Home/Gracy Olmstead/Are Millennials Bad Employees?

Are Millennials Bad Employees?

Millennials, some businesses complain, are horrible hirees. But why? Cliff White discusses these complaints in an article for The Week, then offers a millennial businessman’s rebuttal:

“One dig against millennials is that they’re never satisfied or that they’re flaky, but I look at it differently,” Bushner said. “I don’t think there’s been a giant shift in the way young people think or the way they want to act in the last 20 years, or for that matter, the last 200. I just think that maybe the millennial generation is just less afraid to go after what they want.”

… One CFO at a mid-sized manufacturer in New England (who’s related to me, and who asked to not be named so as to avoid bad-mouthing millennials publicly) is wary of hiring millennials after experiencing high absenteeism among their ranks.

“Many are high maintenance and don’t want to work hard,” he said. “Working to repetitive deadlines is not something millennials do well.” In response, Bushner said executives that think of millennials as lazy might want to reevaluate the way their own businesses are run.

“No, we’re not a punch-the-clock kind of workplace, but when we’re in a crunch, my team works harder than anyone,” Bushner said. “Are there millennials who are lazy? Sure, but to write off a whole generation as lazy is naive. If you put me into their more traditional company, they would probably call me lazy too and I’m working 60- to 80-hour weeks. Where an older generation of business leaders see laziness, I see creative energy that’s not being properly harnessed or applied.”

It seems that both White’s relative and Bushner have some good points. The former sees young employees who don’t have the traditional work ethic or sense of loyalty that older generations may have demonstrated; Bushner sees an ambitious set of young people who are more likely to push boundaries, yet also likely to bring great enthusiasm and creativity to a job they consider worthwhile or meaningful.

Millennials have grown up in a world that is debatably more globalized and individualized than ever before. We see this globalization reflected in the rise of the Internet and social media, the expansion of our individual worlds to literally include the world, rather than the more limited, local sphere emphasized in the lives of prior generations. We also see more grad students and young people moving about and living alone, seeking career and life opportunities in new places and cities. Millennials have a tendency to put off marriage, leave the church, live in the absence of society’s private institutions.

All these attitudes seem (at least somewhat) spurred on by a multiplicity of choice, an awareness of the options and the avenues that lie outside our present career paths or personal goals. This awareness often leads us into discontent, uncertainty, restlessness, even laziness. We struggle to commit when the array of surrounding choices encourages a deep inward angst, a sense of not having, doing, or experiencing enough.

Millennials in the workplace may (and, from limited personal experience, often do) experience this sort of restlessness and discontent. It makes it difficult for them to fully commit to their current jobs. There is always a sense that they could be missing out on the next opportunity to advance, to find a more fun or promising career, to find deeper meaning in their vocation. One could say that FOMO informs our career decisions as much as it fuels our social lives.

How do we combat this trend? Not by emphasizing the importance of hiring millennials on their own terms, as Bushner seems to suggest. This only reinforces a sense of entitlement and control, a tendency for them to see their current position as “settling.” Neither should companies worry that they must constantly “innovate” in order to keep young employees, as the article’s author seems to suggest. “New” does not always mean “better,” and it would be wrong for millennials or their employers to adopt such an attitude.

But here’s one idea—it seems that more companies need to build their individual workers into a team: a well-knit, reinforcing, mutually-supporting group of employees who are responsible for each other and accountable to each other. By building such camaraderie, companies remove jobs and employment from the realm of individual ambition, and give them a larger sense of community. Not every job is glamorous. Not every career carries with it a sense of special purpose or meaning. But every job can offer employees a chance to be part of a team, part of a cohort that is connected and close. And it could be that this is what millennials need in order to forsake their dissatisfaction, and stay put. Other tactics—offering greater workplace flexibility, financial incentives, company benefits—could be viewed as secondary, if employees really feel they are part of a team they enjoy working with.

about the author

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and journalist located outside Washington, D.C. In addition to The American Conservative, she has written for The Washington Times, the Idaho Press Tribune, The Federalist, and Acculturated. Follow Gracy on Twitter @GracyOlmstead.

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