In a span of two weeks, Simon Sinek’s video on millennials had been viewed over 60 million times; it has about 75,000 shares on his Facebook page and still counting. The video touched a raw nerve across a wide variety of people; it also caused a buzz among employers. Sinek cited four reasons as to why he believes so many millennials are unhappy at work and this includes 1) Parenting – growing up thinking they’re special 2) Technology – constant engagement with social media through cell phones 3) Impatience – due to a culture rooted in ‘instant gratification’ and 4) Environment – corporate environments that are rooted in short-term gains. All of which, he notes has contributed to a sense of entitlement; a characteristic he emphatically notes is not entirely their fault. Multiple articles have since tried to unpack his key observations with data.
So, where does this leave prospective employers?
Caricaturing all millennials as possessing all of the above-noted attributes is simply unfair.
While addressing millennial ‘concerns’ has had a direct impact on the bottom line of the company, not all companies are seeing value in implementing the many prescriptions that consultant-experts have for long touted as solutions. Most interventions are costly and often have little correlation to employee productivity. And organizations that have already implemented millennial interventions are realizing that they may not have to treat their younger employees differently than the rest of the workforce. The workplace needs to be understood in the form of a tribe that includes digital natives - those born into a social and mobile first world and those who have had to adapt themselves to the disruption – called digital adopters. So the imperative for employers is to focus on creating a digital ecosystem that appeals to both digital natives and adopters.
Move away from unfair stereotypes
Recent research on intergenerational workforce shows that lumping a whole generation into a homogenous group may be doing more harm than good. Jessica Kregel points out how “one book that says millennials desperately want to grow within a single organization, and another that says turnover is a fact of life with millennials, and they’re going to leave no matter what you do. One study showed that millennials don’t like to meet in person and you have to reach them via social media—but in another study, I read that millennial respondents overwhelmingly said their favorite way to learn about a company was through in-person job fairs.”
Focus on productive behaviors
Companies need to focus on incentivizing productive behaviors. They should also work towards killing non-productive behaviors. Instead of focusing on overly broad generalized attributes such as “entitlement”, companies should look at what their digital natives and the adopters are doing really well. And ensure that such behaviors are actually rewarded throughout the employee lifecycle.
Enabling digital ecosystem
Understanding the employees’ propensity to turn to digital tools could help organizations manage their talent related problems better. There are primarily two kinds of employees in the workforce today, those who are used to digital tools and those who are not. Companies need to make sure that they are enabling enough opportunities for their older employees to actively participate in the organization's success in a digital-first world. At the same time, they should ensure a consumer-grade experience to employees who are at the forefront of an innovatively disruptive digital world.
Even as prescriptions and generational tags give away to newer categories of understanding employees, what will remain constant is the innovative use of technology. Along with this, what will be critical is to be able to understand the ways that data can be interpreted. And HR leaders should also focus on asking the right questions, albeit not turn to alternatives that simplify or overcomplicate business problems.