"Young employees are demanding that they be given productive tasks to do from the first day of work, and that the people they work for notice and react to their performance."
That lament pretty well sums up the prevailing view of what Time magazine recently dubbed the "Me, Me, Me Generation." As the latest crop of Millennials grab their college diplomas and begin filtering into the workforce, we're hearing a lot about their shortcomings: how they're lazy and self-entitled, how they lack a solid work ethic, how they can't take criticism, and plenty more. They've been derided as "Trophy Kids," who have come to expect rewards merely for participating. That's led to speculation that they'll have unrealistic expectations when it comes to the workplace, leading them to hop from job to job in an illusory quest for fulfillment.
But hold the handwringing. The description above actually comes from a 1969 issue of Fortune magazine, in an article that depicted baby boomers as self-absorbed, needy, and demanding. And if you think Millennials and baby boomers have been unfairly singled out, you might recall that the Millennials' predecessors, the Generation Xers, were roundly criticized as a bunch of slackers.
Like every generation before us, we seem convinced that the cohort coming up behind us just doesn't measure up. Echoing the refrain from the song "Kids" from "Bye Bye Birdie," we ask ourselves, "What's the matter with kids today?" and "Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way?"
Turns out, our assumptions are dead wrong.
That became apparent from a presentation by Dr. Brian Gibson of Auburn University at NASSTRAC's recent shippers conference in Orlando, Fla. In a session titled "Millennial Supply Chainers: Finding Tomorrow's Leaders Today," Gibson looked at what makes Millennials tick and how companies can leverage that information for finding, developing, and retaining these employees.
What made the presentation particularly compelling was that Gibson didn't rely on his own assumptions about Millennials' wants, needs, and expectations. Instead, he turned to the Millennials themselves. He was joined on stage by three very bright and impressive college juniors and seniors, all of whom are pursuing studies in logistics and supply chain management. Gibson and the students then presented the findings of a survey they had conducted on Millennials' wants and aspirations. It's always refreshing to hear facts trump perceptions, which in most cases are, in fact, misperceptions.
For instance, Millennials have quite reasonable expectations when it comes to starting salaries ($48,000, on average) and a realistic view of the amount of time they'll need to commit to their employer each week (46 hours, on average). Doesn't sound much like a lazy or self-entitled group, does it?
And what do Millennials want beyond a fair and reasonable salary? Just a few things that are neither new nor unreasonable. According to the survey, the top four items on their wish list are positions that offer advancement opportunities, fair benefits packages, work that is relevant to their career interests, and jobs that will challenge them.
So, the answer to the question "What's the matter with kids today?" is quite simply, nothing. Or at least, nothing that wasn't also wrong with the rest of us when we were that age. In other words (and in another genre), Pete Townshend was closer to the mark in his assessment of the younger generation than the creators of "Bye Bye Birdie" were. As Townshend so memorably put it, "The Kids Are Alright!"