Who are millennials exactly? And is it true they make bad workers?

January 30, 2018

Millennials are the demographic cohort of young adults born between 1980 and 2000. Also known as Generation Y (or ‘Nexters’ – from ‘Generation Next’), there are estimated to be 92 million millennials worldwide.

Like other generations, millennials are subject to stereotypes about their attitudes, behaviours and work ethic: perhaps even more so than other generations.

But to what extent do these stereotypes hold true (a 2016 article in The Guardian newspaper highlighted some pretty derogatory adjectives), or are they simply no different to any other generation?

Most importantly for your business, what are they like to work with?

Millennials: The case against

We’re going to try to debunk some of the myths surrounding millennials, and explain how and why we should be working with them, rather than against them. First, though, let’s take a look at some of the labels that we see thrown around: 

Fickle: Millennials are thought to show little loyalty or patience in the workplace, moving rapidly through different jobs, and seeing their job as something both temporary and replaceable. Employers are often baffled by their conflicting demands ­– a desire for a good work-life balance alongside rapid career progression. On top of this, millennials aren’t afraid to quit jobs that aren’t sufficiently engaging or fulfilling, leaving employers to deal with low retention rates and high staff turnover. Their co-workers, often baby boomers in leadership roles, commonly question millennials’ loyalty and commitment, dismissing them as selfish or lazy.

Millennials are thought to show little loyalty or patience in the workplace, moving rapidly through different jobs, and seeing their job as something both temporary and replaceable.

Over-reliant on parents: Many millennials have been given a significant head start in life, with close support from parents and sometimes even a leg-up to success. This constant level of parental involvement – termed ‘helicopter parenting’ by Wall Street Journal writer and editor Ron Alsop – is alleged to hinder millennials from developing the autonomy, stamina, and resilience they need in the face of life’s challenges.

Entitled and self-absorbed: Largely attributed to a sheltered existence under their so-called helicopter parents, many millennials exhibit poor self-management and expect individual attention and extra help in the workplace. Employers often get frustrated trying to keep up with millennials’ constant need for guidance and feedback.

Dumbed-downed by social media: The tendency of millennials to be heavily immersed in social media is a growing source of concern to employers. They worry not only that current millennial employees lack face-to-face communication skills, but that their ongoing reliance on social media is also causing a decline in literacy, numerical ability and even attentiveness. According to recent research by Microsoft, our attention spans have now fallen to eight seconds, less than that of a goldfish, an effect which many have attributed to technology use. 

But are the stereotypes true?

Like all generational stereotyping, the labels attached to millennials hold true in some cases, but certainly not all. It’s important that as business owners we recognise the complexity and diversity within this enormous cohort of workers, and don’t overlook the abundant pool of valuable traits they offer.

So let’s look at some key qualities:

Understand modern careers: Although they may seem casual on the surface, the millennials’ transient approach to jobs doesn’t necessarily reflect a casual approach to their careers. In fact, it’s the opposite. By moving between roles, getting a feel for different industries and companies, millennials are actually dedicating themselves to finding careers that are a robust match for their skills and interests. And by refusing to stay in jobs that aren’t fulfilling, or to commit to jobs that don’t suit their skills, they’re more likely to succeed in finding that magic formula of the perfectly-matched career. In the right role, millennials can be incredibly driven, loyal and efficient, applying the full force of their knowledge and skills to doing a great job for their companies.

Challenge the status quo: Millennials are the most diverse generation to date – not just racially or ethnically, but in their relationships, lifestyle and overall outlook on the world. This open-mindedness is a real asset to businesses. Given the chance, millennials can be hugely creative and innovative in the workplace, providing a fresh perspective which can shake up and reinvigorate any business.

Multi-task with ease: Millennials were the first generation to be born into households with computers, and subsequently grew up surrounded by digital media. Today, they’ve firmly established themselves as tech-savvy multitaskers, having developed the ability to handle and run simultaneous processes, programmes and apps at once. Actually some scientific research now suggests that what we think of as ‘multitasking’ is not actually simultaneous multiple activity, but rather serial activities, some of which are being performed almost automatically at such great speed that they look simultaneous. Either way, millennials can do it – to great effect.

Share ideas: Thanks to social media, many millennials have developed a deep appreciation and passion for collaboration, teamwork and rapid idea sharing. They are at home using different methods of digital communication, which they can use to facilitate groups – an invaluable skill when it comes to large projects that involve many stakeholders and span different teams. 

How should companies approach millennials?

The value of millennials as employees is gradually becoming more recognised by firms across the globe. Goldman Sachs have taken on a huge number of millennial employees: in a recent interview with Bloomberg, Goldman president David Solomon said the number of the firm’s employees aged 30 or under was now 50-60%, and that growth was likely to continue. Solomon was unstinting in his praise for millennials, noting that they ‘work hard, they care passionately about who they are working for, and they are interested in what the organisation stands for.’

Much of the negative press surrounding millennials is dependent on people’s perception of and behaviour towards them. Instead of trying to make millennials ‘more like us’, perhaps it’s a better idea to adapt to their ways of working. While millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce, they are fast becoming the largest group of consumers too. And who better to appeal to that huge millennial consumer base than other millennials? 

So here are four key things to remember as your workforce (and customers) become ever-more millennial:

1. Dodge the stereotype

By believing all the negative stereotypes about millennials, you might just be falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, if you approach your employees expecting ineptitude and disloyalty, it’s likely to turn out that way. In order to attract and retain millennials (and avoid the cost of high employee turnover, which can be between 50 and 150% of an employee’s salary) it’s probably more cost-effective to approach them with a positive frame of mind.

2. Embrace change

Millennials are forcing companies to re-examine how they do business. They’ve been the catalyst in bringing about huge technological transformation, and their approach to change can be a real asset. Many companies now make profitable use of social media, which wouldn’t have been possible without the expertise and encouragement of millennials. So, whether it’s bringing in more efficient ways of working, a new product, or a breakthrough concept, you should embrace your millennials’ thirst for knowledge and innovation. It will help your business stay agile in the face of change, and avoid you getting left behind.

Millennials are forcing companies to re-examine how they do business. They’ve been the catalyst in bringing about huge technological transformation, and their approach to change can be a real asset.

3. Adapt your leadership style

To attract and retain the best millennial talent, you need to be flexible in your leadership approach. In keeping with their open mindset, millennials have come to expect less rigidity in the workplace, and whether it’s a relaxed dress code, flexible working hours, or more self-guided training, adapting your leadership style to be more aligned to your millennial employees will help you get the best from them.

4. Learn from their work-life balance

A Mercer study found that good work-life balance is now seen as one of the most important qualities in a workplace, second only to salary. This balance is good for business too: in a 2013 research study of 50,000 workers across the world, employees who felt they have a better work-life balance tended to work 21% harder than those who didn’t. We’ve already come a long way in achieving a healthier work-life balance as both employees and employers. This movement has largely been led by millennials – they’ve actively promoted a different way of working, where flexible working hours, remote work options and other wellbeing benefits have a marked positive effect on productivity and bottom line results. 

Making the most of millennials

It’s fair to say that, although millennials have had their fair share of bad press, they also offer immense value to businesses. But to unlock their potential, you need to set aside the stereotypes and start looking for ways to work together, whether it’s adapting your management style, offering a healthier work-life balance, or opening up the floor for new ideas within your business.

Embracing this new generation brings a whole host of benefits – not only do you avoid the unnecessary costs of high staff turnover and improve your bottom line through a happier, more productive workforce, but you’ll bring your enterprise into greater alignment with the millennial consumer base, which will ultimately help future-proof your business in years to come.

Setting up your own business has never been easier. Virtuzone takes care of it all so you can focus on what matters – building your business. For more information about company formation in the UAE mainland or free zones, please call us on +971 4 457 8200, send an email to info@vz.ae, or click here. 

About the author: Neil Petch, Chairman at Virtugroup
About the author: Neil Petch, Chairman at Virtugroup

With a history of business successes, Neil Petch is well known in the UAE and beyond as a visionary entrepreneur with a passion for helping others establish and grow their own businesses. Neil founded Virtuzone in 2009 and quickly established it as the region’s leading company formation expert, before launching Virtugroup, a holding company that has a wider mandate of supporting startups from establishment; to successful market entry; and all the way through to exit.