The critics say that Millennials are lazy, work-shy narcissists who lack loyalty and jump ship at the drop of a hat. They need constant affirmation and coddling. They want autonomy and status, but they aren’t willing to put in the hours. If the numerous reports are to believed, we’re doomed.
But wait a minute. By definition, I’m a Millennial! I was born in the ‘80s. By my mid 20s, I was CEO of my first company. For me—and just about every “Millennial” employee on my staff at Nestio—the tired definitions really don’t fit.
Maybe the Boomers were a defined cohort. But with the world changing so fast today, does it really makes sense to bunch everyone born from 1980-2000 into one homogeneous group? Not to mention, many supposedly Millennial traits have been ascribed to young people well before now. Back in 1976, for example, Tom Wolfe dubbed the Baby Boomers the “Me Decade.” (Sound familiar?)
All this Millennial profiling actually misses out on the bigger picture. In my experience, young people in the workforce bring strengths that are too easily overlooked or downplayed. The 90 percent of Nestio staff who were born after 1980 are highly educated and intellectually curious. I find that they have a deep respect for the potential of technology to make things easier, faster and very different from what came before. They’re willing to question absolutely everything and can work among chaos – an essential skill for any start-up.
While I don’t agree with the monolithic construct of a Millennial generation, I do see some shared traits. These are my observations, so take them for what they’re worth, gathered as a Millennial CEO on the front lines:
1. Yes, Millennials want it all (and that can be a good thing).
Do Millennials expect the world? In my experience, yes. But that same confidence and sense of self-worth can translate into outsized and sometimes unexpected achievement.
Back in the 1970s and ’80s the philosophy may have been work hard, pay your dues and earn your stripes. I was raised on this ideology, in fact. But I’ve come to realize there’s nothing wrong with punching above your weight and fast-tracking your own success, as long as you have the right attitude and can walk the talk.
Take our current operations manager. He came to us two summers ago as an intern. He said when he graduated he wanted a job with us on our product team or in operations. One problem: We didn’t have either of those departments yet. That didn’t stop him. He merged both roles and found a way to “productize” our internal ops. Is it a little bold to write your own job description straight out of college? Absolutely. But he delivered on his vision and added real value to the company.
2. Millennials demand a voice, so give it to them (you’ll thank yourself).
The Millennials I work with are all very different, but they’re united by passion: They have strong ideas about the business and want to make a difference. Plodding away and patiently going with the flow isn’t part of the game plan. An IBM study, in fact, confirms that for more than a quarter of Millennials being heard and having an impact is the single most important career goal.
This outspoken bent from the so-called Outspoken Generation could seem like a liability to some bosses. In my experience, it’s anything but. Employees who share ideas and feedback are deeply invested in the company. This sense of ownership is something to be cherished, not suppressed.
For example, one of our most experienced engineers came to me a few months back and said flat out that he felt like a stranger in his own company. This surprised me. But other employees echoed the same concerns: the team was ballooning, but not everyone knew who the new hires were or what they were doing. As a result of this feedback, we began holding regular social mixers, office hours with me and my co-founder and monthly team dinners. I already see cross-departmental collaboration that just wasn’t there before, and this is all thanks to someone who called it like he saw it.
Disclaimer: This kind of feedback is sometimes jarring and, of course, may not always be helpful. But in the aggregate, it makes not just for a more transparent office but a more efficient business.
3. Work-life balance is not a buzzword (and can benefit the bottom line).
This idea of work-life balance in my opinion is misunderstood.
Yes, Millennials consistently rate work-life balance as the top job priority, but poke around a bit in the numbers and something very surprising emerges. One Ernst & Young study found Millennial managers are adding more hours to their workweek faster than their Gen X or Boomer counterparts, for instance. Translation: A desire for work-life balance certainly isn’t about being lazy.
The reality is that younger employees value their careers and their pursuits outside of work, a harmony that we’ve tried to honor at my company. And major companies are also getting on-board. Netflix, Google and now Virgin all offer not just unlimited sick days but unlimited vacation – they look at what staff get done, not at the number of hours logged.
In addition to unlimited sick days, at Nestio we extend a $1000 annual stipend for employees to pursue outside interests. I’ve had bills for personal training, reflexology and French classes. Being encouraged to pursue hobbies, I find, makes for a happier team that brings that sense of fulfillment and purpose into the workplace.
By 2020, the generational cohort known as Millennials will represent 50 percent of the total workforce. Whether that truly means a whole lot remains to be seen. Technology is segmenting generations faster and faster, and there are enormous cultural gulfs between me and my youngest employees (some of whom just don’t get my ‘90s Nickelodeon TV references at all).
What I am sure of, however, is that young workers bring enthusiasm and energy to the table. I’ve seen firsthand how many of our supposed shortcomings—an excess of confidence, ambition and mission—represent huge strengths in the startup space.
Caren Maio is founder and CEO of Nestio, a residential leasing and marketing platform.