Kids Entering Work Force

The article below is from The Wall Street Journal, adapted form a book by Ron Aslop.  I see a lot of this at school here – not in every kid by any means, but enough to make the article quite familiar to me. What this means long-term, the author seems to suggest, is that while this generation will have to adapt some, it is the industry that will have to adapt more.

That, to me, seems to be a set-up for some future reckoning, one that, while we may not be around for, is something of our responsibility to work now to prevent. One need only look at the difference in attitudes between natives and immigrants to get a sense of what the fallout is likely to look like.

The ‘Trophy Kids’ Go to Work

With Wall Street in turmoil and a financial system in crisis mode, companies
are facing another major challenge: figuring out how to manage a new crop of
young people in the work force — the millennial generation. Born between 1980
and 2001, the millennials were coddled by their parents and nurtured with a
strong sense of entitlement. In this adaptation from “The Trophy Kids Grow
Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace,” Ron Alsop, a
contributor to The Wall Street Journal, describes the workplace attitudes of the
millennials and employers’ efforts to manage these demanding rookies.

* * *
When Gretchen Neels, a Boston-based consultant, was coaching a group of
college students for job interviews, she asked them how they believe employers
view them. She gave them a clue, telling them that the word she was looking for
begins with the letter “e.” One young man shouted out, “excellent.” Other
students chimed in with “enthusiastic” and “energetic.” Not even close. The
correct answer, she said, is “entitled.” “Huh?” the students responded, surprised
and even hurt to think that managers are offended by their highfalutin opinions
of themselves.
If there is one overriding perception of the millennial generation, it’s that these
young people have great — and sometimes outlandish — expectations. Employers
realize the millennials are their future work force, but they are concerned about
this generation’s desire to shape their jobs to fit their lives rather than adapt their
lives to the workplace.
Although members of other generations were considered somewhat spoiled in
their youth, millennials feel an unusually strong sense of entitlement. Older
adults criticize the high-maintenance rookies for demanding too much too soon.
“They want to be CEO tomorrow,” is a common refrain from corporate recruiters.
More than 85% of hiring managers and human-resource executives said they feel
that millennials have a stronger sense of entitlement than older workers,
according to a survey by The generation’s greatest
expectations: higher pay (74% of respondents); flexible work schedules (61%); a
promotion within a year (56%); and more vacation or personal time (50%).
“They really do seem to want everything, and I can’t decide if it’s an inability or
an unwillingness to make trade-offs,” says Derrick Bolton, assistant dean and
M.B.A. admissions director at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.
“They want to be CEO, for example, but they say they don’t want to give up time
with their families.”
Millennials, of course, will have to temper their expectations as they seek
employment during this deep economic slump. But their sense of entitlement is
an ingrained trait that will likely resurface in a stronger job market. Some
research studies indicate that the millennial generation’s great expectations stem
from feelings of superiority. Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment
Research Institute and MonsterTrak, an online careers site, conducted a research
study of 18- to 28-year-olds and found that nearly half had moderate to high
superiority beliefs about themselves. The superiority factor was measured by
responses to such statements as “I deserve favors from others” and “I know that I
have more natural talents than most.”
For their part, millennials believe they can afford to be picky, with talent
shortages looming as baby boomers retire. “They are finding that they have to
adjust work around our lives instead of us adjusting our lives around work,” a
teenage blogger named Olivia writes on the Web site “What other
option do they have? We are hard working and utilize tools to get the job done.
But we don’t want to work more than 40 hours a week, and we want to wear
clothes that are comfortable. We want to be able to spice up the dull workday by
listening to our iPods. If corporate America doesn’t like that, too bad.”
Where do such feelings come from? Blame it on doting parents, teachers and
coaches. Millennials are truly “trophy kids,” the pride and joy of their parents.
The millennials were lavishly praised and often received trophies when they
excelled, and sometimes when they didn’t, to avoid damaging their self-esteem.
They and their parents have placed a high premium on success, filling résumés
with not only academic accolades but also sports and other extracurricular
Now what happens when these trophy kids arrive in the workplace with greater
expectations than any generation before them? “Their attitude is always ‘What
are you going to give me,’ ” says Natalie Griffith, manager of human-resource
programs at Eaton Corp. “It’s not necessarily arrogance; it’s simply their
Millennials want loads of attention and guidance from employers. An annual or
even semiannual evaluation isn’t enough. They want to know how they’re doing
weekly, even daily. “The millennials were raised with so much affirmation and
positive reinforcement that they come into the workplace needy for more,” says
Subha Barry, managing director and head of global diversity and inclusion at
Merrill Lynch & Co.
But managers must tread lightly when making a critique. This generation was
treated so delicately that many schoolteachers stopped grading papers and tests
in harsh-looking red ink. Some managers have seen millennials break down in
tears after a negative performance review and even quit their jobs. “They like the
constant positive reinforcement, but don’t always take suggestions for
improvement well,” says Steve Canale, recruiting manager at General Electric Co.
In performance evaluations, “it’s still important to give the good, the bad and the
ugly, but with a more positive emphasis.”
Millennials also want things spelled out clearly. Many flounder without precise
guidelines but thrive in structured situations that provide clearly defined rules
and the order that they crave. Managers will need to give step-by-step directions
for handling everything from projects to voice-mail messages to client meetings.
It may seem obvious that employees should show up on time, limit lunchtime to
an hour and turn off cellphones during meetings. But those basics aren’t
necessarily apparent to many millennials.
Gail McDaniel, a corporate consultant and career coach for college students,
spoke to managers at a health-care company who were frustrated by some of
their millennial employees. It seems that one young man missed an important
deadline, and when his manager asked him to explain, he said, “Oh, you forgot to
remind me.” Parents and teachers aren’t doing millennials any favors by
constantly adapting to their needs, Ms. McDaniel says. “Going into the
workplace, they have an expectation that companies will adapt for them, too.”
Millennials also expect a flexible work routine that allows them time for their
family and personal interests. “For this generation, work is not a place you go;
work is a thing you do,” says Kaye Foster-Cheek, vice president for human
resources at Johnson & Johnson.
Although millennials have high expectations about what their employers should
provide them, companies shouldn’t expect much loyalty in return. If a job doesn’t
prove fulfilling, millennials will forsake it in a flash. Indeed, many employers say
it’s retention that worries them most.
In the Michigan State/MonsterTrak study, about two-thirds of the millennials
said they would likely “surf” from one job to the next. In addition, about 44%
showed their lack of loyalty by stating that they would renege on a job-acceptance
commitment if a better offer came along.
These workplace nomads don’t see any stigma in listing three jobs in a single year
on their resumes. They are quite confident about landing yet another job, even if
it will take longer in this dismal economy. In the meantime, they needn’t worry
about their next paycheck because they have their parents to cushion them.
They’re comfortable in the knowledge that they can move back home while they
seek another job. The weak job market may make millennials think twice about
moving on, but once jobs are more plentiful, they will likely resume their jobhopping
Justin Pfister, the founder of Open Yard, an online retailer of sports equipment,
believes he and his fellow millennials will resist having their expectations
deflated. If employers fail to provide the opportunities and rewards millennials
seek, he says, they’re likely to drop out of the corporate world as he did and
become entrepreneurs. “We get stifled when we’re offered single-dimensional
jobs,” he says. “We are multi-dimensional people living and working in a multidimensional
These outspoken young people tend to be highly opinionated and fearlessly
challenge recruiters and bosses. Status and hierarchy don’t impress them much.
They want to be treated like colleagues rather than subordinates and expect
ready access to senior executives, even the CEO, to share their brilliant ideas.
Recruiters at such companies as investment-banking firm Goldman Sachs Group
Inc. and describe “student stalkers” who brashly fire off emails to
everyone from the CEO on down, trying to get an inside track to a job.
Companies have a vested interest in trying to slow the millennial mobility rate.
They not only will need millennials to fill positions left vacant by retiring baby
boomers but also will benefit from this generation’s best and brightest, who
possess significant strengths in teamwork, technology skills, social networking
and multitasking. Millennials were bred for achievement, and most will work
hard if the task is engaging and promises a tangible payoff.
Clearly, companies that want to compete for top talent must bend a bit and adapt
to the millennial generation. Employers need to show new hires how their work
makes a difference and why it’s of value to the company. Smart managers will
listen to their young employees’ opinions, and give them some say in decisions.
Employers also can detail the career opportunities available to millennials if
they’ll just stick around awhile. Indeed, it’s the wealth of opportunities that will
prove to be the most effective retention tool.
In the final analysis, the generational tension is a bit ironic. After all, the
grumbling baby-boomer managers are the same indulgent parents who produced
the millennial generation. Ms. Barry of Merrill Lynch sees the irony. She is
teaching her teenage daughter to value her own opinions and to challenge things.
Now she sees many of those challenging millennials at her company and wonders
how she and other managers can expect the kids they raised to suddenly behave
differently at work. “It doesn’t mean we can be as indulgent as managers as we
are as parents,” she says. “But as parents of young people just like them, we can
treat them with respect.”

Adapted from “The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is
Shaking Up the Workplace” by Ron Alsop. Copyright 2008 by Ron Alsop.
Published by Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.

The ‘Trophy Kids’ Go to Work – 10/27/2008

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