“They want everything and they want it now. They’re spoiled brats. They start a new job on Monday, and they expect to be CEO by Friday. They come to work late, and they don’t even know how to dress right.”
I hear the complaints all the time, coming from older managers complaining about the new crop of young people entering the workforce. The new entrants are the “Millenials”, and they are definitely different from the generations before them.
They come to work late, and they wear flip-flops. They spend hours each day on social media chatting with friends around the world. They wonder why anyone would “pay their dues”. Sometimes they even want to go to an art gallery in the middle of the day, or they want to leave work early for a yoga class. The older managers in the company throw up their hands, asking, “What’s up with these young people, who do they think they are?”
The thing is, the characteristics those older managers are complaining about are the same things they consider traits of an ideal employee, they just don’t see them from the right perspective yet.
That desire to be CEO by Friday? Sure, it’s unrealistic. Yes, the young hires will learn soon enough that good things take time, sometimes even years and years. But that eager ambition is the mark of confidence. Companies say they want to hire confident people, because confident employees take bold actions and lead change. Well, now companies have an entire generation of confident people to choose from.
All that time they’re “wasting” on Friendfeed? It’s not a waste at all. In fact, they’re already doing the same thing professionals have been pushing themselves to do for years: networking. Millenials have found a way to do it that doesn’t require slapping on name tags and having awkward conversations while drinking cheap wine in a hotel ballroom. As a result, they have access to resources and friends from all around the world. When you need to tap into a diverse and international pool of people, that Gen Y person in your office might be the perfect person to call on.
The young designer who wants to leave the office in the middle of the day to visit an art gallery? She’s getting inspiration to create a truly unique product or service, and she’s doing it by drawing on sources outside the workplace. In the past, companies could rely solely on their own internal resources for innovation. However, innovation doesn’t come just from the inside anymore. It flourishes with free interaction with the outside world. Gen Y employees know this instinctively, and they look to the world around them, including their international networks of friends, for inspiration.
So you might feel exasperated when your Gen Y employees challenge authority, or want to follow a flexible work schedule, or ask why your company restricts internet access. But remember that it isn’t that they don’t want to work in corporations, it is that they look for creativity, change and inspiration in work and in life. In other words, what they want is probably very similar to what you want.
Seeing your new charges from this perspective is difficult. It’s hard to accept that someone wants to play by rules so different from the ones you accepted throughout your entire career. It’s so much easier to roll your eyes and ask why they don’t just fall in line. But perhaps instead of asking the millenials to change and adapt to you, try changing and adapting to them, instead. After all, they are the future. You know those leadership trainings your company has been sending you to for years, the ones where they tell you, “leading change is critical”? Take that message to heart. Don’t let the kids drag you towards change kicking and screaming — get out there and lead them in it.
It might help you get out in front of this change if you remember that your young employees are essentially seeking the same things you’ve been dreaming about for years: work/life balance; creativity, excitement, and freedom on the job; more control over their lives. They are more like you than you realize, but since they come from a different generation, they are going about it in ways you’re not used to. Learn from them.