Yes, Millennials Can Drive One Nuts, But If You Adapt It Pays Off

Feb 20, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 12.23.22 PMBy 2020, millennials will make up 50 percent of the workforce. By 2025, that number is likely to reach 75 percent.

Given the huge millennial population, companies must hire them in increasing numbers. A study done late by my company, Scout Exchange, and Oracle HCM Users Group, sheds light on what we can expect from this generation of Americans born between 1976 and 1994.

This survey of over 20,000 human relations professionals shows that while many millennials fit their negative workplace stereotype, there is reason for hope, too.

Here are what many of the HR managers said: 

Young employees have overoptimistic expectations about how quickly they’ll be able to climb the corporate ladder. One HR professional set up interviews for two millennial candidates with the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. Not only did they both cancel at the last minute, but they asked if the interview could be done over Skype instead of in person, because it was too inconvenient for them to travel from the East to West Coast.

Millennials’ sense of entitlement is frustrating. As one HR professional noted, the younger employees feel that they are owed more respect, opportunity, and pay than their experience, ability, or knowledge merit.

Millennials lack face-to-face communication skills. Noting that this age demographic is most comfortable texting and can often seem socially inept, those surveyed say it borders on entering an avoidant society. Still other survey respondents say they are concerned with millennials’ need for flexible working conditions, including where and when they get work done.

Millennials’ work ethic is troublesome. Besides wanting to work remotely from Starbucks, millennials are often unwilling to put in more than 40 hours a week. Their propensity for leaving the office early — according to one respondent, for a 3 p.m. yoga class — is particularly problematic.

HR professionals know that their companies can’t avoid hiring millennials, but question investing in training, given that they expect younger workers to leave after two to four years, or earlier. Does the return on investment ever justify the expense?

Some HR executives say, “yes,” because millennial hires can offer rewards.

“Technology is the big difference with this generation. Millennials are conditioned to have the answer at hand,” one respondent says. Another HR professional offers this: “Technology is almost an inherent part of their makeup. It is ingrained in their communication and in the way they work. A company has to provide a strong platform to support their natural use of technology or they become frustrated.” Other respondents appreciate the way millennials challenge traditional ways of doing things.

With more millennials entering the workplace and job-hopping every couple of years, companies that learn to embrace change will be the ones who win in the talent capitalization game.

As the president of a rapidly growing start up, from 11 employees a year ago to over 50 today — and one who’s workforce is made up of over 70 percent of employees under 30 — I’m often asked for tips on how to work with millennials.

It’s simple. To not only get the best and brightest, but get what you need from them, you have to adapt. Socializing is important to millennials, so we have happy hours and trolley bus tours through the city. We also know that millennials are very money motivated. That’s why we give frequent shareholder updates — so they can feel like their company shares are paving the way for their future. Millennials also like flexible work environments, so I’m playing around with the idea of holding meetings outside.

We’re doing a lot of things right, but, like any company, there’s room for improvement. Frankly, one of our weaknesses is communicating with millennials in a way that gets their attention. We need to quickly adapt by not sending out important information as Powerpoints and long emails. Instead, we should be doing text blasts and using videos and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to communicate.

As one HR professional in the survey sums it up, “Just like with any generation starting in the workplace, they have a large learning curve ahead of them.”

Perhaps, we all do.