Unwrapping the bad rap on millennial workers

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On the job, young people have different expectations than members of previous generations did. Among them: They want coaches, not bosses — someone who teaches rather than issues orders.

On this Labor Day weekend, it seems only right to discuss a labor-market issue. One of the most hotly discussed perceptions is that millennials are workers from hell who have little loyalty to their employers. Indeed, one of their nicknames is the “job-hopper generation.”

Because millennials are becoming the largest segment of the workforce, massive job turnover and special treatment are major concerns to companies, as the costs could be enormous. But those reservations may be overblown.

Clearly, millennials have a different view of their career paths than members of previous generations did. Though they started entering the labor force during the housing boom, most have had to deal with the post-recession soft recovery that made finding jobs and getting raises difficult.  For that reason alone, it should not surprise anyone if they believe the only way to get ahead is to find a new position.

However, the conventional wisdom about job-hopping is not totally correct.

Millennials don’t necessarily change jobs more often than other groups, especially GenXers.  A study by the Pew Foundation found that more than 63 percent of those 18 to 35 years old in 2016 (that is, millennials) had been in their jobs for at least 13 months. To compare, in 2000, when GenXers were the same ages, about 60 percent had been in their positions for 13 months.

Looking longer-term, five years or more, about 22 percent of both millennials and GenXers were still working for their same companies.

Even baby boomers were peripatetic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they changed jobs, on average, 5.5 times when they were 18 to 24 years old, and 4.5 times when they were 25 to 34.

In other words, millennials are not that different from other generations when it comes to job-hopping. The problem may be perception. The data show that the younger the employees are, the more often they change jobs. Millennials are the youngest group, so they are looking for new jobs.

But millennials do need to be managed differently. What they want from the job is very different from what previous generations wanted, and unless their concerns are taken into account, they will tune out quickly and become disengaged. When that happens, turnover occurs.

A report by Gallup summarized the challenges clearly in the following six ways that management has to change:

• Purpose, not paycheck. At least right now, money isn’t the driving force in taking a job. Millennials want to work for businesses that have a purpose. They want to be engaged.

• Development, not satisfaction. Millennials are not looking to be satisfied by their jobs as much as they want jobs that develop their skills. Perks are nice, but not necessary.

• Coaches, not bosses. Want to lose a millennial quickly?  Be an old-fashioned boss who tells people what to do rather than teaches them. They want to be viewed as valuable assets. They want to be talked to and coached, not talked at and ordered.

• Feedback, not reviews. Millennials don’t do periodic reviews. If they are to be part of the organization and develop their skills, they need to know, in real time, how they are doing. Yes, they need more hand-holding.

• Strengths, not weaknesses. To millennials, you develop skills, you don’t worry about weaknesses. Think parents telling their children how good they are. Managers need to focus on employees’ strengths first and weaknesses second, or third, or never.

• Life, not job. Millennials consider their lives more important than their jobs. They don’t want the job to totally take over, which happened to their parents. Millennials want jobs with a purpose at a place where they develop their skills, while they retain their individuality. The job is more than working for a company; it is a means to becoming a better person.

It is important that these are different ways to approach managing employees — they don’t indicate that the employees are not manageable.

Millennials are not the first, and will not likely be the last, generation to create great concerns about the future. The ’60s baby boomers were viewed by the older generations with great trepidation. Could these radicals actually become productive members of society? Well, they did pretty well. There has been very good economic growth since boomers started entering the workforce.

Millennials have gotten a bad rap — or rep. They are viewed as lazy, needy, job-hopping, entitled employees. But that’s a misrepresentation.

They are the most technologically skilled generation ever, and over time will likely change the economy in massive ways. Employers just have to make adjustments when it comes to managing them.