There is plenty of discussion about whether Millennials are hard workers or seemingly entitled. Richard Skidmore, CEO of Timberlane, which manufactures shutters for iconic clients like Disney and the White House, hires people of all generations and thinks the conversation should shift from an emphasis on generational differences to one centering on performance and work ethic.

It doesn't matter if you're 25 or 65; what Skidmore, a member of the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), cares about are results. "Where I come from, there is simply no substitute for hard work and putting in the time," he revealed. "Work ethic to me is about achievement and drive. Being hardworking, persevering and motivated to win is a prerequisite for business success, yet finding employees that possess this today has become increasingly rare. It seems to be especially hard to find in the millennial generation where there is such a strong focus on balance and an almost angry sentiment around the idea of actually working and putting time in the saddle at work."

Skidmore concedes that it's certainly not a universal truth that all "millennials" are problematic, but he does see that many in the Gen Y population seem to be apathetic about success, drive and achievement in their work ethic.

Here are Skidmore's thoughts on how to identify a strong work ethic in millennials.

1. They got their first job shortly after they learned to walk.

Many millennials grow up having more at their disposal than their parents. Many didn't work early on as their parents focused more on sports and activities. Skidmore believes that those with the drive to work early on in life will be the ones to give you the best at their professional peak. "One thing I always probe on in all interviews is finding out at what age someone started to work. Did they have a paper route, sell lemonade or cut lawns? Did they work through school and on summer breaks or goof off? Did they contribute towards their college and I'm not talking about just having student loans, I mean real contribution," noted Skidmore. "Sacrificing play time for work time to achieve a goal you set for yourself or to get something you really wanted like your first car. I believe this builds character muscle and work ethic and there is an undeniable correlation between someone who has always worked for what they have and 'A' players in the workplace."

2. They're not clock watchers.

Some people just go to work and look at the time, waiting for the minutes to move along so they can get out and go have fun. Those are likely the people who are not there to grow or learn, dragging down the entire operation. Moreover, they expect the fun to come without putting in the effort. "Employees today expect some pretty crazy perks and benefits long before they even add value to a company. Since when did that become okay?" asked Skidmore. "We love to talk about the over-the-top work cultures, fancy catered lunches, yoga classes, paid sabbaticals, work from home and open bars that so many of the tech titans provide, but what isn't talked about is the work ethic required by their founders to achieve the level of success that afforded those very amenities to be possible today."

3. Their cell phone is almost non-existent in the workplace.

The cell phone has become a new means to pass the time and a major distraction for people in the workplace. When the phone is out, there is question of whether the person is adding value to the company and using time wisely. "Work ethic to me is also about being present, not just physically present and showing up to work but also bringing and maintaining your whole self at work. That means put the cell phone away," revealed Skidmore. "I believe cell phone addiction is very real and costs employers billions of dollars in lost productivity. Since when did it become okay to expect an employer to pay you to keep up with your Instagram feed or texting your friends while at work and then still leave at 5:01 p.m."

4. They're competitive.

Is it really beneficial to be rewarded for participation regardless of results? Not according to Skidmore. "Why is it wrong to compete? Do they hand out World Series rings or Stanley cups to the losing team? Of course not, that's why they call it a Stanley Cup and not a participation cup," emphasized Skidmore. "Winning and competition is not a bad thing. The discontent that comes from losing can be fuel to win. If there isn't a measureable goal post to track your progress, how else do you know how you're doing?"

5. They have ambitious personal goals.

"'A' players have higher expectations of themselves than anyone could ever impose on them. They expect the best of themselves and of those around them and they are intolerant of lazy people and those that do not pull their weight," explained Skidmore. "They are goal oriented and action focused. Employers love having employees that are pushing themselves to new heights of performance every day."

6. They're highly disciplined and organized.

Millennials are often associated with multitasking. But distraction often leads to poor quality and inconsistency. Skidmore believes that the most effective and valuable employees are the most organized ones. "You manage your time efficiently and always have a plan. You know where you've been and where you're going. Most of the time your desk is fairly organized and you have routines and rituals that are instrumental to your success," he added. "You personify the idea of working smarter and not harder, but in reality, you do both."

7. They pay attention and know when to seize an opportunity.

"The best opportunities in life are seldom planned. You pay close attention to what's happening and when opportunity knocks, you reach out and seize it. An extended search for a new Director of Manufacturing resulted in a key role remaining vacant for nine months," narrated Skidmore. "A then junior department supervisor saw that as an opportunity to show senior management what he was capable of. The search for his boss continued, and this gentleman quietly owned the manager role without ever being asked to. I woke up one day and realized I had my new senior manager right under my nose and ended up formalizing his promotion and giving him a big raise."

8. They're focused and sometimes intense.

Many of Gen Y are still struggling to figure out their path. Skidmore admires those who can zero in on a direction and go for it. "Some of the most successful people I know spend a lotof their day in the 'zone' and those like-minded individuals recognize that," said Skidmore. "I'm often confused for being in a bad mood because every time I walk down the hall to use the rest room, I walk fast and skip the small talk. I'm just in the zone and can't wait to get back to my office so I don't lose my momentum."

9. They ask great questions.

"Work ethic is not just about working hard but about working smart. Paying attention to the extent that you question the status quo often results in some powerful insights" explained Skidmore. "Offering criticism for challenges helps no one, but asking what would happen if we did something differently can be quite profound. Be a problem solver and not a problem delivery person. God know we don't need more of those."

Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.

Published on: May 13, 2016
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