One Consultant's Take on Millennials

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on March 18, 2010

Business leaders I talk with are perplexed—even agitated—by the attitude of entitlement that seems to have overtaken the Millennial generation (those born after 1980). To get a first-hand look, I spent a day shadowing 12 young, professional millennials.

We sat around a conference table for an hour and talked about what motivated them, how work compared to college, their take on achieving work-life balance, and so forth. Then I spent 30 minutes with each of them. We crammed into their work spaces as they handled incoming client inquiries and talked as they went about their work. Here are four surprising things I learned that I think will strike a chord in any business.

1. Autonomy breeds commitment. One big difference between university life and the world of work: They had more autonomy at school. "In school, you get to pick your term paper topic. Here, they give you the topic." Finding ways of giving this group some say in their work can be a big motivator.

2. Engagement is more important than recognition. The way this group feels appreciated is to be asked for their ideas on a problem. They’ve had it with gold stars.

3. High performers don’t multitask. We tend to think of this group as the ones who did homework, watched TV, and IMed, all at the same time, as they were growing up. Maybe they did. But the people I met with had developed their own ways to minimize multitasking: checklists, noise-canceling headphones, and limiting their access of personal e-mail and Facebook to breaks.

4. Sometimes young people really do know what they’re talking about. These days the resumé of the average 25 year-old has some pretty eye-popping things on it, especially if you compare it to the resumés of today’s 50-year-olds when they were 25. Maybe more people should be asking Millennials what they think.

Richard C. Harris, PhD
Independent Consultant
Boston

Reader Comments

Boomer

March 19, 2010 4:09 AM

1. 25 year olds just think they know a lot,
2. Here is a problem, solve it and don't expect praise.
3. Lots of studies that "multitasking" just delays completion of projects.
4. A resume based on college can be a total lie and no way to prove.While these kids spent 5-6 years in college and went on sping breaks in Cancun, my generation was in the Military.

I and my generation are going to be your boss for the next few years. Live with it, pay your dues,and work hard. That is what the WW2 generation told us.

Boomer

Asaad Faquir

March 19, 2010 11:16 PM

As a millennial I agree with 1, 2, and 4. I think all too often the "old guard" that you mention in number 4 is too caught up in how things used to be. I have an MBA from a tier 2 school and MBS from an international institution, I have been a VP Risk Consultant (listed by name on the official org chart) of a publicly traded billion dollar bank, making critical choices for the institution. I only have 4 years of work experience... my former employer really understood Millennials and the quality of work. Now as I find myself unemployed, right in your back yard of Boston. I find the old guard not willing to listen to me despite my education and experience because I don't have the 10 years of experience THEY needed to get to the position THEY are now doing the hiring for. Strange how that works.

I really disagree with you on number 3 though. I don't think it is so much that we don't multitask, I think it is more so we are so good at focal-tasking. Especially the "high performers" as you described. The typical day to day stuff we totally multitask. Gathering information, communicating with friends and colleagues, and the sort of "half brain" functions that we need to do we will multitask like crazy, but when it is time to put all the information we gathered into a final product, we shut down the distractions. At least that is what I do and what most of my friends and colleagues did.

I like the blog post. Interesting reading.

pharmacy technician

May 3, 2010 12:14 AM

Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

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