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Millennials Are Not The Problem…You Are

I was preparing breakfast for my three kids last weekend, and my three year-old son was whining and crying like someone had stolen his blankie. “What’s wrong, Luca?” I said (sort-of) calmly. “I wanted the blue cup!!” he yelled. I could feel my impatience start to creep in as I poured his milk from the green cup into the blue cup. As I set it down on the table he yelled, “Not there! I want it on the other side of the plate!!” A full-on tantrum ensued.

“This is so irrational!” I said to Luca. “Who cares what color cup it is in. C’mon, Buddy, just eat your breakfast!”

If you’ve ever tried to rationalize with a toddler, you know it’s a lost cause. They aren’t wired to think like an adult, and yet as parents, we often implore our children to react to situations like they have the frame of mind of a 30 year-old. The issue is; they aren’t adults. They don’t think like we do!

So how is this story relevant? We sometimes approach the younger generation of employees the same way. We get frustrated, angry, and impatient as we try to school them in how things really work in the world. We think they are entitled and overconfident, and we want to put them in their place.

Well, Millennials don’t think like we do. And trying to assert our perspective and experience on a generation that has grown up in a different time is like trying to rationalize with a three year-old (and no, I’m not comparing Millenials to children).

This younger generation of workers are emerging into the workforce. By 2020, Millennials will make up 50% of employees in our organizations.

Many leaders are feeling challenged as they try to figure out how to effectively manage this younger generation who have been labeled by some as entitled, impatient, and idealistic.

I mean, how dare they come into the workforce and expect meaning and autonomy in their work! Don’t they know they have to pay their dues and work twenty years for a promotion, just like the rest of us did?!

They want consistent feedback? They need to learn how to wait until their annual performance evaluation (that probably won’t be on time) and create an annual development plan with their manager that can be documented appropriately by HR.

They want autonomy and input in their daily work? They need to do what they’re told and get used to being micromanaged by their boss.

They want to feel passion for a bigger cause and engaged at a deeper level? They want to actually enjoy their work? They just need to come to work and do their job and be miserable like the rest of us.

They want us to ‘coach’ them regularly? I don’t have time to sit down and handhold them.

These statements may sound dramatic, but I hear these negative sentiments about Millennials regularly from leaders across all industries.

Let me ask you this: wouldn’t you like a job that is not only meaningful and engaging, but where you can work independently and your ideas and opinions are valued? Wouldn’t you like your manager to sit down with you once in a while and provide you with meaningful feedback to help you get better at what you do? Wouldn’t you like to go to work every day feeling positive about your contribution, and feel appreciated and valued by your organization?

Who wouldn’t want these things?

We need to stop viewing Millennials as aliens and wake up and see the value they bring to the workplace. They are expecting more from their employers and leaders, and that just might be a good thing.

We are approaching the “millennial issue” all wrong. We are focused on how different this generation is from previous generations, and fail to see how much we are really alike. They are really not much different than you and me. Yes, their expectations are high, and that’s probably because they grew up in a global economy where they were exposed to more options and possibilities. As Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, most of us have been conditioned to work hard and appreciate the job we have. Millennials have been conditioned to see the possibilities and go after what they want.

The friction we are witnessing between the generations is really a discomfort leaders are feeling because we are being pressured to change. We can’t lead like we used to. We can’t issue directives and focus just on results and not people. We can’t put coaching and development and engagement on the back burner and be successful. So when this younger generation comes along and bucks the trend, what do we naturally want to do? Blame them.

It’s not Millennials who need to change. It’s us. We need to change. We need to stop blaming and criticizing (which will get us nowhere) and take responsibility for our leadership. We should stop complaining and realize that this generation is prompting us to grow and change; to create exceptional cultures where people love to come to work. And we will all reap the benefits from this shift.

So next time you work with an employee from the Millennial generation, say “thank you”. Thank you for bringing to light what we all really want in our work–meaning, contribution, and the desire to be part of a great organization.

As a parent, I can’t change my son’s reaction to the color cup he gets with breakfast. But I can change my response. Frustration and anger don’t work. Acceptance and kindness do.

Not all change is bad. So let’s step into true leadership and see this generation as an opportunity to grow our leadership skills and create exceptional cultures and organizations.

Laurie Maddalena

Laurie Maddalena is CEO of Envision Excellence, a leadership consulting firm that provides leadership development programs for managers and executives, keynote speeches, teambuilding, and leadership assessments. Learn more about Laurie:


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