Love Your Millennials

Think about the last time you were at an event and one of the speakers criticized or made fun of an entire generation of millennials. Is that really fair, or even accurate?


Many critics love to bemoan the scourge of the millennials and their absurd and ridiculous expectations on the job. The usual litany goes something like this: they don’t want to pay their dues; they demand too much coddling, and they expect too much reward. But what is often missed in the lamentations of the millennials is that the same forces which have changed the consumer have changed them as employees and some of the change is good news.


It’s understandable that a generation raised in a society where want and deprivations are foreign concepts grew up expecting more than a paycheck at the end of the day. From the time they could walk they have been connected to the entire world, with the power to put their mark on it – through web sites, social media, and video – in a way previous generations never knew. And when you’re not scraping by for a living (although there are worrying statistics of how many 30-year-olds live with their parents) then you aim for more than an “atta boy” on the job.


A recent study found that 90% of business school students said they would be willing to sacrifice some percentage of their salary to work for a responsible employer. Fourteen percent even said they’d be willing to give up 40% of their salary to do so. We can laugh at a bunch of over-privileged MBA students haggling over money they haven’t made yet, but we should take these statistics to heart. In fact, the article reporting the study noted that similar studies conducted in the 1980s and 1990s found that “business students were more unethical and more corruptible” than their counterparts today.


Corporate responsibility, ethical behavior, philanthropic initiatives – these are the terms students in the study used to describe their perfect employer. It all boils down to one overarching idea: the rising generation wants meaning from their workdays. Technology and the changing economy has transformed their expectations and concerns from previous generations from the material to the ethical. The cynics cry that it’s all a bunch of nonsense from entitled kids. But just as consumers have redefined their expectations from businesses, so have younger workers redefined their expectations from employers. There’s no reason to put a value judgment on it. It’s a new reality, and the intentional leader accepts it as opposed to shaking his fist at “those darn kids.”


Moreover, the expectation of the employees bears greatly on the expectations of the consumers. To deliver an experience of success to a customer, a business needs to look beyond the straight calculus of value and price. It needs to understand that consumers are looking for something that they can’t manufacture in a factory, but can certainly create in the interactions. Those enhancing, refining, and augmenting those interactions between consumer and company are the employees. Whether it’s the front-facing customer service reps or the programmers behind the scenes, they must be committed to creating a better, more successful experience.


I often speak and write about intentional leadership, and that kind of leaders doesn’t look at the expectations of the rising generation and say, “We need to change that mentality!” She looks at them and says, “How can I make that mentality work for us?”


As a leader, you might miss a simpler (but not necessarily better) era when all employees wanted was a decent paycheck. As a leader, you must learn how to use employee expectations to your advantage. How do you leverage their desire for more meaning out of their workday to produce a better product? How do you entice an employee to go the extra mile for a customer?


By giving them what they want: inspiration. If employees want to believe they are working for something larger than money, then the intentional leader must find – or create – the greater meaning. Instead of focusing on what is different about millennials—or any of the generations in the workplace—focus on what is positive, and the hopes and fears that we all share regardless of age.


Rather than lament them, learn to love your millennials.

Mark Sanborn: NYT's Bestselling author, Consultant and Communicator

Bring Mark Sanborn to your next event.

Find out more information, including fees and availability.