It’s time for Millennials to adjust the unrealistic expectations they hold of their employers, writes Brian Lee Crowley in the Ottawa Citizen.
By Brian Lee Crowley, May 20, 2016
The United Nations was a terrible employer. I know: I spent the better part of a year working for them in what was then called Zaire in the mid-80s. Of all the things that frosted me the worst was that someone came around the office twice a day and took attendance. If you weren’t at your desk when the proctor stopped by, you were docked half a day’s pay.
This offended me at the time because it seemed to imply that I was neither a trustworthy employee nor using my time to the best of my ability in the interests of my employer. But in retrospect I came to understand that the attendance-taking was a necessary feature of an office that brought people together from a dozen nations and cultures, not all of whom shared the Canadian work ethic to put it mildly.
These memories were brought to mind as I read an article in the Wall Street Journal this week about the various “consultants” charging as much as $20,000 a day (only in America!) to explain to old fogey employers how to get their Millennial employees actually to work for them.
What astonished me in this article was that not a single word was breathed about the apparently heretical idea that Millennials might need to adjust their behaviour and expectations to those of their employers. It was a one way street of obligation: young employees are apparently entitled to have the most extreme expectations of their working conditions. Employers who don’t meet them have no one but themselves to blame if their young workers don’t stay.
In fact the predominant theme was the lengths to which some of America’s biggest and most desirable employers were prepared to go to abase themselves and abandon their better judgment in the pursuit of faithless employees who thought jobs were created for their convenience.
One employer abandoned the idea of any meetings on Fridays because that might interfere with weekend plans. Another took to holding quarterly townhall meetings in a local comedy club, with managers expected to humiliate themselves by mixing progress reports and pep talks with stand-up comedy routines to keep the youngsters amused. Oracle gives free food and movie passes to use during working hours.
My heart went out especially to the manager who reluctantly agreed to grant a quite junior Millennial a three month leave of absence so that he could accompany a friend on a snowboarding tour. Clearly this guy thought he had gone the extra mile and would win the enthusiastic commitment of the employee when he returned. Not a bit of it. He took the three months off and then decided not to bother coming back. And you can be sure it was the other employees who had to pick up the slack who paid most of the price for such selfish behaviour.
Of course generalisations about generations have the same validity as other kinds of generalisations. I’ve had the privilege of employing some outstanding young Millennials. On the other hand I remember a wonderful article a few years ago in one of our national newspapers about Millennial expectations in the workplace. The headline said it all: “Hey dude, where’s my office?”
The point is not that employers ought to ignore the changing culture and expectations of the rising generation. It is rather that we do Millennials no favours when we inculcate in them the idea that what they want is all that matters.
The most prized employees will always be those who put their best efforts into the professional promotion of their employer’s legitimate interests and understand that workplace rules can only be a compromise between the competing interests of all employees and the imperatives of the business. And those who make the greatest contribution to the success of the organisation are the ones who thereby earn the most forbearance from the boss. Even when you’re 20.
Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley) is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.