Millennials aren’t the problem — you are

A few weeks ago I was making my rounds of the company, checking in with various teams to see how they’re doing, when one of our younger employees grabbed me for a quick question. That’s common. (I have an open-door policy, and impromptu hallway conversations are the norm.) But what this individual had to say was surprising.

He asked me for a raise and a substantial increase in equity. He had been with us for less than 6 months.

I appreciated the bravery of walking right up and asking for a piece of the business, but I was a little surprised — no way in hell would I have stopped my boss in the hallway to ask for more equity at a similar stage in my career.

It really got me thinking about the generational differences at play in our exchange, that misalignment in attitudes that which makes some people believe that millennials really do feel more entitled.

Because that’s the cliche: millennials are lazy. They don’t want to work hard, because they’re owed success. It’s all about them. If you have read any of the legion of boilerplate think pieces and explainers, you’re familiar with these knocks on Gen Y.

But this surface-level appraisal of an entire generation of people is missing the point. Instead of dismissing the expectations of millennials as annoying and unrealistic, shouldn’t we be trying to understand where they’re coming from?

As a manager and leader, it’s my responsibility to do exactly that, and along the way these are some of the things I’ve come to understand about Gen Y:

Millennials are not overly entitled

Millennials are more likely to be college-educated than any other generation, which is great! They also have more student loan debt and have entered a job market in which median wages for 18 to 34-year-olds have fallen below the pay the same demographic made in 1980, which sucks. If wanting to make at least as much money as previous generations (i.e., experience the American Dream) is entitlement, then we’re all guilty of crybaby-ism.

This is a national problem, with pretty deep structural roots, but here are some of the things that we do to address the issue on a micro level:

  • Competitive starting pay
  • Performance-based bonus system
  • Annual raises
  • Internal promotion activities

Don’t get me wrong — we’re not just throwing money at people. We’re a business, and we have to make smart decisions about how we spend our money. But giving people incentives to make great things, and then rewarding them for doing so, makes all the economic sense in the world.

Millennials are not lazy

According to Ernst and Young, 47 percent of global millennials say that their work hours have increased in the last five years, and they’re also 78 percent more likely to have a full-time partner also working. Doesn’t sound like laziness to me.

What they are is interested in flexibility. They want to be able to spend time with friends and family, and to enjoy their lives, but not at the expense of their careers: 75 percent of millennials want flexibility that also keeps them on promotion tracks.

That’s why we provide unlimited vacation time, increased autonomy at work, and encouragement for people to work smarter, not longer.

Millennials will job-hop out of your company…if you follow the established playbook

The days when you would punch a clock for 40 years at the same job until the company handed you a gold watch are gone. That’s particularly true for millennials, who according to the Department of Labor are staying at jobs for only an average of three years.

At ZipRecruiter, the more we’ve come to understand our millennial workforce, the more we diverge from traditional best practices when it comes to managing them.

To keep people motivated we:

  • Have moved to a semi- annual promotion cycle so that we can reward strong performers faster
  • Allow employees to give bonuses to each other without any sign-off from management (we use a tool called Bonusly for this)
  • Provide a clear path for growth for those who are interested in long-term careers; and
  • Allow flexible schedules on every team

Millennials know their value

So, no, millennials aren’t overly entitled and they’re not lazy. They’re well-educated, flexible, ambitious, and self-starting individuals. In fact, they’re a great fit for tech companies including ZipRecruiter. All it takes is a little understanding and communication.

And, in case you’re wondering, the employee who asked for equity after 6 months was given a challenge — move an internal metric up by 10 percent and we would talk.

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