flexible space to utilise the passion and drive of their employees it denotes and unwillingness to adapt, rather than incapacity to adapt. Change is difficult, but change is a choice.
Millennials are all job-hoppers
The days of the lifelong career in one organisation are long gone. The younger generations have been observed to move jobs more regularly than in the past. How can we combat this? One way is to provide internal opportunities like global relocation, temporary placements in multi-functional teams and developing individual career pathways from day one to show the potential for advancement with your organisation. This can provide variety, learning opportunities and competence development internally and will help you to retain an increased number of talent employees. Another approach is to play the wise head on experienced shoulders, whereby you invest in younger employees, regardless of whether they will stay or not. By equipping each and every employee with broad ranging skills you strengthen your brand in the business community and build a network of ambassadors for your company. What’s more, there is the boomerang effect: once they see that other workplaces do not offer the great working environment and nurturing culture, they might come back to you, bring their fresh new experiences with them.
Millennials are so difficult to manage
Let's stop to take stock for a second. Young people have always been pushing for more. The world would not be where it is today without the actions, desires, talent and youthful exuberance of the previous generations. Be aware Millennials are a product of their environment, an environment created by Gen-X and Gen-Y. Managing the people who are taking advantage of the benefits affording to them by the hard-work and creativity of previous generations should be a source of pride not a source of pain. Apparently, Millennials want to have meaningful work for a company with a vision they can believe in. The way I see it, managers are not required to sell the company to its people, which requires a new set of skills. If we can identify what Millennials want, why not give it to them? If managing Millennials requires different skills then we should focus on upskilling the management so they know how to sell, not tell.
Much of what millennials are criticised for is positive: a desire for opportunity, flexibility, autonomy and development. We should not try to crush this spirit, but develop and shape this spirit to work for the common goals of our organisations. Going one step further, we can frame millennial-ism as a mindset, not an aspect of inter-generational conflict. Working towards millennials friendly workplaces with millennials ready management is a worthwhile goal to accelerate our push towards the next generation of our organisational cultures.