I used to think that Millennials got a bad rap. To me, people who complained about young workers were just relics from another time, painfully stuck in their old-fashioned ways.
As a Millennial myself, I found accusations of our sensitivity, narcissism, and sense of entitlement in the workplace to be personally offensive and dismissed them as wholly unfounded. However, after managing a Millennial workforce at BodeTree, I’ve come to realize just how hard it can be.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the underlying causes of this management challenge. I’ve come to the realization that perhaps Millennials themselves aren’t the root of the problem; the modern workplace is to blame.
We don’t know how good we have it
The workplace has evolved dramatically over the past decade or so. Office environments are more relaxed, open, and compassionate than ever before. Twenty years ago, the concept of a “flex schedule” was considered revolutionary. Now, unlimited vacation time isn’t unheard of.
The fact that work environments have evolved is a good thing. However, for young professionals just entering the workforce, this laid-back environment simply represents the status quo. They don’t have any benchmarks to compare it to, and therefore take many of these privileges for granted.
This foundational lack of understanding can create a tension between management and employees. Human nature is to push the limits of what is allowed in almost any situation. When young employees who don’t know better push for even more privileges and perks, management can get frustrated. The employees in return feel unfairly persecuted and don’t recognize the underlying cause of the conflict.
It is a matter of experience, not generation
Let’s take a look at some statistics. According to a recent study performed by Red Brick Research, over 80% of hiring managers claim that their Millennial employees display narcissistic tendencies.
The negative sentiment expressed by the hiring managers surveyed stands in stark contrast to the view that Millennials have of themselves. For example, over two-thirds of those surveyed in the same study see themselves in a management role in the next five years, and 52% of Millennials viewed the concept of employee loyalty as being overrated. I can understand how these sentiments can seem narcissistic, but I suspect that these behaviors aren’t unique to the Millennial generation.
To me, these are simply the views and beliefs of a young and inexperienced people. It’s only natural to see yourself as infallible, on the move, and incredibly valuable when you’re just starting out.
The key difference, however, is that in the past, corporate structures were more authoritarian and brought these behaviors to a swift end. Today, leadership styles tend to be both more lenient and compassionate, and as a result, these attitudes can take root and thrive far longer than they should.
The solution is balance
So, if the modern workplace is too relaxed and inexperienced employees don’t know anything different, what is the path forward for leadership? The easy answer would be to go back to a more structured environment where people clock in and out each day and have more oversight by traditional managers. However, I don’t believe that is the right path forward.
Instead, I think that leaders need to do a better job of striking the right balance inside of their organization. There is a time to relax things and a time to push yourself and the team out of their comfort zone. The key to making this work is communication.
It happens to the best of us
I dealt with this recently with my team. We’re pretty flexible when it comes to the hours people work. I’ve always believed that it didn’t usually matter what time you arrived at the office, as long as you worked a full day and got things done. If someone wanted to work nine to six, that was no problem. This was a largely unspoken rule, and I expected people to simply do the right thing.
However, over time people had begun to abuse that policy. It was common for people to start showing up around 8:45, but when five o’clock rolled around, they looked like Fred Flintstone sliding down the back of the dinosaur.
Obviously, that behavior needed to change, so I gathered everyone together in the conference room, and we talked it out. I reiterated the need for the entire team, myself included, to push ourselves harder and not abuse the the laid back environment we have. When we do the right thing on our own, the freedoms we enjoy as a team expand. When we abuse what freedoms we have, they get reduced.
It wasn’t a particularly fun conversation, but leaders have to have the courage to be firm when problems arise. In the end, a 30 minute conversation and a hefty dose of clarity was all that was needed to right the ship. I hadn’t articulated my expectations clearly before, and once I did, the behavior improved.
The lesson I learned is that leaders should think twice before simply complaining about Millennials. Instead, we need to recognize how the workplaces we foster influence people’s understandings and make our intentions clear from the onset.
This article was written by Chris Myers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.