Wednesday, January 18, 2012

We Are Going To Have To Accomodate Millenials And They Will Have To Learn To Accomodate Us

This is the first of a number of posts that I will do regarding executives who are under thirty.  They are different from their older compatriots.  They have different needs and different attitudes than the people they work for.  It really is a whole new world.

A few weeks ago, a twenty-something person came to my office.  I had been calling her for several weeks.  She told me she hated her job, didn’t like the people she worked for, but loved advertising.  As I interviewed her, I realized that she was successful, doing well financially and had been recognized by her management.  What was wrong with the picture?  I asked  her why it had taken me more than half a dozen calls and as many emails to get her to come in.  Her reply, typical of millennials, “You know how it is, I am busy.  And I figured that if it was important you would call back.” I went on to ask her why, if she was unhappy, she would not have called back quickly, even if she called well after hours and got my voice mail.  She had no real response.  

And therein lies the problem.  The millennials are different than you and I, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald.  For the most part, thy have a sense of entitlement, a sense that things should come to them.    This causes them to be somewhat unresponsive.   They object to having to work fourteen hour days.  They think that working weekends is a crock.  They believe that they are underpaid but are not willing as their predecessors have been to pay their dues.   

What is different about them, is that during the first ten years of their working career, they have shown very little propensity for change.  This means that as they become older and are in a position where they start to become management, they may make changes and improvements in the way they conduct business.  We have to be aware of this and watch them carefully because their thinking will is different.  It may be good for all of us.

On the other hand, and in the meantime, we will have to learn to accommodate them.  If they are stroked, complimented and recognized, they may end up being great performers.  While we do that, they are going to have to learn that they have to pay their dues, work hard (and late) and be underpaid until they mature into more senior executives.

We have to learn that they don’t return calls, so that if we want to speak to them, we will have to pursue them diligently.  Texting is better than email and emails are better than calls.  Nevertheless, they need to learn that they can advance their careers by returning messages, working late and paying dues. 

In the end, everything will even out.  But it is a two way street.


  1. Paul: I disagree with you wholeheartedly. These kids were coddled by their parents and grew up with everyone getting a trophy. They need to respect people - if they don't return calls, there needs to be a consequence. Would you want your employee to ignore a client because "you know, i was busy"? When I entered the working world, I adapted and busted my hump in an entry level position to prove myself. There are actually parents who instilled a work ethic in their millenial children - they will work hard for success and won't expect it just for showing up.

  2. A couple of years ago I was looking for someone who would eventually replace me as Chief Strategic Officer of my company, with the concomitant salary, privileges and responsibilities. I could not find a Millenial who wanted the job. They all said 'you work way too hard.' When I started out, my ethic was "I'll break down their door and do anything to start my career." Theirs is "Balance in my life comes first." What made this even more peculiar to me is it is so much harder to launch a career nowadays than back in the day. However, over the years I have also come to realize the importance of balance. We spend too much of our lives working for others instead of working on ourselves. I have been able to find outstanding individuals who have much creativity and independence, which is the other side of the coin. And with the key ingredient of mutual respect, overall the relationship kept me young, and helped them enter adulthood.

  3. I actually agree with both comments. It is just that good, motivated young people are hard to find. Everyone on the corporate side complains that they have difficulty finding outstanding people. I suspect that, in line with Anons comments, as they get older they may realize that they have blown good opportunities. And, Rachel, you are right. Work/life balance is a very good (and healthy) thing.

  4. I would bet that motivated unemployed "not as young" people are knocking down doors for work. Especially those looking to change careers. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked as companies think fresh talent is more desirable. If companies would begin to overlook the young people who can't be bothered to return a call, you might see an attitude shift by those who think the world should be handed to them.

  5. Respectfully, I think it is a mistake to paint a generation with one brush. I have experienced all of the above and have also had some very hard-working, low-paid Millenials working at our agency. As with everything else, it comes down to the individual--what they put forth and what they reap. I continue to keep an open mind and deal with everyone first with a clean slate regardless of generation.

  6. Robert: I agree that a whole generation should not be painted with one brush. But there is a reason why this age group has been classified as they are. Every client I have complains about calls not being answered, about (believe it or not) resumes on line which are responded to but the response also goes unanswered. Of course there are wonderful people who are under thirty. It is just hard to find them.

  7. Everyone under 30 has no work ethic.

    Everyone over 50 doesn't 'get' digital.

    Stereotypes are awesome.

    Paul, I really enjoy your writing and perspective, but I wholeheartedly disagree with this post.

  8. I think it's fair to make some generalizations about generational trends. That's what makes them trends.

    That doesn't mean that there aren't exceptions, of course. Or that there aren't fabulous, hardworking 28 year olds in advertising--I work with many of them!

    I suppose the one thing that would have made this article stronger are some sources to support the assertions. Pew has a great study on Millenials (google-able).

    From the report: "Of the four generations, Millennials are the only one that doesn’t cite “work ethic” as one of their principal claims to distinctiveness...It might be tempting to dismiss these findings as a typical older adult gripe about “kids today.” But when it comes to each of these traits—work ethic, moral values, respect for others—young adults agree that older adults have the better of it. In short, Millennials may be a self-confident generation, but they display little appetite for claims of moral superiority."

    Like others, I have found it more challenging to find amazing entry-level people who are interested in the demands of the business as they are now. So maybe--as Paul suggests--we need not to have debates about who works harder, but to instead talk about whether those of us in the upper levels of the industry need to change the demands.

    That's a conversation I'm really interested in.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

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