Millennials were NOT born this way!

Opinions on the value of today's youth - Millennials - entering the workplace can be found on just about every, and any, media platform. They also tend to come up as a topic of conversation at just about any business event.

One school of thought is that Millennials are the best thing since sliced bread and that Millennials are going to be the saviors of society and the economy. And there can be some truth to that. Generally, today's youth market appear to be much more socially, environmentally, and community aware than were previous generations.

From a business perspective, there are many Millennials who clearly demonstrate creativity, innovation, insight, and out-of-the-box thinking that definitely promises great potential for future change, business growth, productivity, and profit.

But there is also a dissenting opinion.

The other school of thought is that Millennials are generally of very questionable value. They are self-absorbed, entitled, unprepared, spoiled, and lazy. They have no idea what the workplace is like and are not willing to learn. They think they already know it all. In fact, Millennials make more work than they are worth. The perception is that, as employees, they can cost the business money. Lateness, absenteeism, job hopping.

So, why two so drastically diverse schools of thought?

The answer to that is quite simple. SOT (School of Thought) 2 - Millennials are of little value - comes from business and employers who are struggling with competition, productivity, and survival in today's high-pressure economy. They are hiring Millennials and are having a very difficult time with work ethic, attitude, unrealistic expectations, loyalty, and the transitory nature of Millennials. In other words, the new crop of workers are making work more difficult for business and the employer.

SOT 1 put forward the belief that Millennials are the end all and be all. They are touted as highly educated, highly skilled, and highly productive. In fact, many Millennial advocates blame business for the lack of success by Millennials in the workplace.

...Business needs to make the workplace more welcoming.

...Business needs to change for the Millennials.

...Business is the problem.

Business might disagree.

So? Reputation or Reality?

Ignoring frequent and continuous feedback from employers, the Millennial advocates appear to have adopted an overwhelming and zealous belief in the The Lake Wobegon Effect. The Lake Wobegon Effect earned its name from stories told in Garrison Keillor's NPR Prairie Home Companion series, where in Lake Wobegon, "all children are above average". Whether they recognize it or not, Millennial advocates have adopted this mantra and cannot be convinced that it might not be true.

More interesting are the findings of the Dunning-Kruger Study of 1999 titled Unskilled and Unaware of It. This study suggested that people with little knowledge or skill think they know more or have more skill than they do. This occurs while simultaneously overlooking and / or underestimating the knowledge and skills of those involved in the task at hand.

So how is this all relevant? It is relevant because before publication of the Dunning-Kruger study in 1999 and the postulation that there is a Dunning-Kruger Effect, Millennials were generally not in the workforce yet. Millennials were just coming of work age and were just ENTERING the workforce. In other words the poor work ethic, unrealistic expectations, and sense of entitlement had already started with previous generations. And note that I said the plural - generations!

While I do not suggest that this type of belief / behavior is broadly demonstrated across the entire Millennial cohort, it does occur too often and in too may youth today.

So. Why?

The "why" is quite simple. Millennials have been lied to for the better part of their young - and inexperienced - lives. And they have built a belief system based on those lies.

STOP lying to Millennials!

The first step to correcting both the reputation of Millennials and the challenges they face in the workplace is to stop lying to them.

  • If their scores, demonstrated behaviors, and measurements do not confirm it, STOP telling them they are the best and the brightest!
  • Unless their field of study and the job they are targeting pays very well in the current economy AND is available on today's job market, STOP telling them that they should ALL expect to make $80k per year upon graduation!
  • Unless they are in a very unstructured and flexible work environment, STOP telling them that lateness and absenteeism don't matter!
  • And, most importantly, STOP telling them that the workplace is going to change for them!

The general tendency for parents, schools, politicians, and youth advocates is to not disappoint, discourage, or deny Millennials anything. Least of all their expectations, desires, and happiness. Sadly the world does not always work that way.

Start telling them the truth so that they can be prepared for the world. The world is not always a kind and gentle place; however, failure is almost never fatal.

In fact, we have the opportunity to learn from failure. Subsequently, failure can be success if we learn from it.

You always pass failure on the way to success

Should you be recruiting Millennials?

Short answer? Definitely! You'd be a fool not to. Just make sure that you recruit and hire the right candidate. Do the work to get the best people!

The trick is to recruit, interview, hire, train, and onboard; in a thorough, effective, professional, and logical manner. In other words, do it right!

  • EXPECT demonstrated and proven work experience!
  • EXPECT relevant and credible work references! Either paid or volunteer!
  • COMMUNICATE your needs and expectations BEFORE you make an offer of employment. And be truthful!
  • CHECK REFERENCES and watch for red flags. Sugar coating or hedging. And ask the question, "...given the opportunity, would you hire this individual?"
  • DO NOT buy into the trendy, populist, flavor-of-the-day rationalizations that are far too common among millennial "advocates". The claims that all of today's youth are the best and the brightest. That's straight out NOT TRUE. It has not been true of ANY youth cohort entering ANY workplace in the past 60 years and it is not true now.

There are definitely dynamic, talented, and valuable millennials in the talent pool. It's up to you to find them, interview them, train them, and retain them.

Don't expect to get the results you want, on the work you didn't do!

Stephen G. Largy is the President and Senior Consultant at tqSkills and ONdisabilities. tqSkills and ONdisabilities are training and advisory specialists in Disabilities in the Workplace, Workplace Accommodation, Creating Inclusive Workplaces, and Employability. Visit tqSkills at www.tqskills.com