Leaders Vs Millennials – Who’s Changing Who?

by  Joanie Connell  |  Workplace Issues
Leaders Vs Millennials – Who’s Changing Who?

Attitudes toward work are changing. Younger people entering the workplace want different things than people did a generation ago.

They expect different opportunities from their employers, and they want to work differently than their employers want them to. As leaders, we have to ask ourselves, will we change or will they?

The millennials aren’t exactly new anymore, but their influence on the workplace is – and it’s mixed. The millennial generation of workers is more educated, tech savvy, and prepared than ever before.

In preparing for work, however, they have been coached, taught, protected, and academically shielded from the real world. While they offer speed and global access to information, they come across as impatient and insolent. While they yearn for interesting projects and more free time, they are labeled as entitled and impractical. While they crave direction and feedback, they are perceived as unimaginative and needy.

Leaders can complain about millennial workers all they want, but they are here to stay and savvy leaders will be on the forefront of change rather than scramble to catch up. At the same time, millennials need to better adapt to the workplace as well, and leaders can help them do that.

How Will The New Generation Of Workers Change Today’s Leaders?

Millennials are making the workplace a much more pleasant place to be. While modern work motivation theories have already called upon leaders to make work more fulfilling for employees, millennials are furthering this trend. They refuse to settle for menial work. Instead, they move on when they feel bored or stagnant. This is evidenced by the lower median job tenure for millennials of two to three years – quite a bit lower than for other generations.

Flexibility and work-life balance have also gained momentum in recent years, but the millennials are taking it to the next level. Leaders will have to be more responsive to workers’ demands for flexibility and work-life balance or they will lose the best people. In fact, lack of flexibility is the number one reason millennials quit jobs today.

Millennials also want more praise and rewards for jobs well done. While their reputation for wanting trophies for just showing up often generates chuckles among leaders, their quest for recognition isn’t all bad. The rest of us are benefiting from employee recognition programs as well, and company profits are too. What leader wouldn’t see this as a positive change?

How Will Today’s Leaders Change The New Generation Of Workers?

On the other hand, let’s face it; many of the millennials’ demands are impractical. The workplace can only bend so far to accommodate individual desires for pleasant, self-fulfilling, interesting, rewarding work that fits conveniently around leisure and family time. There’s only so far we can indulge employees before profits erode to an unsustainable level.  At some point, the millennials will have to learn to endure hardship to survive in the cutthroat world economy and today’s leaders need to teach them how.

Leaders have the ability to help the new generation of workers be more independent and need less feedback and direction to get their work done. Leaders can help millennials develop the resilience to get through boring and unpleasant circumstances because they are inherent in work life. Leaders can also help millennials bounce back from failures and not depend on rewards and recognition to get them through the day.

Who’s Right?

Are millennials too entitled and demanding? Or is it that we leaders are too stuck in our old ways of thinking that we can’t come up with ways to make work more flexible and fulfilling? There’s a case on both sides, but let’s take the best of both worlds, not the worst, and lead positive change for the workforce.

Please share your thoughts on leaders vs millennials…
Photo Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

About The Author

Articles By joanie-connell
Joanie B. Connell, Ph.D., is the founder of Flexible Work Solutions, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership assessment, development, and retention for all levels. She is also the author of “Flying without a Helicopter: How to Prepare Young People for Work and Life.”  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

John Smith  |  27 May 2015  |  Reply

HI, Joanie:

This is quite a helpful synopsis of a major part of the change sweeping the modern workplace.

I will admit that my focus tends to be much more on the ongoing saga of my own generation (Boomers) and how we are having to reinvent retirement as a continuation of work. However, I was vaguely aware of most of what you have so clearly and thoughtfully described.

I really like the way you point out that workplace changes important to all of us have been supported and enhanced by Milennials. Most of my peers have spent much of their working careers so far talking about “meaningful” work, but we seem to forget our younger and more revolutionary selves as we have toiled in the workplace. We demonstrated passionately for and against various social ills while in our formative years, but many of us rolled over and played the corporate game until we were burned late in our first careers.

Maybe we ought to think in terms of working collaboratively with other generations, rather than viewing them as competition, clueless, or immaterial.

Now you’ve made me want to go back and reread your book:) ….


Joanie Connell  |  27 May 2015  |  Reply

Thanks for your perceptive inputs. Collaborating across generations and taking the best from each would certainly strengthen the workplace and beyond. I hope the Millennials come to that conclusion too. There is so much wisdom to be learned. I’d love to keep the dialogue going.

Cynthia B.  |  27 May 2015  |  Reply

Hi Joanie,
I totally agree with John on the idea of generations working together as this will open up the opportunity to support each other. Milennials have so much to offer up front in perceiving things quickly, knowing how to prioritize work and moving ahead on a project; while Leaders have the wisdom and experience to know where to slow down in area that needs details to be precise, where creativity can play a role, and where past experience can help make final decisions.

During this time Milennials may introduce new ideas, creative problem solving techniques, and where to find answers. Leaders may bring positive ways to interact with others, learn through the experience to delegate work with more confidence in Milennials, and appreciate a little extra time to unwind when the work is completed.

I think the workplace should continue to find ways for employees to meet casually; be it sports activities, employee luncheons, yoga classes, or book discussion groups.
I actually have a lot of faith in the newer generations as they have information more accessible than ever before, and they are creative in ways that we never imagined.

Joanie Connell  |  27 May 2015  |  Reply

Thanks for your words of inspiration, Cynthia. I like how you suggest ways of working together to leverage the strengths of the different generations.


christine Becker  |  29 May 2015  |  Reply

Hello Joanie
I love your analyse of the curent situation in the workplace it is so true. Having millenials myself I understand a little their ways of thinking, maybe
When before we took our boss advise for granted, after all he has the wisdom being the boss, millenials double check it on the web, and after that with their peers.
When we were making plans to stay in the company for several years, millenials are already double checking their possible exit after three months, and they say it is because the work place is not stable and they know that they are not going to stay with the same company forever, so lets look at greener pastures, maybe?
They value a lot their social time, they are born with the internet in the craddle, and by that are very creative and savy
We all need to work together and we as older need to include the younger generation in , and value them so they will stay in the same company.
Thanks again for your wonderful input!!!!

Michelle  |  04 Jun 2015  |  Reply

I agree with the thought of the generations needing to work together, in an effort to pull the strengths from one another. There is no doubt that millennials come in the door well prepared and ready to progress in their career. However, I feel that it’s important for them to recognize that there can be some great learning opportunities as they climb each rung of the ladder and allowing time to get there is extremely important.

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