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Millennials In The Workforce: Who Are They And What Do They Want?

“We have literally been shaming our youth for all of human history. This never made any sense to me.” – Lindsey Pollak

Millennials are lazy, entitled, and narcissistic. They want participation trophies, still live with their parents, expect free food and bean bags…or so we are told. But, honestly, who are they really?

Millennials, or Generation Y, are people born roughly from the early 1980’s to the mid-1990’s. Neil Howe and William Strauss (both American authors and historians) coined the term Millennial in their book, Generations, in 1991.

Howe explains that they chose Millennial because their research made it clear this generation […] would be drastically different than the one before and therefore needed a distinct name. Plus, the oldest of them would graduate high school in 2000, a date that loomed large in the 90s.


Lindsey Pollak, New York Times bestselling author (and a Gen X’er), spends her time helping young people start their careers. At a TEDx Talk, she explains that it’s nothing new to shame younger generations: Gen X’ers were called slackers; Baby Boomers were called hippies and the original “me” generation. She shows the audience the following quote – “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today.” – and asks: “What do you think? 1950’s? 30’s? Civil War Era? Revolutionary Times?” No. This was said by Hesoid, 8th Century B.C.


Millennials want trophies

Marketers trying to sell to Millennials made the discovery that Millennials apparently like trophies. In the workplace, though, older generations respond to this by saying, “Oh, nobody gave me a trophy when I just started working. Isn’t that a bit entitled?” But the types of “trophies” Millennials want are not “praise” for work-NOT-well-done.

Lindsey discusses three key areas in which Millennials can be supported:

1. Coaching and development

The most important consideration to a Millennial in taking a job is the opportunity for personal development. They want to learn and grow while contributing to an organisation. Companies should offer more feedback and guidance to young people. Annual reviews are outdated and negative – rather use apps to provide guidance, mentoring, support, and feedback in real-time.

2. Flexibility

“9-to-5” office work is over and Millennials want to use the technology that is available to them. Lindsey compares asking Millennials, “Why are you always working on your device?”, to asking a Baby Boomer, “Why are you so into electricity? Why do you plug things in all the time?” (Think electric knife). Millennials are learning early in life that nobody regrets their lack of overtime when lying on their death-bed. Millennials want (read: need) flexibility.

3. Transparency and purpose

When you grow up with social media, you expect to have all the information you need at your fingertips. We often hear that Millennials don’t want to do the grunt work. Actually, Millennials don’t mind it; they just want to understand why. They don’t want to do it just because it has always been done a certain way or just because they were told to do it. Take the time to explain to them the “why”.


Win or revenge?

Older generations might be resistant to implementing these changes because they feel they didn’t receive any special treatment when they first started working. To them, Lindsey poses the question: Do you want to do what will make you win? Or do you want to get revenge for how you yourself were managed when you started working? What is the most effective strategy?

Lindsey leaves us with the question: What would happen if we supported Millennials instead of shaming them?

Let’s find out.