Those Entitled Millennials: Who Are They?

geny3Everywhere I go to visit clients, managers are telling me about their difficulties in managing and leading the Millennial Generation. The conversation always begins the same way: “They feel so entitled.” “Everyone gets a trophy.” “No one wants to earn anything.” If that’s true, and perhaps it is for some in this generation, how did it come to be? Why would a 25 year old college graduate feel that they deserve to work the hours that others had to work 10 or 20 years to earn, or to achieve career advancements that your mom and dad received after years of service? Why does “Generation Why?” need an explanation for everything before they will perform?

Today, I seek to answer whether this perception is true or not by providing an overview of the Millennial Generation, who they are, and what cultural forces have shaped them. Over the next few days, I will continue to post entries in this series on Millennial Pet Peeves, managing millennials and selling to millennials. Let’s begin with the most basic of questions:

Who are they?

The Millennial Generation technically ranges from those 70 million Americans born between 1977 and 2002. For the purposes of the workplace, I think it is helpful to think of them as 20 to 35 year olds. We also should note that employees in the Generation X group (1965-1978), like myself, may relate strongly to Generation Y or exhibit similar characteristics. Though I wish I still looked like Generation Y, I do know that I think a lot like them (as entitled as I hope I am not), and I hear others on the younger side of Generation X (35-43) tell me the same.


Why is Generation Y important? 

There are 70 million of them. If you are a manager or executive, they are your future work force. When Baby Boomers retire, they are the largest generation who will fill the shoes of your current employees. If you are in sales, advertising or marketing, they are the second largest consumer group after the Boomers, and they may have more discretionary income than Boomers or Generation X to purchase your products. They stay single longer, have fewer children, and they love technology. I also will make the argument below and throughout the series that, as frustrating as they may be,

they actually are asking for you as leader to become who you should be, and for your organization to be the place it needs to be, in the first place.

What influenced the Millennials?

  • Parenting styles changed in the 80s and 90s to more positive reinforcement, time outs, and less spankings. Parents that yell at children generally are not perceived by the culture as “good parents.” Military experience and structure has not been experienced by this generation or their parents. Result: your employees in this age group find yelling and harsh tones completely unmotivating and destabilizing, and research has shown that they crave feedback of all kinds, but particularly need positive reinforcement much more frequently than other age groups.
  • September 11th, terrorism on domestic soil, and the mass killings at Virginia Tech, Aurora, Newton and Tucson are the defining events of their generation. Result: There is a sense of vulnerability, insecurity and concern with global issues like poverty, hunger and environmental destruction that cause such events. They also are more team oriented, insist on diversity, crave assurances of security, and have a “we’re in this together” mentality.
  • The emergence and then dominance of Web 2.0, social media and text messaging as the most basic way of communicating — not email or voice calls. Result: your Millennial employees become irritated and feel distrusted if your company blocks all access or attention to Smart Phones or to social sites. They also can multi-task and are frustrated when they are told to put away phones, disengage from their computers or do only one task at a time.
  • They have witnessed corporate irresponsibility, the financial meltdown of 2008, the layoff of parents or family members. Result: “Employers will not be loyal to me, so I will not be loyal to them. We’re all contract workers now.”
  • They are the first generation to enjoy access to media and information from many sources, all at their fingertips, when they want it. Result: The lack of communication by companies or managers is difficult for them to understand when there are so many available ways to communicate information. They also are impatient and like to be “in the know.”
  • They watched as Boomer parents and grandparents supported institutions, political leaders and corporations that ultimately failed them. Result: They crave authenticity and transparency above all else. Slick or hidden does not work for this generation.
  • This generation is living at home after college in unprecedented numbers due to the lack of full-time jobs for them, and the American Psychological Association reports that over half of Millennials report higher stress than other generations due to the lack of a full-time salary and the resulting inability to pay mounting school loan debt. Result: They feel insecure about their own situations, but they are the most positive generation about the future of all generations now alive.

What they value

  • Life first, work second. Work / life balance, but particularly work/life flexibility and integration, is a key value. If work is the most important thing in your life, or that’s how you actually live, you probably will have a disconnect with this generation. Generation Y believes that we work to live, not live to work. 
  • Diversity across all social groups, and the end to all barriers of class, race, gender or sexual orientation. Their Boomer or Generation X parents grew up in a world where men were still the dominant leaders, and where homosexual friends were ostracized. This generation instead have seen prominent women leaders in business and government, and they have friends who are out to them. These simply are not issues for most of them, even if they have personal or religious disagreements, and they distrust organizations that make them an issue for inclusion or promotion. It’s not a matter, for them, of religion but of relationships.
  • Opportunity over money. No other generation has had so much pressure since kindergarten to succeed and to take advantage of opportunities. Some Millennials may feel entitled by their college degree or experiences to skip over career development steps. However, I think those entitled Millennials are few in number. More often, they are just trying to achieve, and what they want — and deserve — is a manager who will help them see the future. Remember that they have witnessed corporate disloyalty to their parents and peers. If they are going to put in the time and energy to grow as your employee, they want you to help them see what contributions the company is going to make to them. That’s not entitled — that’s actually just good leadership.
  • Global experiences. Facebook and Twitter connects this generation to friends and networks in nations all over the world. Facetime and Skype make international relationships possible. Videoconferencing, virtual meetings and mobile phone technology permit global learning and team work. Millennials want to experience the world, and they crave opportunities to do it.
  • Safety and security. Because of global and domestic issues, this generation longed for secure and safe environments. They have been protected from bad or threatening experiences by their parents, and they thrive most in environments with visible managers, frequent feedback, and frequent assurances of employment security.
  • Rules, tradition and accountability. They are civic-minded, volunteer often, and dislike selfishness. They are more traditional and mainstream in their music, their dress, and their sexual habits. They believe in rules, value tradition and experiences of the past, and like clear rules and expectations that are enforced.

I would love to hear your reflections or comments in the space below. This entry is the first in a series of entries on Millennials. See the second here on ways to disengage Millennials at work, and the third here on how to engage and market to Millennials as customers.

3 Responses to “Those Entitled Millennials: Who Are They?”
  1. Larry Meyers says:

    Here’s my knee jerk reaction. There’s a difference between fostering a work environment that values the employee, and makes them feel like a partner. No company is better than this than Southwest Airlines.

    However, I don’t think you are not sufficiently laying the blame for the challenges of governing these children where it belongs — on the parents. These kids grew up with crappy values. Consequently, they feel entitled. And what i hear you suggesting — correct me if I’m wrong — is that you think you should cater to that entitlement like a surrogate parent, instead of a leader and a boss.

    I think your mistake is that, as a manager, you don’t fire every one of these entitled brats and hire motivated people. Why should you have to adjust your management style to fit THEM? You seem to be talking about creating a work environment that caters to whiny crybabies. My feeling is, “Oh, our company isn’t diverse enough for you? Guess what? We hire on merit. So if you don’t like it, work someplace else.”

    And I know you don’t intend this to be funny, but if my employee is on Facebook when they are supposed to be working, I fire them. You’re coddling them, Todd. At least, that’s how I read it.

    Your descriptions of the workplace is, frankly, a place I would loooove to compete against. Because while you are coddling your employees, I’m hiring ones with drive and ambition and I’ll put you out of business.

    Again, I reiterate that I may have missed your point. I absolutely agree that your assessment of Gen Y’s psychology requires different approaches and motivation, but the solution is not to cater to it. In fact, it’s for their own good. They will lag behind their competition and lose jobs out to other more motivated individuals. And if all of America started taking on your approach, productivity and competitiveness would plummet.

  2. toddbouldin says:

    Larry, I appreciate your thoughtful reply. My guess is that your response represents that of many managers and business owners. I have a few responses. First, I’m sure that you could build a business that would run circles around a business with engaged and happy millennials. My first response on behalf of millennials is that some of us would settle for a bit less profit in order to have a more balanced life. But I don’t hear millennials saying that they don’t want to work. If you just write off this generation, you wouldn’t have any millennials that stay in your business, and probably not many that purchase from it (see Apple and Google for examples of companies that provide work /life integration and that receive hard work from their millennial employees). Imagine telling an employee at Google or Facebook that they can’t have access to the Internet for Facebook or anything other than business-related sites. If someone is abusing it, punish the abuser. Hard and fast policies that don’t make common sense are exactly the problem here, and completely disengage the millennial worker. They are not asking to work less — they are asking for flexibility and integration of their social and work life.

    As an example, if I work for you from 9 am until 8 pm every day, why the heck do you care if I check my Facebook a couple of times during the day? Study after study has shown that breaks and interacting with friends or loved ones during the day can re-energize and re-engage us. It’s all about trust. If you don’t trust your workers, why did you hire them in the first place?

    A lot of this comes down to the fact that this is the way it is …sorry, but no leader and no restrictive policies are going to change this. We can either work with them, or we can alienate them and the 70 million consumers that they represent. It’s really that simple. That’s not coddling. That’s reality.

  3. Dan Skognes says:

    Love the blog…and love the comments from both of you. I see both sides as a trainer/coach. I have to agree that we need to figure out how to communicate with a generation that has an entitlement mentality. That is going to take us older folks being the grown-up and acting with more than just emotion. It is very easy to write off young people because of their free-wheeling lifestyles, their self-centered thought process, and their A.D.D. approach to life.

    I think we have to do several things to communicate with this younger generation:
    1. Don’t coddle them….respect them. Everyone whats to feel heard. You don’t have to understand them to show respect to them.
    2. Realize that, like it or not, this is the future generation of leaders. We better be teaching them how to survive the days ahead that are filled with turmoil and change. I don’t know about you, but I want them to understand the long term ramifications of their decisions. I love what my wife told me one day: “You can choose to do what you want to do, but you don’t get to choose the consequences.” That will make you think twice about a potential train wreck of a decision.
    3. Involve them in the decision process, especially if it entails technology and social media. That is their home. They are unbelievably bright in these areas. The other day my wife was talking with my Granddaughter about how bright she was. She asked her how she got so good using an IPAD. Our daughter put her hands on her hips and turned her head sideways and said, “Gwamma, I AM 5 years old!” LOL. If I have a question about my phone or my IPAD, who do you think I turn to? Not the help desk. I call one of my Grandkids.
    4. Be patient with them and quit trying to make them think like you do. Remember when you were their age. You knew it all too….remember? Funny how the bumps and bruises of life gives us new perspective. The older we get, the more we realize how smart the older generation is. That goes for the Millennials too. Not sure who said this, but it has a lot of wisdom to it: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” That goes a long way in communicating with anyone.


    Dan Skognes

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