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.