How to engage your “entitled” millennial employee

Think Shift-Balaji Krishnamurthy
Think Shift-Balaji Krishnamurthy

Photo by The Next Web

If you don’t have any millennial employees today, you will soon.
Born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, millennials will comprise the bulk of the workforce in 20 years. As a generation, millennials are accused of wanting everything given to them, which, some believe, has been.
They feel entitled to get a degree in a discipline with few employment opportunities, hang out in their parents’ basement, work as a barista at the local Starbucks, and post to Instagram from their iPhones, which are covered by their families’ plans. As Catherine Rampell of The Washington Post writes, “To some, this arrested development is evidence of a prolonged adolescence and a rejection of self-sufficiency, perhaps encouraged by indulgent helicopter parenting.”
The Great and Silent generations that have retired from the workforce found a loyal employer to whom they gave their working life. For these “one-company” professionals, engagement was essential.
The Baby Boomers and the Gen Xers realized there was no guaranteed employment; they had to guarantee employability for themselves. So, they devoted their working life to a career, albeit with different employers. For these “one-career” professionals, it was in their interest to be engaged and get the most from the job.
The millennials seem to centre their choices on a particular lifestyle. They choose a lifestyle and construct the necessary underpinnings of work, family, relationships, etc. to support it. Engagement in the job? Only to the extent that it supports my lifestyle!
In the “one-company” view of the world, employers could invoke John F. Kennedy’s language and encourage workers to “Ask not what your company can do for you, ask what you can do for your company.”
That rallying approach even worked in 1980 at Chrysler when Lee Iacocca returned from Washington with a loan to save the company, and as recently as 1995 when Lou Gerstner made a similar appeal to save “the greatest computer company in the world,” IBM. Can you imagine making that appeal today? How would your employees respond?
A culture of loyalty encourages going over and above the call of duty when the company needs you.
All cultural benefits have a shadow side weakness. In the case of loyalty, it can be entitlement. The employee argues that if he or she is expected to do something for the company when the company needs it, shouldn’t the employee expect the company to be there when he or she needs it? This sense of entitlement permeates loyalty-based cultures. When millennials enter into such an environment, they are more likely to grasp one side of the equation and not the other.
Why do the millennials not give as much?
Are they just takers? Not really. In fact, some say the millennials actually believe that they can “do well by doing good.” They were raised in a generation where doing good – good for people, good for the environment, good for the disadvantaged, good for different races, etc. – was in vogue. Their apathy toward corporate America stems from a different source.
Millennials entered the workforce just as the market crashed in 2008.
The recovery never trickled down to them. They don’t believe it ever will. Millennials have different utility associated with different resources. So, their utilitarian economics, if we may call it that, is very different from previous generations.
Whereas the previous generations were willing to readily give of their time in exchange for money, millennials find a very different balance in that equation. Whereas the previous generations had a lower discount factor for time value of money, millennials put less trust in long-term investments, and hence apply a high discount factor.
Whereas the previous generations respected their predecessors for their knowledge and experience even if telling them to modernize, millennials know that the non-digital previous generations are dinosaurs from whom they have little to learn. Finally, the millennials saw how their parents worked hard only to get nowhere, and the time they put in was just not worth it.
The millennials aren’t going to do that.
So how do you engage millenials?
You understand their lifestyle! Then attempt to not only see, but to advocate on behalf of, their point of view.
Dr. Balaji Krishnamurthy, chairman of Think Shift, is a veteran executive with more than 30 years of corporate experience. Time Magazine recognized him as one of 25 Global Business Influentials, and publications such as the Wall Street Journal have featured Balaji and his innovative concepts as representing a new genre of corporate leadership. Known for his innovative and thought-provoking ideas, Balaji works with CEOs to develop organic leadership through an intentional corporate culture.

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