Why Everyone Is Wrong About Working With Millennials

Millennials aren't as lazy and entitled as they're made out to be. Why everyone needs to adapt to the workforce of the future.

There appears to be a prevalent sentiment among some business decision makers that millennials—soon to be the largest workforce in history—lack a strong work ethic and require too much flexibility in the workplace. And many end up blaming higher education for these perceived issues. Are colleges and universities to blame for inadequately preparing millennials to succeed in the 21st-century economy?

We decided to bring these questions to an audience of CEOs, senior executives, and public sector officials at Bloomberg’s recent The Year Ahead: 2014 conference. Armed with initial findings from a comprehensive study on millennial preparedness commissioned by Bentley University and conducted by KRC Research, we set out to explore the disconnect in perceptions between generations and identify solutions.

First, the definition of "preparedness" in today’s working world is different than it was for Baby Boomer or Gen Xers. Being prepared for work, or possessing a range of professional skills that allows one to succeed in their first job, while also laying the foundation for lifelong success, speaks to using both sides of the brain, combining critical thinking with creativity and collaboration, to effectively meet the needs of the workplace. Preparedness in today’s context also requires strong communication skills and digital literacy, as well as an understanding of how to work with previous generations.

Sixty-three percent of business decision makers and 68% of corporate recruiters say that it’s difficult to manage millennials.

As we see from other research studies, more than 50% of business leaders say that millennials lack the professional skill sets needed for even entry-level positions. True or not, the sad reality is that many business professionals do believe that recent college graduates are not adequately prepared to succeed in the workplace.

For educators, this perception means they need to reassess their curriculum. For business leaders it means recognizing that future competitiveness depends on embracing the talent of the millennial generation. Together, we can find a way to ensure we are delivering a return on investment to graduates, all the while improving our businesses and strengthening the economy.

Seventy four percent of non-millennials agree that recent graduates offer unique skills that add value to the workplace.

From our experience in both academia and the workplace, we see a different face of the millennial generation than the persona often described—one that can greatly improve business productivity. College students and graduates are more passionate than ever before. They are innovative, collaborative, and results-oriented. Contrary to popular belief, they do possess a strong work ethic, albeit one that is defined differently. Millennials care very much about the end goal, but less about the path they take to get there, and they dislike the red tape to which businesses often adhere.

Seventy-four percent of non-millennials believe that businesses must partner with colleges and universities to provide curriculums that properly prepare students for today’s workforce.

So how can we close the preparedness gap? One solution: higher education and businesses collaborate to better meet the needs of today’s workforce.

Businesses must realize the importance of adapting to millennial employees in order to leverage the advanced, forward-thinking ideas that they can provide. For example at PayScale we employ a great deal of millennials, and we have noticed the importance of giving frequent feedback to employees and receiving it back from them. After all, millennials have been used to receiving feedback throughout their lives from parents and teachers. While they may be adept at using technology, they still need to learn how to express themselves appropriately through the many tools available. It’s our responsibility as managers to teach them this so they can communicate more effectively with their colleagues of all ages.

Meanwhile, leaders in higher education need to fully integrate professional skill-building that reflects the marketplace, along with the holistic benefits of an arts and sciences education—this is the approach we take at Bentley. Colleges need to also focus on building their career service offerings, provide hands-on training through internships, and consider the importance of corporate immersion courses in developing future leaders. They must ground their curriculum in real-world experience so millennials are prepared for lifelong learning beyond campus gates.

In turn, millennials must adapt as well. They’ve grown up in an accelerated, on-demand world and often expect everyone around them to be working on the same fast track. Their aspirational views can be seen as entitled and their agility can be misunderstood as overconfidence. The onus is on all of us—including millennials—to work harder to understand each other and adapt to different work styles.

Ultimately, our economic, social, and cultural future lies in the hands of the millennial generation. We must work together to unleash their full potential to ensure we remain a competitive, innovative, and vibrant society.

Gloria Larson is president of Bentley University, and Mike Metzger is CEO and president of PayScale.

[Image via Unsplash | Dietmar Becker]

Add New Comment


  • BrycePJ

    We millenials need to swallow the pill that we're not more passionate or self-aware or socially responsible than anyone else. We just hate doing things we don't think are important, so we tend to ONLY do things we think are important. So we seem (and like to call ourselves) passionate.

    At the same time, we hate doing the everyday, mundane things that keep the world turning and expect someone else to take care of them--you know, while we're doing 'more important' things, like creating SnapChat.

    I have to admit, I think it's pure entitlement through and through *whether or not that's our own fault*

  • karoliskj

    Three words - Brunel University London. Over 90% of design and engineering students (industrial, product, media, automotive, aerospace) undertake professional industrial placement in the third year of the course. I did 15 months fully paid (better than junior designer). Not a single employer complained, everyone was impressed with the skills and knowledge young professionals brought into the companies. Many of our students got contract extensions, pay raises, references from VPs and CEOs and offers to come back after university. Every year the greater number of students from our course get employed. Almost all the internships are paid or at least living and travelling expanses covered. Win/win here. Not sure what's the situation in USA though. But in the UK, millennials work hard, I didn't have holidays for years, went home only 3 times in last 4 years, I am working my ass off till 6 am every uni holiday to do the assignments and freelance work to keep me afloat. We love what we do, we can learn any new technologies, work methods quick and with our own motivation. When people say we are lazy I just don't get it. We are productive, highly driven and motivated, we have targets and goals to achieve and we are willing to work 18 hour days to get there and if others can't keep up with this pace, then sorry, we have to move with the times. I think the problem is that we just don't get a chance to prove how multifaceted and versatile we really are.

  • del2124

    I suspect that millennials also just don't care much about the company they work for because they don't expect to work there very long. Part of this is the way they were raised and how they've internalized the idea of the importance of creating a personal "brand" or something.

    The other thing is that this is actually a reflection of the jobs available. The companies just don't expect or encourage workers to stay around very long. Their retirement is 401 (k) and they're all expected to work from home on their personal device, which they often pay for themselves. No wonder they don't care about their companies; their companies don't care about them.

  • Nishant Bhaskar

    "Higher education and businesses collaborate to better meet the needs of today’s workforce." Indeed. Companies have to reach the millennials, and get their attention. Otherwise, there are so many sensational things on internet which can absorb their attention. And going with the flow is not necessarily the best direction to be followed!

  • Veronica

    a big AGREE to industry and colleges collaborating on curriculum. excuse me but how are we supposed to come out of school ready to do all the things you say, if nobody ever taught us...? stop placing the blame on millennials and start looking to the horrific classes many of us are forced to take. i was very lucky to graduate with a minor in PR from SDSU, where they absolutely put us through the wringer writing realistic proposals, professional case studies, and press materials. my political science degree was close to useless as far as real-life job skills go.

  • del2124

    College is not supposed to be jobs training. It's not vocational. Professional jobs require people who are smart and adaptive, not who can do specific job tasks, which will be outdated and irrelevant in 3 years anyway.

  • KK

    No one taught us either. We took initiative. STOP with the damned excuses. This is what people are talking about. Boo freaking hoo.

  • Veronica

    watch out everyone, we have a motherfucking genius over here, who is so much better than all of us, has never made a mistake or an excuse for anything in his/her life, and is undoubtedly a powerful, innovative, and philanthropic CEO with so much influence and expertise that they can't even identify themselves online. oh wait it's just another useless and pathetic Disqus troll.

  • Alexander Craghead

    Maybe this needs to re-stated: employers are finding it harder to satisfy/retain Millennial talent, and the hopeless outdated, red-tape-loving, insular HR fields are now whining, pointing fingers, and casting aspersions to cover their collective rear end. Meanwhile, Millennials are aware of their value and are willing to make radical career shifts in order to achieve their goals.

    This isn't anything to do with laziness. This is a fundamental shift in cultural values. Not a revolution, just the future arriving.

    Silicon Valley gets it. (Heck, in a way, Silicon Valley *created* the Millennial.) Now the rest of corporate America had better retool itself to the way that society actually functions now, or it will rapidly find itself obsolete and outdated, a victim of what is known in Capitalism as "creative destruction."

  • Bill Edwards

    Anyone, regardless of generation, who feels entitlement to anything because of their educational background or current skills deserves to get left behind. This isn't a millennial problem, it is an aging workforce problem.
    People in my generation were taught to be more rounded, to utilize every means possible to get the answer. I find the good employees of the previous generations had great motors, we have great transmissions. We are more efficient (as a generation) than previous generations, but I want to see what happens when we all have kids and families!
    To be honest, this may be more perception than problem. Millennials communicate at a much higher rate in on a mass scale compared to their older cohorts. In my neck of the woods, situated between two very large universities with pretty solid engineering programs, there are many fiscally responsible, capitalism driven folks graduating with great knowledge bases that only care about solving problems and not the process. The good ones find problems to solve, the others sit and wait for a check. The former thrive, the latter don't make it.
    In any age, the youth and veterans need to collaborate to leverage their collective knowledge through the high motors of the youth, which is not specific to this current generation.

  • Stephen A. Karel

    I am old enough to remember FDR and "the buck stops here" Harry Truman, which means I have witnessed a bunch of generations. As Col. Potter, of 4077 Mash unit, liked to express his feeling, "Bull doggies." Every generation has either not enough of this, or too much of that. Even the esteemed authors of this post "should be" astute to understand the concept of "give time, time."

    I have been in the retained search business for 33+ years! and I have found that each and every new generation has both god and "bad" qualities. However, there is a very glaring problem, that has to be rectified ASAP, that is what is, and what is not part of the college curriculum. If our colleges and universities would stop propagating socialistic themes, and start to educate their students in the idea of, and the art of capitalism.

    Socialism is a proven objective failure. Even the Chinese are teaching their students the art of capitalism.

  • del2124

    Stop. The most popular undergraduate major is business. They teach capitalism. Believe me, they do.

  • Anthony Reardon

    I don't think he's talking about capitalism in that sense, though. By his stated age, you have to account for the predominant conceptual conflict in his generation between communism vs. capitalism. It's actually opposite of academic command vs. market economics. By "socialistic" I bet he's referring to "collective" and "liberal" methodologies. These were somewhat contrary to the traditional and mechanical productivity ideologies that were promoted as American industrialism. More recent generations tend to lean more toward decentralized planning, self-governing systems, and independent agents, but these are actually the definition of capitalism. Sounds like he's basically implying American schools are teaching students to be "commies". Nonetheless, still merit to the criticism of colleges & universities today. A lot of people at the institutional level don't know what they hell they are talking about. If "command and control" still sounds like a bad thing to you, then the system failed you. These concepts are a continuum with pros and cons depending on the situation. That's why I agree with the article- whether you are old school or new school, chances are you are both wrong.

  • P Mort

    "If our colleges and universities would stop propagating socialistic themes, and start to educate their students in the idea of, and the art of capitalism."
    Maybe you champions of capitalism can start ponying up tax revenue so these colleges can actually afford to do whatever the hell it is you want to do (which seems to be trading one form of indoctrination for another). Oh wait, I forgot, you pushed the "SOCIALISM" button.

  • CPO_C_Ryback

    Why .. of course. Just because 75% of Americans do NOT go to college, they ought to pay-pay-pay, so future trial lawyers and surgeons don't have to pay the actual cost of their meal tickets.

    And OweBama (D) is competent and always tells the truth.


  • ryepdx

    As a millennial, I can only speak for my own perspective. I was homeschooled, so I may be more singular than typical. With that said, I think the generation gap here may be due to a difference in priorities and values. I don't like big corporations because I've seen the damage they do. I think the sooner they get replaced by independent agents and worker cooperatives, the better. I don't like intellectual property as it stands because it more often than not only serves to protect big players while stifling innovation. I did my worst work on a proprietary codebase at a big corporation because I hated myself a little for working there and hated the corporation for the bullshit they were doing in the name of profit. I've done my best work on open source projects with maybe a handful of other workers. Again, this is probably just me, but I think millenials are hard to manage because we're geared for a post-capitalist world.

  • CPO_C_Ryback

    And we should all live in Mom's basement, too.

    Thanks for making the case for cutting taxes. There's already too much deadwood (D).

  • ryepdx

    Actually, I make $50/hr as an independent software contractor. I imagine that separates me from the "deadwood" in your book, doesn't it? Unless there's room in there for people who disagree with you, in which case... guilty as charged! Either way, thank you for providing a sterling example of what I'm talking about.