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Perfect children, imperfect subordinates

The parents of millennials tried hard to raise their children to be self-confident, skilled and aware of the problems of the world. Why is it then that when it comes to managing these kinds of employees, they find it difficult to work with them? Doctor Magdalena Łużniak-Piecha, social psychologist from SWPS University answers this question.

On the training and consulting market, there is an ever increasing need to support managers who work with the generation born at the turn of the twenty-first century and currently entering the labour market. This generation is known by a variety of names: Generation Y (perhaps also ‘why’), Nexters, and Millennials. What is interesting is the fact that in research conducted by Peter Jennings on behalf of ABC, the US TV network, it was found that the name Generation Y is preferred by older people, whereas the younger generation themselves prefer to be known as Millennials.

The gifted inept

The same people who had asked for support from trainers and consultants on how to manage Generation Y employees often come home asking similar questions about how to “manage” the Millennials they have at home, and how to raise their own children. The portrait of this generation as painted by their superiors, parents, teachers and by researchers seems to raise more doubts, rather than help us explain who they are.

On one hand, they are described by some as the most informed, fastest learning, healthiest people ever to walk the earth (Generations at Work, Zemke, Raines, Filipczak); others are amazed at this young revolution carrying the message of everything being possible, replacing the cynics and naysayers; a revolution in access to information, the instant sharing of ideas, questioning outdated regulations which has had a seismic impact on our social life (Millennials Rising, Howe & Strauss). On the other hand, they are described as people unable to define their own goals, reluctant to devote any time or sacrifice anything for the good of their organisation, irresponsible and unable to concentrate for a longer period of time. These oftentimes contradictory voices do agree on one thing, however. Millennials are characterised by their particular approach to family life, society and work.

Raised away from the yard

Generation Y had a very particular childhood. These were not kids raised outside in the yard, because the yard was unhygienic and dangerous. Their parents focused on realising their children’s needs to the full; from guaranteeing them an optimal diet to giving them the opportunity to continually develop. They drove their children to karate and ballet lessons in cars decked out with “Baby on board” stickers, and made sure their school knew about their gluten-free diet. This parenting style was termed “concerted cultivation” and takes the children into account in the decision-making process, for example, when choosing a holiday. Parents teach their children to communicate their needs, and develop their skills whilst building their expectations for a rich programme of after-school classes and entertainment. They give their children days off school so they can go on a family holiday, to a family event or family get-together.

Children raised this way attach great value to family life, are closely connected to their parents, closely watch their every decision, and do not hesitate in giving their parents feedback about everything that effects their lives. Their private and family commitments are prioritised above their school duties, and later in life, their organisational commitments. The pressure to sacrifice one’s family life in order to stay longer at work feels uncomfortable and is not compatible with the values that have been inculcated in them. Especially if they also hear their parents talking negatively about employers who “are wasting their time”.

Constant access to information and instantaneous answers to every question causes young individuals to always expect instantaneous results at work and praise for every single achievement. This makes it difficult for them to deal with stress and conflict in organisations.

Informed and active

The ease with which Millennials are engaged in social causes, become volunteers or sign up for various social and political activities also seems to be a consequence of what they experience at home and at school. Generation Y has universal and easy access to information. Homework is boils down to combing through the relevant electronic sources to find the answer. Millennials are used to taking part in discussions at home and adeptly reach for their phone if in need of a specific line of argument or piece of information. They are well aware of life’s diversities and are not shocked or surprised by racial, religious or economic differences. People who look different or who speak a foreign language comes as no surprise to them.

Research shows that Millennials demonstrate an interest in the problems of society, they know how to check the information they find, and feel entitled to their own opinion and sharing it with a wider public.

Paid volunteers

The attitude Millennials have with regard their families and the ease with which they have in discussing social and political issues has shaped their attitude to work. The technological environment in which they have grown up has also helped shape their make-up. Managers who take part in training about managing this younger generation of workers often conclude that “they have to be treated like paid volunteers”. They want to be paid because every employee is interested in the size of their pay packet (and Millennials have no qualms about swapping information amongst themselves about employers), but they also act like volunteers because they only engage in activities that move them and are important to them. If their job is meaningless, then why waste time on it rather than spending it with friends and family?

Millennials are described as being very flexible, self-confident, team players who love to learn and learn fast, provided that it is something that interests them. A perceptible characteristic of this generation is their expectation that as soon as they join a new organisation, they will immediately be able to participate in cooperation on a variety of fronts. They wish to take part in the group process of decision-making and make use of different skills and abilities. That was their previous experience at home and at school.

The parents of Millennials tried hard to raise their children to be self-confident, competent and acquainted with the problems of this world. Why is it then that when it comes to managing these workers, the same parents have difficulty working with them? Why do they doubt if their own children are fit to be employed in the work place? Throughout their whole lives, young people had always been taken into consideration in the decision-making process; they were convinced of their omniscience flowing from the fount of all knowledge that is the internet, yet for these reasons this generation has great difficulty in subordinating the decision-making process to those sitting above them in the hierarchy. It is difficult for them to accept that their superiors make decisions based on their own experience and expert know-how without consulting their subordinates who believe expertise can be downloaded in a file.

We cannot be surprised that our children do not want to follow in our footsteps with regard to our career when we are often not entirely positive about our own experiences at work.

Engaged and narcissistic

The idea that “you won’t have to go to classes because the family trip is more important” may instil in these young individuals strong feelings of family intimacy, but can also hinder their ability to understand there is no chance to take part in a project once the deadline passes; once the opportunity has gone, it’s gone.

A childhood rich in possibilities will certainly help develop a broad set of cognitive powers but it can also cause difficulties in the child being able to independently set goals for him or herself and cope with the slow climb of the career ladder in hierarchical organisations which requires the employee to undertake tasks that are neither interesting or ambitious. All their life experiences, the constant access to information and nigh-on instantaneous answers to every question causes these young individuals to always expect instantaneous results at work and praise for every single achievement. This may also create difficulties in dealing with stress and conflict in organisations, and in the long-term may hasten feelings of distrust and an aversion to integrate themselves into the hierarchical structures of corporations, keeping to standardised protocols, dress codes and systems that do not take into account the individual needs of employees, the long hours, the overtime and the deadlines.

The parents of Millennials tried hard to raise their children to be self-confident, competent and acquainted with the problems of this world. Why is it then that when it comes to managing these workers, the same parents have difficulty working with them? Why do they doubt if their own children are fit to be employed in the work place? Throughout their whole lives, young people had always been taken into consideration in the decision-making process; they were convinced of their omniscience flowing from the fount of all knowledge that is the internet, yet for these reasons this generation has great difficulty in subordinating the decision-making process to those sitting above them in the hierarchy. It is difficult for them to accept that their superiors make decisions based on their own experience and expert know-how without consulting their subordinates who believe expertise can be downloaded in a file.

This is why the assessment of researchers and those who cooperate with Millennials are so drastically different. On the one hand, they are described as a generation of socially engaged revolutionaries, but on the other, a generation of spoiled narcissists with no instilled work ethic. The truth, ultimately, lies not so much as in the middle but as a whole spectrum of character portraits.

No surprise

Parents are guided by honourable intentions and in trying to provide their children with the richest of experiences, they raise undoubtedly fantastic little humans who are ready to move mountains. But if we are trying to provide them with experiences that are better than ours, then it’s no surprise that they don’t want to have the same experiences as us. That explains why they often question authority and hierarchy at work, the work which we ourselves often comment on in uncomplimentary terms; and they are willing to walk away from jobs that they do not like, the same jobs which we complain about at home.

Before we accuse Millennials of having no work ethic, let us think about what kind of attitude we are passing on to them. Perhaps they really will revolutionise the job market of the future working in careers that we have not yet heard of yet, the likes of which we cannot even imagine.

 

The article was first published in the Polish edition of "Newsweek Psychologia Extra 3/18”.
Magazine available here »

magdalena Łużniak piecha

About the Author

Magdalena Łużniak-Piecha, Ph.D. - social psychologist, lecturer in management and leadership at SWPS University. She collaborates with Polish University Abroad (PUNO) in London and with the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico. She develops and implements gaming techniques in training, consulting and research practice. She is engaged in researching and negating the effects of organisational pathology. She is especially interested in developing strategies to cope with personality pathologies and dysfunctional communication in organisations.

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