In the Odyssey, Odysseus’ talented but immature son, Telemachus, benefits from the advice of a series of mentors, including Athena herself. Great coaching prepares him for the day when Odysseus finally returns to exact revenge on the despicable ‘suitors’ and reclaim his kingdom.
Three millennia later, modern day Telemachuses, aka, the Millennials, are wondering ‘where are our mentors’?
Last September, we conducted online focus groups among professionally-employed Millennials to see the workplace through their eyes. Among other things, they told us they were deeply unhappy with their bosses. They want more — more responsibility, more say in decisions, more recognition of their abilities, more mentoring. They crave appreciation, but their bosses ‘don’t get it’, and don’t give it. (Listen Up! What Millennials wish they could tell their bosses.)
We don’t need focus groups among Gen X or Boomer managers to know what they think of Millennials in the workplace. In May 2008, there was a very negative 60 Minutes segment, “The Millennials Are Coming“. Now we are further enlightened by the Harvard Business Review’s featured case, “How I learned to love millennials (and stop worrying about what they were doing with their iPhones)”. Each month, HBR describes a fictional situation and asks management experts to provide advice to the protagonists. February’s case features Gen X Sarah, new mother of a 4-month old baby, marketing manager for a major film studio and boss to twenty-something, Josh. Josh is brimming with ideas Sarah finds impractical and consequently doesn’t champion. Josh is frustrated. Now it’s crunch time, and Josh has neglected his regular work analyzing distribution spreadsheets and creating reports in order to devote time to developing his new ideas. Here’s the pivotal moment:
Now, Sarah was staring anxiously at the envelope icon in the bottom-right corner of her screen: Where were the numbers she’d asked Josh to generate? Sarah just couldn’t afford to stay at the office tonight; every minute she was late to pick up four-month-old Rosie from day care was costing her (financially and psychically), and she had already logged plenty of overtime this week. Sarah was ready to alert her husband that he’d have to handle the pickup, when the Outlook message popped up: “You have new unopened items.” It was close to 5:30 PM when Josh’s report arrived, and the last couple of case studies looked pretty sketchy, as if he’d thrown them together quickly. But there wasn’t enough time to send them back for revision, Sarah decided. She’d work on them further in the morning. Sarah quickly dropped the numbers into her slide deck and was about to log off when she spotted the bright pink “coaching” sticky note slapped on the side of her monitor. A few months ago she and the other frontline managers had gone through a special HR-facilitated training session about integrating the newer, younger hires into the company. “Invest the time,” the managers were told. But what many of them heard was “Sugarcoat.” Sarah quickly dashed off an e-mail to Josh. “Great job! You’re the best.” Who was she kidding? He’d done a half-assed job, and he knew it. Like so many of the young people hired by the studio recently, Sarah thought, Josh was far more concerned with getting praise than with earning praise. How else to explain that “look at me” move in the team meeting a few weeks back?
Later, unbeknownst to Sarah, Josh pitches his ideas to her boss in an impromptu elevator speech. The boss is so impressed, he asks Sarah to tell him more. Sarah has her issues, too, but who do you think the reader is siding with in this epic? That’s bad enough, but the response of the three HBR ‘experts’ is even more revealing of Boomer perceptions of Millennials.
Ron Alsop, author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace : Like many Gen Yers, Josh doesn’t respect the corporate pecking order. His generation has little tolerance for lines of authority and proper protocol. Some corporate managers even call college-age job applicants “student stalkers” because they fire off e-mails to everyone from the CEO on down to try to get the inside track to a job.
Jim Miller, executive vice president of sales and marketing at General Tool & Supply:I’m afraid Josh isn’t doing much here to disprove the theories that some people have about Generation Y: a life experienced through machines, no respect for what’s gone before, and a constant need for praise, entertainment, and instant gratification.Josh’s behavior is wrong on so many levels. He’s been hired to do a job, not this other thing that he’d like to do. He has no respect for his boss; that’s apparent in his actions. But he is also putting his team’s work in jeopardy by not completing, to the very best of his ability, the tasks he was assigned. That’s unacceptable.
Millennials strongly relate to Josh, saying this situation happens ‘all the time’. One has gone so far as to post an anonymous reply to the article on Google Docs, saying, “It’s not the case study that bothered me but the managers’ comments. I was shocked to hear the other side of a common scenario.” The response is titled, ‘An Open Letter to Boomers’:
After reading the business case in the Feb 09 Harvard Business Review, I started to see really how big this whole Gen-Y thing is. I underestimated the degree to which I myself was underestimated and disrespected as a Gen-Y and was actually offended by the way we are viewed. It seems managers claim they are seeking out how to deal with this generation of unruly and tech-savvy professionals but really they just want us to shut up, put the cell phone down and keep doing things their way.
In our defense, I thought it might be useful for the last of you Boomers and even some of the older Gen-Xers (like Sarah in the case study) to understand how we see you. I hope you consider this before dismissing us as “kids these days”. This document was written on my iPhone, edited on Google docs, and syndicated anonymously via Twitter. I found that the generation gap is much bigger than even we YouTubers thought and even the fact I have to publish this blog anonymously is a testament to how differently we see the world.
For the other side of the argument, see the Harvard Business Review. For advice on how to mentor Millennial like Athena, the third HBR commenter, Pamela Nicholson, President and COO, Enterprise Rent-A-Car offers sound advice:
“Sarah doesn’t have time to get angry. She needs to familiarize herself with Josh’s idea and make sure all the supporting data are there. Given the CEO’s enthusiasm for Josh’s marketing proposal, I think Sarah should actually commend, rather than criticize, her young report for taking initiative. She should invite Josh to accompany her to the meeting. But she should remind him that he needs to keep her informed so she can manage the details of the project and the expectations of the CEO.”
I wholeheartedly agree. For more mentoring advice from our Millennials research see an earlier blog post, ” You’re Doing Great! Keeping Millennials Happy at Work.”
In Gen Y in the Workforce, the topic or theme would be Generation X versus Generation Y. Generation X is more self reliant, independent and technological adept, where as Generation Y is optimistic, determined, confident, and eager. Key Issues
In Gen Y in the Workforce, we saw that Sarah did not give her employee Josh any real feedback. Was it because she expected more from him, or was it because she thought it would be considered babysitting. Like many Generation Yers, Josh wants to know that his work is meaningful and have input into big decisions. He also needs constructive feedback about his suggestions. Since Sarah was not giving him the feedback he thought he would get he bypassed her and went to the CEO Sam Smithstone.
The CEO was very pleased and was looking forward to seeing what his ideas were in the meeting. Josh’s ideas were good ones but he wasn’t giving enough details to support and show that he was serious. Sarah is more “old school” and Josh is more “new school”. Sarah Bennett believes in putting in your time before expecting recognition and promotions while, Josh Lewis is in a hurry to see his ideas implemented and get into a more senior position at Rising Entertainment.
Facts Throughout the case, it seems like Sarah was dismissing Josh’s ideas. When he spoke with her in the office she simply said “All great points but our budget is soft right now”. Sarah and Josh lack communication. In Josh’s mind technology is a better way to communicate with people. Instead of going to Sarah to talk about what is bothering him he goes to his coworkers. Josh felt that Sarah did not understand him or his ideas. He felt as if “Sarah just didn’t get it”.