Millennials in the Workplace: Does This Sound Like You?

In case you haven’t heard, you are a member of the Millennial generation -- often defined as people between the ages of 17 and 34. According to the business experts, you can be tough to manage because you need lots of praise; you’re ambitious and eager to learn; and you know your way around Facebook and myyearbook. So what will all this mean when you start to look for a job? Your future employers are already figuring out how best to manage your ‘special’ skills.Read More

by Lew Goettner

If there is one thing Millennials and their bosses can agree upon, it’s this: They’re special. “That’s what everybody has told them all their lives,” notes Barbara Keats, a management professor at the W. P. Carey School of Business.

Millennials were born between 1977 and 1994. Today, there are some 70 million in this 17 to 34 age group, roughly 20% of the U.S. population. Not all in that age group, however, are classic “Millennials,” according to Dale Kalika, a professorial colleague of Keats in the management department. Keats and Kalika are conducting a research project focused on Millennials. When referencing the youths who are making some managers pull out their thinning hair, she says, “We’re really talking about the middle and upper classes. It doesn’t cut across all social and economic levels.”

The parents of boss-taxing Millennials spent their days “giving their children lots of praise, telling them they couldn’t do wrong, giving them second chances …”

“And third chances, and fourth,” adds Keats.

The result, the professors say, are students who take criticism and less-than-A grades very personally, but not very well. Also, “They consider their parents to be friends,” Keats explains. “So, they tend to see professors and employers as peers, and they act that way.”

Trophies for all

The professors also advise bosses to be mindful of the Millennials’ need for praise. Remember, this peer group grew up in an age when every kid on the team was a star, regardless of how many strikes against them.

The result, the professors say, is that these young people crave approval and respond best to what Kalika calls “persuasive means. Be a facilitator, a mentor, not just an authority.”

Along with careful criticism, Millennials need structure. “These are the kids who, every day after school, had ballet lessons, art classes or T-ball,” Keats notes. Even leisure was structured into the newly coined “playdate.”

In addition, she maintains that Millennials “have little tolerance for ambiguity. They want lots of feedback. And bosses will have to gradually bring them about” when it comes to dealing with the “uncertainty of outcomes” or the often “imperfect direction” one may encounter on the job.

Ethics are another thing to watch. Millennials don’t necessarily think cheating is wrong, Keats says. With a Teflon-coated view of personal character, they don’t believe doing something unethical — like cheating — makes them bad people, she explains. “They seem to think that cheating is an OK way to achieve things … because they’re busy.”

Getting work from your new workers

Lest this scare you off, there are positives about this generational contingent, as well as ways to make them care.

For one thing, they’re an extremely eager, achievement-oriented group. Michael Goul, a professor of Information Systems at the W. P. Carey School of Business, admits he sees self-importance in this group, “but not an arrogance. They say ‘Give me a challenge.’ They’re willing and open to learning, and they want someone to lead them along.”

He also points out that Millennials are a generation weaned on computers, so “they’re very accustomed to the tool sets and the way information technology presents information.”

And, the Millennials are an altruistic bunch, which may be why the professors have found it’s effective to focus on work — and school assignments — that is meaningful.

Julie Smith David, another information systems professor at the W. P. Carey School, believes there’s power in Millennial communication conventions. As an example, she points to the software called Twitter, a free social networking and micro-blogging service. The premise behind Twitter is that users are supposed to keep in touch by answering one simple question: What are you doing? “I’m driving to work. I’m eating a banana.”

David can see businesses making use of such technology. “Suppose you’re a large distributor. You could send a message — ‘Big snowstorm at regional distribution center. Things are going to be late.’ And then everyone is up-to-date.” Of course, she jokes, no Millennial would write such a long message. It might be something more like, “Big snow — we’re screwed.”

David sees “a lot of power in these social networks and interactions, and Millennials are quite good at them.” How could that be of value? “The Millennials,” David says, “are better at collaborating and, potentially, they’re better at collaborating remotely.”

Click here for an expanded version of this article.

Related Links

Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business

CBS News 60 Minutes: The Millennials Are Coming

Pew Research Center: The Millennials

Entrepreneurship (Or Lack Thereof) in Millennials

One comment on “Millennials in the Workplace: Does This Sound Like You?

  1. Hey millennials, the first generation to grow up with technology,
    The current biggest population in the USA,
    The pioneers of online streaming and digital content consumption,
    The cohort known for their entrepreneurial spirit,
    The generation that challenged traditional work structures with the gig economy.

    Dale Kalika points out many traits regarding you guys, the millennials. She says, “The parents of boss-taxing Millennials spent their days ‘giving their children lots of praise, telling them they couldn’t do wrong, giving them second chances’” and now “Millennials’ [have a] need for praise.”

    This quote by Dale Kalika highlights an observation about millennials and their behaviors, drawing a connection between parenting styles and the traits exhibited by this generation. The mention of “boss-taxing Millennials” suggests that these individuals might display certain characteristics in their professional lives, particularly in their interactions with authority figures or supervisors. Kalika’s assertion that the parents of millennials provided them with excessive praise, shielded them from failure, and offered second chances underscores a parenting approach that aimed to boost their self-esteem and confidence. Consequently, millennials have developed a pronounced need for praise and affirmation, likely stemming from their upbringing.

    The quote implies that this need for continuous positive reinforcement might manifest in millennials’ professional and personal lives, potentially impacting their interactions with colleagues, bosses, and even personal relationships. It suggests that this generation might seek recognition and validation more fervently, which could influence their work dynamics and communication styles. Overall, the quote underscores the complex interplay between upbringing and generational traits, shedding light on potential aspects of millennials’ behavior that have emerged as a result of their upbringing and societal influences.

    If Kalika’s belief holds true, suggesting that the frequency of compliments millennials seek is influenced by their upbringing, then it follows logically that my generation, Generation Z, might exhibit an even greater need for compliments. A report from dailymail indicated that the parental expectations of millennials (Generation X) were as modest as one compliment per year.

    In contrast, millennials have progressed to seeking three compliments annually, a concept Kalika deems significantly substantial for its time. Remarkably, this pattern extends to the offspring of millennials, who now seek not three compliments per year, but an astonishing three compliments per week! This compelling progression aligns with Kalika’s assertion, underscoring the parental role in shaping millennials’ propensity for praise. It is plausible that this inclination has been perpetuated, leading millennials to raise their own children with an even higher craving for affirmation.

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