Managing Millennials: Maybe the Problem Is You, Not Them
I found myself in an online conversation recently with a number of friends and fellow small-business owners. The topic was the difficulty of getting good employees.
Someone had offered the story of an entrepreneur who sneered about the people who worked for him. They were all lazy, had no sense of work ethic, and were a waste of time. There was nothing to be done until the "kids" changed their attitudes. What a bunch of entitled whiners, right?
I doubt it. What a ridiculous amount of whining from someone who wouldn't do his job. Every business owner has a responsibility to help employees develop and succeed.
Perhaps Millennials are more prone to a different relationship with authority and work than many entrepreneurs are accustomed to. Or maybe this is the same dynamic that has appeared, generation after generation, for literally thousands of years. In the words of Socrates, according to Plato:
The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
Ah, how youth is wasted on the...ancient.
Maybe there is a combination of actual change and the echo of resentment of elders toward the young. There are also systemic factors. Younger generations grow up seeing the expansion of general income inequality, the broken promises of corporations, dwindling benefits, and a doubtful future retirement. Not a lot to inspire confidence and fidelity.
But all of that is ultimately a list of excuses. There will always be challenges in running a business. One of them is managing employees. If you want your company to thrive, you must work to hire the best people, have a business robust enough to foot the bill for good compensation and benefits, and then lead your employees to success. This isn't a nicety; it's part of your job.
You bring employees along in a number of ways:
- Offer sufficient training.
- Correct errors without attacking.
- Recognize and reinforce the right behavior.
- Seek to understand what systemic problems you may have created that drive unwanted behavior.
- Respect them.
- Provide a good example yourself.
The last two are vital. People learn from example and react to respect, or its lack. Treat employees badly and you ask them to return the same. If most of your interactions with people who work for you result in a spoken or silent rebuke or dismissal, then you are definitely doing something wrong.
What can help is to remember when you were also young, callow, and lazy. If you're convinced that you were always a self-made person, then ask a parent, aunt, uncle, or other older person who knew you when. I'm sure one of them can remind you.
ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist
Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.