Millennials at Work – They’re Not Different; Companies Are

October 6th, 2016

Topics: Culture Future of Work Talent & Workforce

I have recently been in two meetings where top executives of several companies have expressed the thought that the Millennials that work in their companies are different than prior generations.   One said, “They are different creatures.”

They described Millennials as:

  • Act entitled
  • Do not stay at one company very long
  • Want to move jobs within their own company more often
  • Are not interested in moving up the traditional pyramid
  • Won’t do the same job for five years
  • Become anxious to move on when given what they consider a mundane role

What these executive are seeing is accurate, but the underlying reason is not what they think.   Rather than being “different creatures,” Millennials are rational creatures who are reacting to the change in social contract that companies have evolved to.   It’s important to understand the actual thinking and motivations of Millennials, in order to come up with effective solutions that benefit your company.
Millennials grew up seeing:

  • After a couple of down quarters, their parents being laid off after years of dedicated work, with limited options to take their skills
  • Companies eliminating pension plans, and instituting 401K programs that are riskier and encourage people to move between companies
  • Their parents’ generation’s salaries and careers stagnate when they loyally stick to mundane, but necessary roles, while new people from the outside are brought in to new, exciting assignments
  • Their parents and their parents’ friends complain that people brought in from the outside in those new, exciting assignments floundered because they did not understand the business or the customers.
  • Stagnation of real wages for all but those selected (often from the outside), for special initiatives

Millennials are not different; Companies changed the social contract.   Employees are expendable.   Rather than give a current loyal employee a chance to grow into a new role, it’s seen as better to bring in someone new, someone with no “warts,” because he or she is new and unknown.   After two down quarters, top executives bow to Wall Street pressure and convenient accounting practices to layoff large numbers of middle management.
Companies have taught Millennials to manage their own career, keep away from stagnation, and keep learning new skills and technology that are becoming valuable.   If that means moving companies and jobs a lot, so be it.
So the social contract between companies and employees has changed, and there is probably no going back.   What do you need to do to retain and get the most out of your valued Millennials?

  • Move them around to new assignments
  • Don’t micromanage.; Let them develop the skills to figure out a new assignment, or project on their own
  • Teach them your business, and by the way, let them teach you emerging digital technology.; You’ll learn and they will feel valued
  • Tell them they are valued, and back it up by being loyal to them when times get tight

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About the Author

Don Castle, Executive Fellow at the Center for Digital Strategies, is a partner in the consulting firm New Madison Ave, where he specializes in advising CEO’s and boards of directors on opportunities and risks presented by Digital Technologies, and in helping chief marketing officers to use data to enhance brand strength and revenue.
Previously, Don held CIO positions at Johnson & Johnson, first for Ethicon, Inc. a manufacturer of surgical devices, then as Group CIO for J&J’s six global medical device companies.  He also was CIO, then President of the Life Science Services at SGS North America, and CIO for Nabisco International.

Don has run one business-to-business startup, and served as advisor to another startup in Healthcare IT. He serves on the board of the nonprofit Inroads NY/NJ.  Don has a bachelor degree from Dartmouth, and an MBA from The Tuck School.

Follow Don on Twitter @dwcastle


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