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A Millennial’s Take on Workplace Loyalty

Millennials are entitled, self-absorbed, and lacking commitment, right?  But what about the 25 year old programmer who developed a more customer-friendly interface for your business in just one week…or the 28 year old marketing associate who helped design last year’s highly successful campaign…or the 30 year old who was the top regional salesperson last quarter?  One of the most pervasive and counter-productive Millennial myths that I want to debunk is our apparent lack of loyalty.

People are quick to assume that Millennials—people born between 1981 and 2000—are lazy, unmotivated, and lacking loyalty.  We are labelled as a generation unable to settle, instead thriving off jumping from one opportunity to the next.  In reality, Millennials are just as loyal as any other generation if they are given the right opportunities.  Our ambition and desire for real career development is often mistaken for a lack of commitment.  According to this study, more than eight in ten young workers say they are loyal to their employers, but only one in 100 human resource professionals believe that these young workers are loyal.  That is a huge disconnect!  At a time when executives claim to be facing a scarcity of skilled workers, Millennials are eager to develop new skills and become valued members at these companies.

As we all know, Millennials are going to make up the majority of the workforce soon, and we are going to do a lot more than just entry-level work.  There is a growing gap between middle managers and higher-level management that is becoming increasingly hard to fill.  SAP recently partnered with Oxford Economics to conduct a global study on the workforce of the future.  Complete results and survey statistics will be published next month, but according to initial findings, only a small percentage of executives say talent available in leadership positions is sufficient to drive global growth.  The obvious solution that likely makes older generations uneasy?  Millennials are going to fill those crucial holes in organizations across every industry.  If that scares you, think about what companies can do to provide training and development to help Millennials succeed.  What I find more worrisome than younger people taking leadership roles is that only a small fraction of Millennials are satisfied with how their managers support them for formal learning and development opportunities and in providing a well-defined career path.

Breaking down the Millennial myths is the first step to building trust and respect between the generations.  Listening to us is the next step to ensuring employee engagement and loyalty.  Less than a tenth of Millennials surveyed by Oxford Economics say they have experienced most of their professional development through networking.  At our young age, we have not developed a wide network of contacts yet, meaning we rely more on formal training and mentoring to develop our skills.  Millennials do not just randomly decide to leave a position for no reason.  We are looking to take care of ourselves—short-term and long-term.  We want feedback, we value mentoring, and we demand career development if we are going to stick around.  Give us the opportunity to learn and grow, and you will be impressed with our hard work, innovation, and success.  We have a natural talent for technology, social connectedness, and creativity.  Combine that with the right training and development, and you have an incredibly capable workforce.  In fact, The Global Leadership Forecast found that the presence of Millennials in leadership positions related to the company’s growth rate—companies with a 30% proportion of young people in higher roles saw “aggressive growth”, while a 20% proportion saw “little to no growth”.  Companies need to invest in training, mentoring, and career development for their younger workers.  Rather than blame Millennials for lacking loyalty, how about providing us with career paths that inspire us to dedicate ourselves to your company?  If a company hesitates to invest resources in real succession plans, any Millennial would be foolish to believe that a long-term commitment to that company will be mutually beneficial.

As with any generation in the workforce, loyalty is something that must be earned among Millennials.  But when it is earned, it is given whole-heartedly.  Effective leadership makes all the difference when engaging younger workers.  So don’t spend time comparing our motivations to your own, and don’t waste time wishing we were different.  Listen to our desires for development in the workplace, and you will find that we have a lot to contribute.  Millennials are ambitious, creative, and technologically-savvy, and we are soon to be the leaders of our hyper-connected, ever-evolving world.

Note:  There will be a keynote and panel discussion at SuccessConnect 2014 in Las Vegas titled “Workforce 2020: Building a Strategic Workforce for the Future.”  Ed Cone, Managing Editor, Thought Leadership at Oxford Economics will present the results from the research.  Dr. Karie Willyerd, SVP Learning & Social Adoption at SuccessFactors, will moderate a panel discussion featuring Ed Cone and Jacob Morgan, Founder of Chess Group.

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  • Hi Geraldine,

    At the risk of seeming even older by my writing than by my looks, let me comment on and to an extent challenge your article.

    To begin with, it shoud be said that I agree with the essence of most of what you say and certainly the bottom line: no matter whether execs like the style of Millanials or not, no matter what buzzwords they throw at them, no matter whether any reservations they have against Millenials are based on facts, legends or just envy: Millenials are the Talent Pool their organisations depend on and there's only one way to escape that fact: instant retirement (the execs - not you guys 😉 )

    But there are a few points I'd like to make:

    - a formality: the great examples you list at the start are proofs of great performance, not necessarily loyalty

    - I know you just throw back what's been thrown at you, but I don't like this box sorting exercise based on the single criterion age. It's just one of many factors

    - It seems you accept to readily that "loyalty" is not just desirable from a biz point of view, but ethically expected. Is loyalty good? If so: how much? Is their an optimum level and was it too high in the past? Loyal German Soldiers marched into Poland 1939 and loyal corporate employees produce and sell ever so many harmful products. Whistleblowers like Snowden are as illoyal as emlpoyees can get (short of blowing up the office). So, is there really a loyalty imperative?

    Hej! It's the younger generation's job to challenge the ancient guys' values - not trying to prove they measure up to them 😉

    - leaves my own observation. It feels indeed in my own small world that younger employees these days expect more faster than their counterparts 10 years ago - as a trend with each individual case possibly completely different. Is this unreasonable? Well, at least not possible for all. "More" often comprises going up the hierarchy (surprisingly, as I had hoped hierarchy was loosing importance) - and getting into a role to manage people. But that always requires people to be managed. That's more difficult with lower growth rates. So, the desire to manage people early is clashing with fewer opportunities being created in the low growth Western world.

    Is this "more faster" a fact? No! It is a perception shared by quite a few.

    - So, here we go. There are expectations and perceptions on both sides of the 1/1/1980 birthday that need to be accepted and addressed as part of the other person's reality. There's a lot to talk about and that's where a wondeful thing happens: when two human beings talk to each other, there are no generations any more (and no nationalities, ethnicities, you name it), because I've never seen Mr. Average Millanial talk to Ms. Average Babyboomer. It's all about aligning this one individual's career (and, indeed, life) expectations and capabilities with the business for mutual benefit. And that's where good things almost always happen, unless they bring a carved-in-stone company profile or a (Wodan forbid!) job description to the table.

    Yes: there are trends in workforce expectations and behaviour employers need to consider, but an individual line manager talks to an individual person. Not to a trend (or a generation)

    • Hi Sven!  I appreciate you reading my blog post and taking the time to respond to it.  I agree with you in that there is too much weight placed on the single criterion of age.  There are certainly characteristics of Millennials that set them apart from other generations, but when it comes to the workplace, we are not that different from everyone else.  We value and are motivated by the same things as everyone else (e.g. competitive compensation, skills/career development, meaningful work, work/life balance, etc.).  It is a common belief that Millennials lack loyalty and there are numerous articles and studies that work to support and spread that belief.  The Oxford Economics study coming out next month highlights that executives all over the world are concerned with dealing with 1) growing proportion of Millennials in the workplace and 2) looming leadership gaps.  I wrote this blog because I wanted to focus on what companies should do to help Millennials develop and succeed for the benefit of both workers and companies.  You bring up an interesting point in that loyalty with no bounds is not always a good thing.  However, the concern people have today with Millennials is their lack of loyalty.  On your other point, it would be crazy to think every Millennial deserves to be moved up quickly into management or leadership roles, but training and development in current roles is certainly reasonable.  Lastly, I completely agree that we all just need to talk to each other, learn about and accept each other, and help each other succeed.

      • Thanks for your reply. Yep - I understand the motivation for your blog very well and if course I read it: it's well written and holds advice worth taking on board. For better or worse, the success of my little biz will depends on me understanding you guys as well as possible 😉 (still hope it'll be "for better").

        I'm not that ancient, so I still remember how we GenXers were a threat to human civilisation, because we were lazy, disengaged, smartassy, ... younameit.

        I trust you'll be as disappointing as we were, i.e. not bring human civilisation to an end 🙂

  • All good points, Geraldine, and I am looking forward the key note.

    Personally, I found the Millennials a great generation to work with. There is a refreshing sense of morals - and that attitude is applied on how they work, and on what they expect from their employers.

    More than ever, when dealing with the Millennial generagion, employees' loyalty must be earned. It is not granted simply because of the paid salary, but it is part of a more complex equation. Of course succession planning is part of that equation, in particular in a world where the contingent workforce is getting more and more long term positions, and job security is all but inexistant. I'd love to discuss this more with you... and will make sure to attend the keynote.

    • Hi Chiara!  Thank you for your feedback!  I would be happy to speak with you more.  I'll be at SuccessConnect, and I'm always available on email.