This article, written by Amanda Lannert, originally appeared on LinkedIn’s Pulse:
The notion that people under the age of 34 are immature, coddled, and self-obsessed? Yeah, I don’t buy it. At Jellyvision, (we’re a Chicago-based tech company with a many years long track record of growth, performance, and industry-leading innovation), 70% of our employees are Millennials. And yet, our team as a whole is smart, socially conscious, hard-working, and collaborative. We simply don’t hire other types of people, regardless of age.
Yes, I’m familiar with the data showing that Millennials are more likely to switch jobs than their Gen X and Boomer colleagues, and that they’ll weigh flexible work schedules and work-life balance as heavily as they do salary. This doesn’t strike me as entitlement, though. Or unprofessionalism. Or immaturity. It strikes me as the reasonable response to the world we live in.
Twenty-two years ago, when I looked for my first post-college gig, I read job ads in newspapers and trade magazines, and circled interesting ones using a physical pen that actual ink came out of. I made phone calls on a phone that was connected to a wall. I had to stand next to the phone during these phone calls, due to cord length limitations. Sometimes people returned my calls and left messages that were stored on a tape in a device that sat on a table. Eventually, in the fall of 1994, I landed a job at Leo Burnett, complete with a fine salary and something known as “a pension.”
And now, it is now. Even the most passive job-seeker, with just the lightest click of an opt-in, can watch 50 open-position postings fill their inbox in a single day, each with an application and resume-uploader only one more click away.
Balancing the ease with which one may browse countless career options, though, is the likelihood that none of those options will provide true long-term incentives, true job security, a true opportunity to rid one’s self of college debt and purchase one’s own home and retire before one’s bones turn to dust. In just the past five years, layoffs have hit even stalwart blue chips like IBM, Microsoft, and Apple, putting to bed any lingering beliefs that if you just loyally put your head down, lay your nose into a grindstone, and pay your dues, there’ll be pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The deal has changed, and Millennials have simply adjusted to the new arrangement faster than employers. If we want them to choose us, to work well with us, and to stay awhile, we’ve got to catch up. Evolve or die, and all that jazz. Time for a list:
#1. Millennials are as entitled to positions of influence as anyone else.
Standing in line and waiting your turn-at least in the tech space I work in-is over. Just because someone has logged more time on the job, doesn’t mean they’re better at that job or more deserving of it than a relative newb. Good leaders know this, and can distinguish between tenure, experience, ability, and potential.
#2. Millennials are entitled to frequent, honest feedback to help them improve in their jobs and grow as people.
Know what the opposite of coddling your precious young Millennials is? Respecting them enough to provide honest, constructive feedback about their job performance.
We could all do a better job at our jobs, and I believe we’d all prefer hearing the feedback directly over having it gossiped about behind our backs. Employees new to the workforce are especially deserving of kind and honest criticism, since their first few years are inherently going to be full of…firsts. The fact that they botched some tricky particular task in your office might not be a damning character flaw or an indication they’ll never cut it, but simply a blind spot that more experienced colleagues could help illuminate.
At Jellyvision, we have something we call “the schmutz pact.” It’s a collective agreement that we’ll tell each other when there’s metaphorical schmutz on our metaphorical faces. This means Chris tells Dave he says “uh” too much and talks 20% too fast during sales presentations, and Eden tells Bruno he was too harsh responding to Adrienne during the meeting, and I’ll tell Harry that just because he’s the founder of the company and a creative genius, it doesn’t mean he knows everything about…but you get the point.
This system works for us because it’s built on a foundation of generosity and praise. Our philosophy is: if you habitually give meaningful kudos to employees-especially the young ones not quite sure how they’re measuring up yet-they’ll trust your constructive feedback is coming from a good place, and that you share with them their own desire to improve.
#3. Millennials are entitled to be held accountable for the quality and quantity of their work, vs when and where they do it.
Face time and “first-in last-out” are relics of ye olde business world, along with shoulder pads (thank GOD) and day planners. Employers who worry whether employees will take advantage of flex time and remote working situations need to refocus on what actually matters. This means hiring hard-working, self-motivated people, and parting ways with folks missing those qualities. And it means setting clear goals for each employee that pertain to actual results (vs. attendance, or number of hours worked), so you both know what’s expected and how performance will be measured.
At Jellyvision, we allow employees, no matter their tenure or pay grade, to work all variety of schedules, and to work virtually from all variety of locations. As for a vacation policy, we don’t have one. As long as people get their work done, meet their deadlines, and support their teams, they take the time off they need-whether it’s a family vacation, a two-week stay at a writer’s retreat, or a random Wednesday morning where it’s necessary to binge-watch some Orange Is the New Black and re-connect with the dog.
Jellyvision has been well rewarded by leading with trust, rather than expecting it to be earned, and by dealing with breaches of trust on a case-by-case basis rather than with policy. Our mantra is “be helpful” and our guiding policy is “use good judgment” (thank you, Netflix, for the inspiration), which is better than any lengthy policy we can write given how quickly our business is growing and changing – and we simply assume that anyone who gets through our gauntlet of a hiring process will use good judgment until proven otherwise.
Turns out with trust and openness, employees start to solve problems that management doesn’t even realize the company has yet, and it’s really thing of beauty.
#4. Lastly, Millennials (and again, not just Millennials but all your employees) are entitled to feel that while they’re with your company they’re able to be the best versions of themselves.
Employers that not only allow employees to do all the non-work things that give them energy and joy, but actively support them in those efforts, reap huge dividends. We talk about it as being able to “bring your full self to work” – not just your age, race, creed, gender identity, and sexual orientation, but also your hobbies, interests, and passions. We look for people who are interested and interesting, because it makes for a richer community (and better product and customer experiences, believe it or not).
Beyond creating a comfortable work environment, Jellyvision makes a point to support the causes our employees believe in. Our “platform” is our people and their interests, and we endeavor to amplify their interests and causes internally and in the community at large. If an employee is willing to organize an event for a charity they care about, we will give them free reign to run it and promote it. And once the donations are tallied up, we’ll often throw in a match to double the good. We also create a forum for employees to share about their improv or theater shows, to start a running club or distribute themed weekly music playlists, to slack each other about parenting stories, or to watch movies together during down times.
Jellyvision’s lucky. If we’re known for anything, it’s for having ridiculously awesome, talented, caring, and just plain nice people. But we ask said people to work hard for the company for the majority of their waking hours, like employers do. And if we aren’t offering an environment and community where people can be enriched, can express themselves and their interests, and where they can be not just the best worker they can be, but also the best version of themselves, they will take the one of the plentiful recruiter calls that come their way and move on.
We’ve all heard that Millennials want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. As a 43-year-old CEO who cares deeply about plenty of stuff that has nothing to do with my job or my self, I’d submit that this is not a quality unique to Millennials. Their generation has simply done us all the massive favor of forcing the conversation, and forcing an evolution in the employer-employee contract to the great benefit of us all.