Millennials have taken over as the largest number of workers in America today. We are the future, but many managers and leaders still bemoan our existence. We are labeled as selfie-loving, lazy, and entitled brats that are waiting for the participation award for showing up to work. While I would like to say those are just silly stereotypes, I cannot. These are traps that our generation has gotten caught up in. I have had too many direct experiences where these labels fit our generation like a glove. Other millennials might deny the accusations, saying it’s just an exaggeration, or blaming the way they were raised. Rather than just deny or make excuses for this behavior, let’s identify the common traps and figure out how we can escape these limiting attitudes and actions.
Trap #1 - Being lazy
We are getting labeled as lazy because we avoid doing the hard parts of our job. We aren’t used to having to do grunt work. Most of us didn’t grow up on farm, we did not have summer jobs, and many of us had parents that catered to our every need. Now you want us to do this boring repetitive grunt work? That’s exactly what is asked of anyone starting at the bottom rung of the employment ladder. It does not matter what your degree is, or even what you choose for a career. Every industry has boring, repetitive, and uninspiring work that the entry-level people are tasked with. When millennials balk at doing these types of activities, they become labeled as lazy. Managers cannot give challenging and inspiring work to someone they view as lazy. Which leads to a less motivated and less productive employee.
Escape Plan #1: Master the basics
Do great work with the boring tasks that are assigned and more interesting work will be given to you. How you do anything, is how you do everything! If you knock tasks and projects out of the park, it gets noticed. If you can be trusted with the easy and small tasks, soon you can be trusted with the more complex and demanding tasks. In my first corporate job I was able to dominate my entry-level position by staying diligent about my job responsibilities. The path was simple. Do all the work that was given as efficiently as possible, then go look for more work to do. I got ahead in the company, while my baby boomer co-workers spent most of their energy comparing themselves to one and other. They argued about who was doing more, dodged calls, and cherry-picked tasks. This was a great opportunity to pick up all the work and get noticed. I built a reputation for being on task and taking on more than was asked of me. So pretty soon, more was asked of me. In one year of just focusing on the basics, I was offered a management position ahead of my peers.
Trap #2: Thinking we are entitled
We start a new job and after a few weeks of getting comfortable, those basic grunt projects behind us, we are ready for a promotion. And we deserve one because we are so smart and know all these new and exciting ways to make everything at the company better. We can tell you all the theories of how things should work or how we would do it. Where do we apply for the CEO position? Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration, but just slight. While managing millennials, I have found about 50% act this way to a degree. These aren’t hard and fast statistics, but ask any manager and they will confirm the rough estimate. We millennials overestimate our skills and abilities. We see this tiny percentage of 20-something-year-olds running a company and assume we fit into that group. They are just like me, right? Wrong, they have their own company and you work in a job where you have not yet proved your abilities.There also seems to be a correlation between smart, but very lazy millennials that feel entitled. The hardworking, diligent ones do not act so deserving, but the ones that you have to micromanage to make sure they do their job, seem to always come to my office sniffing for a promotion.
Escape Plan #2: The world doesn’t owe us anything
The world doesn’t owe anyone anything. Everything must be earned based on what you can actually do. Because we went to college does not guarantee us anything or make us deserving. How long you have been working at something or somewhere, does not earn you anything. The world does not give you things based on what you know, or your seniority. You are rewarded for what you produce—your results. What you achieve determines what you receive. Drop any belief that you are owed anything in this life. Drop any justification you can conjure up in your mind and realize the truth. You get out of life exactly what you put in. If you don’t have what you want, look in the mirror for person to blame. Next, believe that you can figure out what you need to do to realize your goal, and have the diligence to pursue it until you get it.
Trap #3: Where is my gold star
My favorite quote said by a millennial during an evaluation went something like this, “I have not been late in awhile, at least a few weeks”. Well that is grounds for a gold star, where is the star chart! Five more gold stars and you get a promotion! Of course, I did not say that, but my first thought was, “That is not even praiseworthy; that is basic.” That is one of the lowest minimum requirements to even having a job, but he thought it was commendable. Now, I am a strong believer in positive reinforcing feedback to correct problems. I would provide positive feedback that I appreciated that the person resolved their tardiness issue, but it is not an achievement per say.
Escape plan #3: Get praise by being a top performer
If you want lots of praise, become praiseworthy. First, let's shift the mindset about the way the world works. It doesn’t matter how many 12th place trophies your mom has framed. The real world has roughly three tiers of success which are recognized. There is 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. If you want to be promoted and succeed in life, your goal has to be to occupy one of these top spots. Businesses do not have endless opportunities for people to step into key roles. These position go to the best performers. If you are doing the minimum of your job, it is not enough to make it. Find out what it takes to be a top performer in your company or position and knock it out of the park. You will get praise and the advancement you want.
Second, yes you do deserve regular feedback and you deserve praise when you do a stand out job. That’s it. Don’t expect praise; earn praise by doing excellent work. It would be hard for even the coldest unfeeling manager to ignore excellence. If they do, you will get plenty from other people and ultimately you will know it, even without the gold star.
Those are three of the biggest traps my generation falls into. Use these escape plans and you will be a breakout success. Join the conversation. Let me know your experience as or with millennials in the workplace.