Admit it. Your personal biases regarding the millennials have come up in professional conversations. You couldn’t help yourself. (Or, could you?) Perhaps you were triggered by a comment, behavior or situation at work. Or you may be oblivious to the fact that the disparaging lens you use to view them, or indeed any team member that is different to you, is reflecting on your leadership style and your business. Whether you are reacting consciously or unconsciously, the time has come to stop bashing millennials.
Some may argue that perception is reality when it comes to opinions and experiences regarding interactions with millennials. Nonetheless, there are compelling reasons to strongly counter this line of reasoning:
The economic cost to your employer brand
Your employer brand conveys your organization’s identity in the eyes of prospective talent. Therefore, to label an entire demographic who happened to be born in a specific time frame as “lazy, entitled, selfish, arrogant, narcissistic, self-absorbed, impatient”, etc. (terms often used to describe millennials) does nothing to advance your reputation and appeal to a sought-after generation of workers. Competition for their skills has never been greater, especially when you realize that millennials now represent the largest cohort of the workforce in North America. By 2025, they will represent three-quarters of the global workforce.
Millennial bashing, either overtly or covertly, will repel them from interviewing with your enterprise, no matter how attractive the compensation and benefits. Can your organization afford to “dismiss” opportunities to recruit millennials when there is compelling evidence of a shortage of professionals, knowledge workers and those with bachelor (or higher) degrees? Many industry sectors struggle with heightened demand and diminishing supply of available talent. Employer biases only serve to add undue pressure by limiting the ability to efficiently manage expenses allocated to your recruitment and employer brand strategy.
The negative impact on your workplace culture
In addition to the external business consequences of stereotyping millennials, there are also internal ramifications, for example, the destabilization of your workplace culture. Jessica Kriegel, author of Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit from Ditching Generational Stereotypes, uncovered “countless injustices” emanating from categorizing workers by specific demographic groups.
Consider this example: Mark, a client I coach, is a brilliant sales person for a company in the competitive agricultural business of manufacturing, supplying and storing grain. He has a deep understanding of the industry as a third generation farmer, acquiring first-hand experience in his family’s business. Mark has a degree in agricultural engineering, possessing extensive knowledge regarding current and future trends in his industry. He has many business contacts and is highly respected by his co-workers and clients. As a millennial, however, Mark feels that he does not have the complete trust of his employer when it comes to closing lucrative six or seven figure deals. The owner of the company will often step in to the final phases of the selling process, isolating Mark from the conversation and client negotiations. Other non-millennial members of sales team have not experienced the same level of intervention. Although Mark has expressed his concerns regarding age discrimination, his employer dismisses Mark’s disquietude, downplaying his assessment of the situation. As a result, Mark is now questioning whether he will remain with the company.
Many millennials are voicing similar sentiments to Mark’s. Kriegel’s research indicates that millennials are unfairly portrayed and have been singled out more than any other group in today’s workforce. Millennial bashing not only perpetuates disharmony between co-workers and managers, it may serve as grounds for litigation, with ramifications far greater than HR departments can manage. Preserving a healthy, congenial workplace culture ought to be a top organizational priority, with leadership setting the example of exemplary attitudes and behaviours regarding their workforce.
Limiting opportunities for business growth
Marketing to millennials is a multi-trillion dollar proposition ($1.3 trillion in consumer spending in the US alone). If your business is not positioned to promote and sell your services to millennials, to say you are missing out is an understatement. This year is predicted to be the biggest in terms of millennial spending power, yet many retailers are failing to keep up and cash in on the massive opportunities and on-line alternatives sought by these savvy consumers. We’ve recently witnessed the demise of renowned retail brands in the new economy due to their inability to stay ahead of the technology curve and grasp new customer realities. Your business leaders can avoid their mistakes by first adopting a mindset that embraces open-mindedness and a willingness to change obsolete marketing habits.
It is worthwhile to keep in mind the extent to which millennials use their devices to make small and big-ticket purchases, fully expecting to find products and services instantly. They are especially attracted to an authentic experience and connection as a customer. In studies conducted by Elite Daily and Crowd Twist, researchers found that 62 percent of Millennials are more loyal to brands that engage directly with customers on social media, debunking the notion that millennials have little interest in building allegiances and long-term customer relationships.
Businesses need to come to terms with the fact that millennials are here to stay – they are our customers, our employees and the business leaders of the future. When companies allow biases to cloud their view and stereotype a whole segment of the population, not only do talented employees feel the brunt, but eventually, organizations themselves will struggle as a result of myopic, close-minded attitudes. The way millennials work and play may seem foreign to some, but we need to remember that but we need to remember that underneath the myopic labels, such as “entitled” or “impatient” applied to this generation, they possess values we admire in our employees as a whole. Many are hard workers who don’t deserve to be pigeonholed. Leaders can either choose to have an open mind, embrace millennials and help them realize their full potential or get left behind and miss out on opportunities to work with and learn from them.