Millennials Don't Want to Work ... And Your Company Needs That

At my live events, I almost always speak with people who express this opinion and it's usually because they're having trouble finding the right talent to join their team. It's common for people my age (43) to associate this problem with the Millennial generation. But that's not the issue.
05/20/2016 12:09 pm ET Updated May 21, 2017

"Millennials are the worst generation. They're lazy, unmotivated, disconnected and they want a trophy for every little thing they do."

At my live events, I almost always speak with people who express this opinion and it's usually because they're having trouble finding the right talent to join their team. It's common for people my age (43) to associate this problem with the Millennial generation. But that's not the issue.

The Generational Phenomenon

See, there's a generational phenomenon that repeats itself every few years and it's fascinating to watch: older generations consistently disparage the younger generation. Whenever a notable young person emerges with a new way of doing things, they're almost always met with opposition from those who came before them. One popular example of this was when a hoodie-wearing Mark Zuckerberg was deemed "immature" for dressing casually at meetings with investment firms.

And the trend isn't just in business. Take music for example. If you look at the commentary among older populations when artists like Elvis, The Rolling Stones and The Who first emerged, you'll see descriptions such as "noisy," "talentless" and "offensive." Today they are considered some of the most influential musicians of all time. Now listen to what older generations are saying about artists like Miley Cyrus, Kanye West or Justin Bieber and you'll see the pattern.

As people age, they generally become less pliable, less open and less connected to how the world is changing. They slowly start to view the younger generation as out of touch with the way the world actually works. And although there's much to be said for the value of life experience, it's undeniable that younger generations see the world in new and different ways that older generations simply cannot. Young people are unhindered by bias and past experiences. They're having their experiences now -- in the moment. And this inherently changes their point of view.

This is something that the most successful people, the billionaires and world changers, have always understood. If you want to see how the world is evolving, you have to listen to the people who are seeing it from a fresh perspective.

Yes, of course there are plenty of Millennials who are lazy complainers. My generation had lazy complainers too. Every generation has had them. But calling Millennials a lazy generation is painting with too broad of a brush. This is a generation that is more aware than any other generation before it. And do you know why that is?

It's because they were raised by a generation that was more aware than the generation before them. If you're around my age, that means us.

Millennials Want Work That Matters

I've always hired young people at CHARFEN, and after years of working with them, I realized something: it's not that Millennials don't want to work, they just don't want to do work that doesn't matter. And they share this sentiment more strongly than any other generation in history. Most of them aren't content being a corporate cog. They want to be a part of something and to know they're needed to accomplish the team's goals.

As soon as they're made to feel like a replaceable, results-producing machine, they'll check out or head for the door. That's because Millennials have a different idea of what work is supposed to look like. They're intent on applying their passion to what they do, and the more constraint you place on them in the workplace, the more they'll want to resist.

But if you can provide them with a compelling vision and a purpose for what they're doing, if you show them how their skills can contribute to the team's overall goals, you won't be able to get them to stop working. I've seen this firsthand when I had a young team member actually cry after I told them I was shutting the office down for Christmas Eve. These are the things that happen when you make work meaningful and your team personally invests in the outcomes of the company.

The key to providing that purpose and vision for your team is transparency. The more you keep from them, the more disconnected they'll become from every facet of the company. And the more disconnected they feel, the less they're willing to care about their work.

Working with young people has taught me that developing processes for them to follow and keeping constant tabs on productivity is counter-productive. Millennials need a sense of ownership in their work so they can have something to take pride in. Because of this, my management tactics have shifted somewhat over the years. I no longer tell people how to do things. I transparently communicate the goals and desired outcomes. Then I let each team member own the strategy and implementation of projects. This creates far more investment from the team, and often produces creative ideas and processes that I could never have come up with.

If you're still unsure about how to work with or develop Millennials, you should take a look at my Enlightened Leadership Academy live event, where I cover topics like how to build an inspired, driven team. I even have a panel portion where you can hear my team (mostly comprised of Millennials) talk about what it's like to work here. I've seen countless entrepreneurs fail to give their team members the vision, transparency, support and trust they need thrive and contribute in their roles. If you can provide these for your team, I think you'll be surprised by the things Millennials can do.