How can we manage Millennials?

Why do Millennials do the things they do? Because they can!

Before we judge Millennials as the “Me” generation, unreliable, lacking loyalty, we need to look deeper at what values and beliefs they hold strongly. And they do hold these values and beliefs strongly.

We witness an event, a Millennial leaving a job after nine months. Multiple events turn into a pattern, a high rate of turnover of Millennials, CVs listing a new role every one to two years. From these observations we jump to the conclusion that Millennials lack the ability to see things through, we might even call them lazy.

But to understand what is really happening we need to dig deeper.

Using Sohail Inayatullah’s Casual Layered Analysis we find that there are two more layers to unfold. They are the systems and structures that cause the patterns. And the values and beliefs that create, and reinforce, the systems and structures.

Value & Beliefs>  Systems & Structures>  Patterns>  Events

Our values and beliefs form over time from our experiences, environments and observations.

Growing up in the eighties and nineties Millennials watched their parents go off to work often with mixed experiences and outcomes. The messages they received were reflected in the 1999 advertisement by, the job advertising website;

The words spoken resonate still, “I want to be under-appreciated, a yes man, a yes woman, to have a brown nose, anything for a raise, I want to climb my way up to middle management, to be forced into early retirement.” This advert makes us smile today, until we realize that it is probably still too close to the truth.

The advert ends with the captions, “What do you want to be?” and “There’s a better job out there.”

What Millennials don’t want to be is trapped like the previous generations.

As discussed in the FAQ, “What is the missing ingredient for Employee Engagement?”, Millennial’s watched the previous generation’s ideal of a “job for life” shattered. Lay-offs and redundancies broke the belief in loyalty to an organization.

The norm for Millennials became that there is no such thing as loyalty, which creates a perverse freedom. If you are not loyal to me and I am not loyal to you, then if I don’t like it here I will just leave.

This raises the question, what do Millennial’s like?

As described by Micah Solomon, in his Forbes article, “2015 Is The Year Of The Millennial Customer”, what Millennials like is the following;

1.     Millennials expect technology to simply work–so you’d better make sure that it does.

2.     Millennials are a social generation—and they socialize while consuming (and deciding to consume) your products and services.

3.     They collaborate and cooperate–with each other and, when possible, with brands.

4.     They’re looking for adventure (and whatever comes their way).

5.     They’re passionate about values–including the values of companies they do business with.

Boston Consulting Group, in the article, “How Millennials Are Changing the Face of Marketing Forever”, explains how the combination of technology, social generation, collaborate and being passionate about values creates powerful social system;

Millennials expect a two-way, mutual relationship with companies and their brands. We call this the reciprocity principle. Through the feedback they express both offline and online, Millennials influence the purchases of other customers and potential customers. They also help define the brand itself. The Internet, social media, and mobile devices greatly amplify Millennials’ opinions and accelerate their impact. Companies can expect that a positive brand experience will prompt Millennials to take favorable public action on behalf of their brand. A bad—or even just disappointing—experience can turn a Millennial into a vocal critic who will spread the negative word through social media, reviews, and blogs. And that criticism can go viral.

Added to this powerful social system is that Millennials value experiences over things and reject the previous “status” generation’s behavior described as;

In rich countries today, consumption consists of people spending money they don’t have to buy goods the don’t need to impress people they don’t like


Millennials are less likely to buy an expensive car or a house. Instead they want adventure, experiences, and have a heavy dose of FOMO-itis, ‘fraid of missing out.

Millennial’s belief is that there are great opportunities out there and we don’t want to miss out by being stuck here, wherever here is, after all they won’t hesitate to let us go if they want.

Therefore, the system Millennials depend on to provide food, shelter and security, is the external social system more than any internal organizational system. It is no longer a “job for life” but now “jobs in life”.

This social system is natural for Millennials, it is about sharing, collaborating and forming communities. They are looking for places in the world which align to their values, to their sense of good and fair. This coincides with the use of the Internet where we see the rise of websites like Glassdoor and the Vault with the continued success of online services like, Linkedin.

Fast forward to 2016 and the latest online job advertisements look like this;


The message here is that even while you are out having an adventure, canoeing off the coast of Thailand, the jobs will come to you. While for Millennials a car park isn't that important they do look at a new job as not adding to their career but adding to their CV. They make their decision on joining an organization based on the brand values, mission, working environment and feedback from their connections both physical and virtual. They want to add good experiences to their CV, not bad.

Let’s apply these Millennials beliefs, values, social systems and “jobs in life” to the question of “How can you manage Millennials?”. Again using Inayatullah’s Casual Layered Analysis model we see the casual effects;

Value & Beliefs>  Systems & Structures>  Patterns>  Events

In the world today we have two sets of systems and structures.

The external world where the Millennials use technology to collaborate, share, join communities and experience life. The external social systems provide food, shelter and security through “jobs in life”. From this comes the freedom to undertake activities that align to their values in; working, learning, developing and growing. Here they make decisions based on their purpose, beliefs and because they can.

Alongside this we have the internal world of organizations. A disconnect occurs when their experience inside the internal world of organizations does not line up with the external world that they are hearing about from their friends, communities, job websites, company information websites and more. This disconnect makes Millennials experience FOMO and move on, because they can.

Therefore, the patterns and events we are seeing are not because the values of the Millenials are the “Me” generation, self interested, lazy. No, it is because their values of making good things happen, collaborating, sharing and having fun are missing in many organizations today.

We can sum this up by saying that the fault is not theirs, but ours.

In the FAQ, “What is a Perfect Organization?” we explain how the mission of the organization needs to be outcome focused and not about making money. How the structure of the organization needs to inherently encourage collaboration, sharing, working together to achieve outcomes that customers value. That the processes and operational model enables flexibility to adapt to the changing world we live in.

In the FAQ, "What is the missing ingredient of employee engagement?” we discussed the need to create ownership, where ownership equals empowerment plus accountability.

We shared in the FAQ, “What is the fundamental flaw in organizations?” why the division of labor, professed by Adam Smith in the industrial age, has become the division of decisions, in the knowledge economy. And how this division destroys collaboration, sharing and working together to build outcomes.

Finally, a critical element is the leadership of the organization. Again from, “What is a perfect organization?” the leadership has to be based on the understanding that we are All Different and All Needed. Millennials are the future but they haven’t yet had the experience to go it alone. They need the guidance and structures to help them on their journey. They think they’re grown up, but there is still more to learn.

And even if we get this right, they will still leave. Driven by FOMO, by the grass is greener and a lack of experience to know whether it really is, or not. As leaders we need to accept this event, this pattern, because we also know they will tell their friends that maybe they shouldn’t have left. We need to have a brand that attracts the Millennials and occasionally we will find that there are ones who will return. It is up to you whether you accept them back or not but if they are worth taking back I think bringing out the fatted calf would be the best approach.

Please note that this is not a generational based occurrence, but an awakening one. To paraphrase Marc Prensky, there are Millennial Natives and Millennial Immigrants. The values and beliefs of the Millennial Natives are felt just as strongly by the Millennial Immigrants. Go back and watch the advert again and ask yourself, “what do you want to be when you grow up?

Because as the advert says, “there’s a better job out there.”