Has the Older Generations Created the Millennial Leadership Dilemma?

The Millennial workers have been cast with several adjectives: entitled, lazy, disrespectful, rude, blunt, job-hoppers, tech-savvy, intelligent. Some terms are positive, and some terms are negative. Articles state it is difficult to train millennials for leadership positions because either they think they already know what they need to know, or managers are afraid the millennial will leave the company after being trained. Seminars and webinars abound trying to overcome this conundrum helping companies retain and promote millennials.

As we reflected on this trend, we considered how this dilemma formed. During our discussions with others, we realized the older generations actually created this problem. How so? Firstly, we are the parents of the millennial generation and secondly, we trained them from birth to be this way. Why are we so surprised by the outcome?

Let’s look at several factors that contributed to this phenomenon. We believe factors impacting the parents translate into the children’s attitudes toward life and employment.

Workplace Trends

The parents of millennials started their careers during the late 1970s and 1980s. During that era, we see companies had become very comfortable trimming workforces through layoffs, outsourcing or sending positions overseas. It became common practice to trim the workforce just prior to quarter closing, in order to lower expenses and raise profit margins. This appearance of increased company performance elated stockholders and company executives.

Additionally, computers, networks and technology were experiencing massive adoption in corporations, eliminating routine tasks and needs for staff. Typing pools were decimated as PCs popped up in every office and email and faxes replaced interoffice mail. Voicemail removed the need for message centers and secretaries. Group fax machines eliminated the need for message centers used to transmit printed pages from one location to another (PDF had not become accepted yet). PC applications removed the need for central data centers, and workers were able to generate their own reports and data pulls. Other technology eradicated the need for other services which trickled throughout the organizations.

As a result, parents found themselves looking for new jobs in a decreasing job market. In many cases, finding a new position took months and years. Many displaced workers either transitioned into different industries or founded their own companies to support their family.

Those workers retaining jobs assumed the responsibilities of displaced employees, requiring longer hours at work and more time away from family, despite no additional pay. Workers were under constant pressure of future layoffs adding to the tension of losing their job and additional work. This pressure translated to the home environment either in discussions about the situation or through other unacceptable consequences: increased stress, illness, etc. Children quickly assessed the situation of the imbalance between work and home life. Subsequently, millennials clamor for better work-life balance. They have experienced the fallout of the imbalance.

Self-Reliancemillennial leadership

The mantra for many became less “company loyalty,” and more “self-loyalty.” In other words, workers learned to depend on themselves, not their companies, for continued work. Companies wondering why employees were not loyal were forced to reconsider their own loyalty to such employees.

The lesson of self-reliance was not lost on the children. We know we taught our children to not rely on others for opportunities, rather, make the opportunities for themselves. As we talked with other parents during sporting events, karate lessons, and other social outings, we learned they were doing the same thing, especially those who had at least one “downsizing”, “outsizing”, or “right-sizing” episodes. Some had been through several.

Translating the Adjectives

How does this translate into the millennial “adjectives?”

Millennials are viewed as selfish or self-centered. Maybe they are neither, but self-protective. They don’t easily give their loyalty to everyone. They lack the initial dose of trust the older generation gives when meeting someone or given an opportunity. Millennials are more skeptical and cautious than older generations. Maybe they don’t want to be hurt financially, emotionally or professionally by a disloyal organization. They have seen the struggles their parents suffered from the layoffs or having to accept a demotion to keep a job to pay the bills. They have seen the inequities of company leaders improving their positions while decimating others’ lives. Anyone witnessing this treatment, especially during the formative years, would not give full trust and loyalty without first experiencing the loyalty from the organization?

We have found, as we prove our allegiance to millennials, their walls of distrust fall away, and they no longer appear selfish or self-serving. As we build the trust level, we find them congenial, cooperative and strong team members willingly shouldering the load. As they see they are part of something significant, their interest and involvement increases.

Job-Hopping, a.k.a., Mobile#millennialleadership, millennial leadership

Millennials are seen as job-hoppers, never staying in one job very long. We believe several factors cause this phenomenon.

Firstly, the lack of loyalty from the company, as discussed above, eliminates the lack of emotional attachment to a current position. Why stay at a job very long? Learn what you can and move on. Yes, that may be self-serving, but where is the incentive to stay? Is the company offering tangible and intangible reasons to stick with them? Everyone knows, young workers with some experience have an easier time finding the next opportunity. As the worker ages, companies are more reluctant to recruit or hire them. Workers forty and above tend to slow down in moving to another job because of house ownership, school district, uprooting children, etc., whereas, younger employees don’t have those encumbrances.

Secondly, pay raises over the past several decades have been abysmally low for the average workers. The only way to gain a decent raise is by jumping to a new opportunity. When interviewing for the new position, millennials will negotiate for the higher pay and additional benefits. If the new company really desires the person, it will counter but still at a level higher than the current position. If the opportunity looks better and pays more, why not move?

Thirdly, millennials tech-savvy knowledge helps them move with more transferable skills than previous generations. With the advent of finding information on the web easily, millennials can make the transition with lower learning time because they can get the knowledge for the new position quickly. YouTube is a wonderful tool for learning new skills rapidly. In a matter of minutes, new hires’ transition into productive employees faster than previous generations.

Fourthly, they watched their parents move from position to position for higher pay. We, the older generations, were the role models for the mobile employee today. Because we had suffered through years of low raises, many which didn’t keep us even with the national inflation rate, we learned to move to other companies and negotiate higher salaries. The trend of low raises has continued, and millennials have learned the lesson of job-hopping for better pay.

Slowing the Mobile Millennial Migration

What can companies do to slow the migration of millennials? While we agree attrition and turnover is healthy for companies, having too many walk through the revolving door is dangerous and costly. Richard Branson is credited with saying, “Train people well enough so they can leave, and treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

millennial leadership

Companies need to improve their loyalty to employees. We already covered this aspect earlier.

Companies need to provide training opportunities for employees in job-related areas, personal development, career advancement, etc. Too many times, training budgets are trimmed long before janitorial supplies are considered. It is the first line item to go. Unfortunately, this short-sighted approach produces under-performing staff and a stagnant workforce. In our whitepaper, “Training’s Impact on Your Business: Cost or Investment?,  we show the quick return-on-investment training provides. Additionally, it is tangible evidence of the company’s loyalty to the employee.

Providing work assignments where employees feel they are doing something significant and can take ownership of the results lead to a tighter bond with the company. When we are personally vested in an effort, we are much less likely to leave for something else.

And finally, compensate employees fairly. Let them participate in bonuses, employee stock ownership plans, contribute to their 401K and other retirement vehicles. The cost of these programs is lower than the cost of acquiring a new employee and recovered through increase productivity from a satisfied worker.


We will cover additional factors in part 2 of this series of articles.

As we contemplate the Millennial Leadership Dilemma, we see patterns emerging which indicate that older generations, who raised their children to be independent, self-assured and confident, are now perceived as negative. We agree millennials exist who are rude, lazy, selfish, and disrespectful. But those types of people have existed in every generation. We need to focus on the traits we have trained into our children who are now part of the workforce and leverage the lessons they have learned.

Maybe the older generations need to appreciate the independence and self-assurance exhibited by millennials and learn to channel that energy into productive and useful results.

We’d like to hear your comments on our opinions expressed here. Provide stories of your experiences as they align or don’t align with our thoughts.

Copyright © American Eagle Group

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