Bashing Millennials

Fast Company has an entertaining article written by a CEO of a company that employs almost all Millennials.  The article is well worth the read, but let me give you a taste of it:

Lazy. Entitled. Fickle. Freighted with their own inscrutable agendas. These are the kinds of things people say about cats — and millennials. For today’s managers, the generation born after 1980 is a favorite punching bag.

It’s not hard to see why, given that they’re the generation of Lindsay Lohan, Jersey Shore, and flip-flops as appropriate office footwear.

I have been drawn in by these exact topics and I’m an Xer.  But further on in the article comes this dandy (emphasis mine):

Millennials don’t have traditional boundaries or an old-fashioned sense of privacy. They live out loud, sharing details of their lives with thousands of other people. Of course there are the obvious risks to this — say, that unflattering, reputation-damaging photo that should have been deleted from Facebook — but while you shake your cane at them for indulging in TMI, I see their openness as a great opportunity. For instance, when our summer intern @jimmyaungchen tweets and Facebooks about something he achieved at work, that’s free marketing for Do Something to the 1,500 people in his immediate network. I now ask job applicants how many Facebook friends and Twitter followers they have.

Excellent point.  In fact, I just did some network checking of a sales candidate for one of our customers earlier today.  I like that she asks the candidate directly.  I prefer to check on my own and it is mainly LinkedIn that I peruse.  Facebook is fine, but it is definitely closer to the social/personal side in comparison to LinkedIn.

An entertaining and informative article for sure.  It is rare to find this combination so I strongly encourage you to read the entire thing.

Texting And Lightning

The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

-Mark Twain

If you would, allow me to speculate a bit.  I’ve been involved in volunteer activities with high school students over the past 2 years so I have become a reluctant texter (is that a word?).  I learned quickly that their preferred method of communication is texting.  I didn’t even have texting on my cell service when I started.  I now have unlimited texting out of necessity.

I tell you this in regards to a concern I see in this younger generation.  I’ve read many pieces about how the younger generation uses text shorthand in formal communications, e.g. cover letters.  That is obviously a great concern.  However, I see a more disconcerting trend – a limited vocabulary.

The modern youth needs to condense their communication into a limited number of characters for texting, Twitter, etc.  An adverse side effect of this constraint is their condensed vocabulary.  Common, monosyllabic words are their preferred lexicon.  The impact is a rather limited vocabulary that is exposed in a long-format writing piece…for instance, an essay.

This limitation is apparent when you work with these teens.  Their word selection (use of adjectives especially), syntax, punctuation and idea structure are lacking.  They have a desire to respond in a succinct manner with common words absent any punctuation beyond a period.  The exploration for new words seems lacking in their approach.  Hence, the wonderful, aforementioned quote from Mark Twain.

I see this subtle regression in writing skills becoming a widespread issue in the next generation of professionals.  The ability to write effectively may be moving onto the endangered skills list right before our eyes.

I mentioned in a previous post about a client who had a salesperson who simply could not convey cogent thoughts through his writing.  The owner paid – paid – for an English tutor to help develop this salesperson’s writing ability.  It was an abject failure and the owner eventually fired the salesperson.  My hope is that this scenario is an uncommon anecdote.

If you know of young people working their way through the education system, encourage them to expand their vocabulary and refine their writing skills.  This much-needed ability will serve them, and us, well as they move into the workforce.

What Employees Want

I am usually a bit cynical regarding these types of articles.  My reasoning is this – each individual is unique in their motivations and rewards.  Attempting to place employees into set categories regarding global characterizations is a stretch.  Nonetheless, this article from Inc.com presents some excellent points and advice for employee engagement.

I do not believe you can overstate this one:

5. Employees want flexibility. In addition to deciding how they work, the experts say employees also appreciate having a say over when they work. Gunther has, of course, set up a radically flexible schedule for his employees that might not work for every office. But, he says, it has enabled him to find and retain top talent for Meddius. “We’ve had people who have taken significant pay cuts to work for us, because at their old job they were told to show up and be at the office between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” he says. “Generation Y is looking for a synergy between their personal lives and their professional lives.” Set up a flexible vacation policy or a telecommuting policy that enables employees to work from home. It involves a great deal of trust, but, as Pink says, “If you don’t trust your employees, you’ve got much bigger problems.”

This recession has lowered the drive for some employees on this topic, but it is still prevalent among the younger workers.  I love the last line as it is absolute truth.

I think the older generation has a palpable difficulty with telecommuting.  My discussions with many Boomer-aged managers have included comments basically stating that to be effective in the role, they have to be in the office every day.  My take on that commentary is that the manager is projecting their own approach into the position.  They may struggle in a remote role, but I’m not convinced that is always the case with the younger generations.

There are 9 other interesting points in the article so I recommend you read the entire thing.

For Gen Y, Jobs Are Secondary

I’m beginning to think Gen Y is the most overanalyzed generation in…a generation.  BusinessWeek.com offers up this article – Why Certain Cities Attract Gen Ys.  The big city has a general appeal to the Millennials which is probably true for most young generations.  However, Gen Y does face a difficult career path due to tenure.  Here is a surprising graph (emphasis mine):

The appeal of big cities stems from a simple economic fact: They offer thicker labor markets with more robust job opportunities across a wide number of fields. Getting ahead in your career today means more than picking the right first job. Corporate commitment has dwindled, tenure has grown far shorter, and people switch jobs with much greater frequency. The average American changes jobs once every three years; those under the age of 30 change jobs once a year.

I’m not sure where those numbers originated, but they are noteworthy.  The days of starting a long-term career with a major corporation are fleeting. 

Jobs are clearly important. Gen Y members ranked the availability of jobs second when asked what would keep them in their current location and fourth in terms of their overall satisfaction with their community. In both cases, the highest-ranked factor was the ability to meet people and make friends. Makes perfect sense, since Gen Y intuitively understands what economic sociologists have documented: Vibrant social networks are key to landing jobs, moving forward in your career, and one’s broader personal happiness.

Second?  Surprising, maybe, but clearly networking is supreme for this generation.  I wonder if the tools at are available today are part of the drive to network.  I am astounded by the fact that Gen Y provides updates as to what they are doing at that moment (think Facebook or Twitter).  I have tried to accomplish this feat and always come up lacking…I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Yet these young people are forging networks that a sure to become immense as they mature.  The implications for selling are staggering – networks will become the top resource for prospecting.  Decision-making within companies will be information that can be attained through one’s network.  Heck, the decision-maker may be 1 step away within a network.

This sea change is happening in front of our eyes, but I’m not certain everyone is observing it.

Those Millennial Misfits

The Herman Trend Alert touches on the ever-popular Gen Y/Millennial trends and traits in their most recent email (sorry, no link).  The perception of this generation still needs some improvement…drastic improvement (emphasis mine):

Recently JobFox.com conducted a poll of recruiters with predictable results—Millennials were judged to be the least effective performers of the four generations now in our workplace. A paltry 20 percent of the responders characterized them as “generally great performers”. Compare this statistic to the 63 percent who said Baby Boomers (43 to 62 years old) were great performers and 58 percent who gave high marks to Gen Xers (29 to 42).

True confession – I have a general perception of Boomers being stagnant, almost stuck in a 1980’s mode.  I apologize now, it is just a perception.  Yet, you can understand my surprise when reading survey results such as the aforementioned quote.  Instantly, I found myself thinking, “I bet they interviewed mostly Boomers for this survey.”

The email progressed to show how misguided the Millennial perception is.  The author supplies 4 major motivators for Millennials:

The most sought-after motivator is balance. The Millennials do not embrace the value of the Boomer-created nine-to-five work week. They work best when they can set their own hours.

Second, they want to be on the leading edge. Millennials understand that technology is changing rapidly. If not updated continuously, their skills promptly become obsolete. “They have seen their parents and neighbors downsized and right-sized out of jobs.” Staying marketable is justifiably very important to them. Even though in a recent JWT survey, 60 percent of Millennials agreed that “an employee owes loyalty to their employer “,companies that do not provide new learning experiences will see this generation seeking job opportunities elsewhere.

Third, they do not want to be treated “as junior anything”. Millennials want to begin contributing right away. Companies must do a better job of helping younger workers see how their work is vital and how that work relates to the bottom line of the company.”

Finally, Millennials are looking for stability—especially now. Gen Y workers can be loyal team players as long as they can balance work and life goals, gain new learning opportunities, and feel like they are supporting company goals. The employers that will be the most successful over the next two decades will be the ones that can best inspire and engage this challenging generation.

Generation Y-Enthusiastic Or Spoiled?

There is always difficulty when you try to paint an entire generation with one broad stroke.  This fact is prominently on display in two different articles from RecruitingTrends.com.  The topic is Gen Y.

Here is an excerpt from the first one (my emphasis):

The millennials share a generational personality that is highly misunderstood by preceding generations, who often misinterpret their motivation as impatience and their enthusiasm as narcissism. Employers who manage millennials need to understand their generational footprint in order to keep this tech-savvy, plugged-in group of employees engaged in their work.

Here is an excerpt from the second one (my emphasis):

So how do you supervise, lead, and approach this next generation of high potentials? In our experience, many are particularly bright and ambitious, but also have a “spoiled brat” mentality. Technology is very much in their DNA. They seek instant gratification and thrive on challenging much of what their older peers believe to be best practices.

A particularly unique characteristic of this group is their command of technology and the fundamental belief that anyone who doesn’t embrace the absolute bleeding edge of technology will simply be left behind.

I’m probably splitting hairs here, but those two takes caught my fancy when I read the articles back-to-back.  Gen Y gets categorized many ways and most of them are accurate, at least in terms of generational descriptions.  However, this enthusiasm vs. spoiled categorization appears often.  I’m not sure which one is more accurate, I simply see this topic frequently.

Talkin’ Gen X, Gen Y

BusinessWeek.com provides a good article for adjusting your communication for Gen X and Gen Y employees.  I can’t speak to the Gen Y suggestions, but I find the Gen X piece to be spot on.

A sample:

TECHNOLOGY

Generation X: Keep it up-to-date and motivating. Music at work, BlackBerrys, IM, and fast computers will help Gen X stay productive.

Generation Y: Encourage suggestions and don’t fear change. Gen Y is more comfortable with technology than any other group. Learn from them and stay on the cutting edge.

COLLABORATION

Generation X: Limit in-person meetings. Offer alternatives like conference calls, video, and Web conferencing when collaboration is truly needed. For face-to-face meetings, stick to small productive groups and skip long planning sessions.

Generation Y: Gen Y started online social networks. Think about how you can leverage them in the workplace to encourage team collaboration and knowledge sharing.

ATTIRE

Generation X: Give them a heads-up if they should dress nicer for specific meetings or when customers are visiting the office. They’re aware it’s important to look professional, so telling them to “step it up” should not cause too much tension.

Generation Y: They’re new to the job market and might be oblivious to your company’s culture. Let them know dressing better will help defeat “slacker” misconceptions, build credibility with execs, and help their career over the long haul—especially in a weak economy.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Gen Xodus

BusinessWeek.com has an article titled Today’s Top 10 Talent-Management Challenges that provides some interesting tidbits from 3 different talent managers.  One topic leaped off the screen:

6. Stemming the exodus of Gen X’ers from corporate life. A big threat in many firms today is the exodus of mid-career talent—people in whom the organization has invested heavily and in whom it has pinned it hopes for future leadership. For example, developing talent management practices and programs calibrated to leverage technology and create greater work/life balance has been a priority for Mercer over recent years.

The sheer smallness of my generation creates pockets of problems with the marketplace.  This particular problem is one with which I was not familiar.  However, I can attest to the fact that work/life balance is greatly valued among my Gen X friends.  This value has led many of them to pass on management positions in favor of continuing to excel in their current positions.

Now combine the aforementioned quote with this excerpt (my emphasis):

3. Developing a robust leadership pipeline. I believe one of the biggest potential threats to many corporations is a lack of a robust talent pool from which to select future leaders. This is in part a numbers issue—the Gen X cohort is small and therefore, as I like to say, precious. But it’s also an interest issue—many members of Gen X are simply not particularly excited about being considered for these roles. There was wide agreement among the panelists that a lack of individuals ready to move into senior client manager and leadership roles is a critical challenge.

Therein lies the challenge – how to develop leaders from a small (relatively speaking) group.  One possibility is that Gen Y will leapfrog Gen X and take those leadership positions at a young age.  I know this possibility does not sit well with me, but there may be no other solution.

The Gen Y Workplace

From CollegeRecruiter.com:

Generation Y a/k/a Millennials promise to:

  1. Hold only productive meetings. Hallelujah!
  2. Shorten the workday by focusing on productivity.
  3. Bring back administrative assistants — even if Gen Y pays for them out-of-pocket and even if they’re virtual.
  4. Redefine retirement by taking multiple mini-retirements.
  5. They’ll find real mentors by teaching older workers about technology and in return be guided through office politics.
  6. Put human back into human resources.
  7. Promote people to management based on their managerial skills, not their seniority.
  8. Continue to value what their parents have to offer because Gen Y respects their parents and their parents respect their Gen Y children.
  9. Trade off potential raises and promotions for higher starting salaries.
  10. Re-invent the performance reviews by increasing their frequency from semi-annual or even annual to on-the-spot.

I’m with them on number 1 and 2.

Marketing To Millennials

Inc.com chronicles one Gen Y marketing campaign by BMW that I have not heard of.  The opening sentence forewarned me:

Generation Y’s indifference to traditional forms of marketing and advertising has some big companies and their ad agencies scrambling for creative ways to reach and engage this demographic.

Engagement is the key these days, isn’t it?  If you read the marketing campaign in the short article, you won’t read about magazine ads, TV commercials or radio spots.  Instead there are short films on YouTube, Facebook pages and micro-websites.

I think the author best sums up this new marketing approach (my bold):

It seems to me that the campaign is less about the actual product than it is about delivering a specific message to a target market: we understand what gets your attention, so we’re going to plant our brand where you live, give you fun stuff to look at and play around with online, and we’re going to facilitate an ongoing conversation that will engage you far longer and more intimately than a 30-second television commercial.