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In Defense of Youth

One look at my LinkedIn profile picture will demonstrate that I am not of the younger generation. For the first ten years of my recruitment career, resumes were mailed to clients in actual envelopes with actual stamps. Faxing was a hot technology for us in 1985, when it became possible to fax a document over the phone line in ONLY 3 minutes per page. I had to explain to our CFO that the cost was the same as a phone call so it was worth investing in a fax machine. He thought it was $10 per page or more.


So, I go waaaay back and have seen a few generations enter and move up in the work force. Also, here at Right Recruiting near Philadelphia, we have a unique perspective on the generations because our projects span the gamut from junior professional to CEO. In the last 6 months, salaries on completed projects here have ranged from $300K down to $50K. Today, I will prep a 50-year-old, VP of Sales candidate for an interview and then speak to a 25-year-old engineer about a junior level opening. We talk to people at all levels, in every age group, career level and discipline. I am personally involved in almost every project. There is probably no person in the US who has filled as many different types of positions as I have. I have enough of a history to have an objective perspective on generational change in the work force; from boomers to yuppies to slackers to generation X to millennials. I’ve talked to them all about their careers.


Over the last few years, I’ve gotten used to hearing how unhappy some clients are with millennials, with regular complaints about attitude, skills and expectations. It’s almost become a recording. Personally, I think that most of those complaints are nonsense and are horrible generalizations. In my opinion, the best of the millennial generation are better than any prior generation, as far as talent and potential are concerned. The bottom are probably worse than prior and the middle is the middle. In other words, it’s a flatter bell curve. A company with poor recruitment processes may end up seeing more of the poorer end of the bell curve because they are just bad at recruitment and that is who ends up working there. A bad sample set for any observations.


To do a quick analysis, here are my responses to the normal complaints about millennials.


  • They don’t want to work and are too concerned about work/life balance.


I do not see that at all. I see a group of people who want to work and seem very passionate about their jobs, but who don’t want to have to endure the petty drama about working late just for show. I used to work for a company in which people would brag about how late they worked in an effort to impress their boss. It was busy work, not work. Manage millennials by deadlines, not by overly regulated working hours based upon an economic work model that is 100 years old. You prove your competence now by getting things done, not by some masochistic farce revolving around how many useless hours a person works.


  • They need lots of praise and feedback.


So, what? If it’s too much trouble for your manager to provide feedback, get a new manager. What the heck is wrong with an employee who wants to know how he or she is doing? Would you rather have someone working for you who doesn’t care? Not everyone is John Wayne.


  • They job hop too frequently and are not loyal.


I do admit that millennials change jobs frequently, more frequently that any other generation did. That is a function of how recruitment has changed more than any generational shift. If in 1995, social media allowed companies like mine to tap any employee on the shoulder monthly with regular job opportunities, that generation would have responded in the same way. Why? Because it is in their best interest.


Employers’ have a larger burden now to keep their workforce happy, more than they did years ago. If your company is not doing that, it’s easier for people to find other opportunities now. The opportunity finds them. They don’t have to “apply” like prior generations did. Give them a good environment and they will stay.


However, I will say to my millennial friends, that once you get to mid-career level, one of the things employers will look for on your resume is a promotion or two at one company. If you leave jobs too frequently and never stick around to get a promotion, you will suffer in the long run.


  • They don’t take direction well.


I don’t see this as their fault.  I see young people who come out of college ill prepared for the workforce and who get parental advice from parents who started their employment in a very different world and time. I think that it would be better to say that millennials have preconceived notions about things that are wrong. They are naïve about the world. I see that sometimes in how they handle the employment process.


The answer for that is to explain the why behind the situation and plan and give context behind the directive. Once again, if you have a manager who can’t do that, get a new manager.


  • They only care about themselves and not the company.


Sure, and is that different than everyone else? They just have more options because of the points above. You manage that by being sure that their interests and yours are aligned from a career standpoint. A paycheck does not buy loyalty. It buys commitment and effort. Those are different things.


  • They are too interested in socializing at work.


That’s probably true but it is important to understand why. Most people meet their spouses at college or at work. That’s why many millennials don’t want to work at companies where they are the only 20 something. No generational work peers can really limit social options. When you use the word “social”, it sounds superficial, like they can’t find someone to date. Change that to a difficulty in identifying a future spouse/family and it has a different, more serious, perspective. I am not defending it. I am just explaining it.


Lastly, here is are two suggestions to help manage millennials.


  • Mange them like individuals. Give your managers tools that revolve around leadership and communications skills not just a title on an organizational chart. Age is not the only differentiator in a company. Differing personalities, career goals and skills also require an individual touch in a manager.
  • Fire non-performers quickly. This is important. Remember that flattened bell curve I mentioned above? The best people want to work with the best people. Allowing marginal people to stay cheapens the work experience for the best and also demeans their commitment. Fire the worst before the best leave. Be decisive.


Hopefully, this has given some perspective to employers faced with succession planning needs and an aging professional work force. The answer is really quite simple. Create an employment process designed to identify, attract and hire the best talent and, if you have found you have made a mistake with any one person, get them out of your organization as quickly as possible so they don’t infect your team.


As always, if you are an employer seeking recruitment help, please don’t hesitate to contact us to see how we can be of service.


– Jeff

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