The Korn Group

  • Millennials are challenging employees – get used to it

    • March 6, 2019
    • Neer Korn
    "Having been raised up on a mantra of self-esteem, like the classic "you can do and be anything you set out to be," young people are, for the most part, confident, cocky, determined and ready to unleash their talents on employers (and, indeed, the world.)"

    The CEO of the Muffin Break, Natalie Brennan, recently came under fire for complaining about young employees and their lack of work ethos. Considering the franchise’s record of underpaying young employees and that her issue was young people refusing to work for no pay, this was never going to go down well, and a furious backlash resulted in backtracking and much consumption of humble pie. But Brennan does have a point about young employees being overly demanding, entitled, impatient and a challenge to manage. In the clumsiest of ways, she was articulating a common lament of employers.

    Brennan’s chief complaint was that young people will no longer work for free to advance their careers. “There’s just nobody walking in my door asking for an internship, work experience or unpaid work, nobody.” That’s a bit harsh. Talk to young people and their energy about their future and career is palpable. Having been raised up on a mantra of self-esteem, like the classic “you can do and be anything you set out to be,” they are, for the most part, confident, cocky, determined and ready to unleash their talents on employers (and, indeed, the world.)

    Consider too that this generation of young people has never experienced a recession, having known only decades of consecutive economic growth. In one memorable moment in a group discussion with retirees one gentleman offered that, “what young people need is a good recession. That will make them less arrogant and picky.” When all you’ve known is relatively low unemployment, low inflation and economic growth, it stands to reason that they are confident.

    For employers, especially older ones, young people can be seen as entitled and difficult, with expectations and demands that can be impractical. One senior banking executive described to me the exit interview of a 21 year-old who left the bank after only three months. “When asked why he was leaving his response was that he wasn’t getting any one-on-one time with the CEO.”

    Today’s young workforce have been encouraged to have opinions and express their views from early on. They were raised in democratic homes where instilling self-esteem meant seeking out and listening to their perspectives and involving them in household decision making. While their parents and grandparents may have done some presentation and public speaking practice at university, young people have learnt to do so since kindergarten.

    Essentially, older employers are resentful of a new ethos that young people bring to the workplace. They resent that the youth refuse to follow the same paths they were expected to. They progressed patiently and slowly through the ranks of organisations, content for their future to lie in the hands of management. Young people have no intention of following the set path and are intent on using their nous to fast track their careers. Having been trained in a one area their employers expect them to patiently stay put and put their new skills into practice. From their perspective young people figure that having now learnt a skill or task it is time for the next advancement. And if their current employer won’t provide this it’s time to look elsewhere.

    They have grown up in an era where relying on an employer or organisation for their future careers is no longer a consideration. Here Muffin Break expects them to work for free for some months in the hope of a possible position later. That’s not good enough. It’s not a reasonable investment of time. If it were Pixar or SpaceX or another aspirational employer, the prospects are more enticing and may be worth the investment. Muffin Break is not regarded as that kind of employer.

    A generation ago it was seen as an accomplishment to have remained with the one employer for many years, earning a badge of sorts on the 20th anniversary with great pride. Today staying in any position for a lengthy amount of time is viewed as a failure. It is a demonstration of laziness and a lack of initiative and go-getting attitude.

    There is little loyalty to companies or corporations. Young people have seen enough to know they will fire people when they deem it financially favourable to do so, and with little consideration to loyalty or service. So, they behave reciprocally. Rather their loyalty is to their immediate boss, who would ideally also be a mentor, and their department or team or project. But their ultimate loyalty is to themselves. The goal of so many is to work for themselves. Inspired by countless start-up stories, and being technologically savvy and ahead of their elders, they are confident of their future success, unencumbered as yet by life’s realities and responsibilities.

    When asked if there were any misconceptions society has about young people that bothers them, a key theme young people talked about was being viewed a lazy and lacking drive and commitment. Their unanimous response was that they are out to work smarter, not harder. Cutting corners, carving a different path, not following the rules and challenging norms is about using their nous to further themselves.

    So what are employers to do? There are lots of options available to them, all of which require a shift in thinking and culture. Instead of frustration at the seeming entitlement of young people, the key is harnessing their boundless energy by offering on-going upskilling, overseas opportunities, actual work/life balance, frequent feedback, mentorship and recognised areas of responsibility.

    The alternative is to whinge about them but that helps no-one, it certainly did Muffin Break no favours.