What Millennials Want from Work

Why Millennials aren't lazy, they just live in a different world.

I recently read an article from a (now former) Yelp employee, Talia, who was dissatisfied with her job and decided to call out her boss online where he was sure to read it. In her rather long post, she recounts how her salary isn’t enough to cover her expenses (Yelp is in San Francisco, not a cheap city) and how she wanted more from the job. She worried about buying food, though the company offered food onsite, and struggled to pay tolls to get to work. You can read the whole thing yourself, but you get the gist; A 25-year-old living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, complaining about making near minimum wage for a customer service job. Her story is not heartbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, and the entire internet decided to let her know.

A collective hazing erupted from the online capable Gen-X through Babyboom crowds, bringing it’s long practiced cynical criticism and derision. The young woman as called ‘lazy,’ a ‘whiner,’ ‘entitled,’ and most popular burn these days; ‘Millennial.’ Yes, the young woman should have found a roommate or two to help with bills, and no, she shouldn’t have posted her frustrations in public, especially not calling out her boss.

But within Talia’s actions and expectations, and those of Millennials in general, is a new way of seeing the world.

What you might see as entitled or whining is actually a reaction of a new worldview colliding with our old one. The old worldview is based on hierarchy, the system of top down communication and control that is prevalent in most companies. It’s like the Soviet model of control, but not as friendly. Anyone over the age of 35 is familiar with this way of doing business; do what you are told, unless you’re the boss, then you can do what you please for the most part. Employees are not meant to question anything, you are not valued beyond what you are payed to do, and even more is expected of you because you should be grateful for the chance to work. This is the system 99% of the world’s businesses use, and it’s served them pretty well so far.

Then technology came and messed everything up. Now we have a whole generation that learned to collaborate and share with millions of people all at once, at a young age no less, so that these ideas are ingrained in them from years of using these new communication mediums. That spurs the need and expectation that work and problems will be tackled collectively, in a more organic, positive way. This new worldview spurs Millennials to look for more purposeful jobs, more connection within work, and believe it or not, more responsibility when purpose and connection are present.

Where the Millennial attitude, the one media love to portray, comes from is that they inherently know these things are possible, but the current system gets in the way. But the Millennial mindset is catching on.

Companies such as Buffer and Fitzii are embracing self-management instead of a typical hierarchy, and seeing incredible results for their businesses. Self-management doesn’t mean socialism, consensus, or anarchy, but rather faith that individuals working together have the power to make good business decisions individually. It’s a management philosophy that posits man’s talent and goodness over the need control employees and expect them to do the least amount possible.

Successful companies in the future will embrace this style of management if they want Millennials to even consider them. Combined with the decline of able-bodied workers, Millennials will be in the driver’s seat for the next 30 years and they won’t put up with the old, hierarchy of command management. If you are against progress or giving up control, your future looks grim.

So the next time you hear about an entitled Millennial, whining about how much they aren’t getting, don’t just chalk it up to ungrateful kids. It’s actually a revolution coming and you had better be prepared.

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