Are Millennials really an entitled, self absorbed generation?

I recently had the privilege of moderating a talk for the Malaysia Institute of Accountants (MIA) in Kuala Lumpur which prompted me to put pen to paper on the subject of Millennials.


The session was focused on how to attract the next generation of Accountants. Attracting, and, equally importantly, retaining millennials isn't a challenge just for the accountancy profession, but is a challenge for most clients that we speak with. Millennials are undoubtedly the most researched generation and are often typecast (unfairly?) as being lazy, entitled and self-absorbed. But is this due to the fact that they're misunderstood?

A PWC study recently showed that by 2020, 75% of the global workforce will be millennials and 60% of these will be in Asia. If the future of the workforce is the millennial generation (which it undoubtedly is) it's essential we wrap our heads around how we attract and retain this generation if we want to grow successful sustainable businesses.

Here are a few things that I've learnt through the course of preparing for and moderating this talk:

Millennials (also known as Gen Y) are born between 1982 and 2004 (I fall 'just' outside this range...).

They are technologically savvy and are the generation who have embraced technology more than any previous generations. It's their generation that coined the term 'personal media'. Unlike previous generations, they can consume what they want when they want. Wait for a TV show? no thanks, I'll watch it on my mobile while I'm commuting to work.

They have a strong sense of corporate responsibility, believe they can make a positive impact on the world and are strong supporters of diversity.

Unsurprisingly, they are much more globally minded than any previous generation.

They are entrepreneurial and more open to taking risks. Look at some of the most successful and lauded businesses of current times. They were founded by millennials. Research has shown that the average age for this generation setting up a business is 27, versus 35 for previous generations.

As a generation, they are far more adventurous and progressive than previous generations, and much more open to taking risks.

Whilst many of these may be generalisations, they are important ones to take into consideration when hiring and thinking about engaging this group of talent. Far from being negative traits, these are, generally impressive and enviable characteristics when harnessed in the right context.

Now, unfortunately, the right context doesn't simply mean choosing an open plan office and furnishing it with bean bags, a games room and an awesome coffee machine! So what should you consider when trying to harness the talents of this generation? Here a few to think about:

  • They are multitaskers - this means they can be easily distracted. You have to think about this in the context of the role, how can you create variety to ensure they are engaged?
  • They are connected - they are experts on social media and expect a company to also have an effective social media strategy that they can engage with.
  • They are Tech savvy - more so than any previous generation. Does your company embrace technology, is it forward thinking when it comes to this?
  • They like instant gratification and reward - this doesn't mean just monetary, but being recognised for performing well. Does your management embrace this?
  • They want life experience, not simply a career path - yes, there is a difference. Think about what you offer your employees - is it the same job day after day, or are you investing and developing in them and enabling them to create and drive new experiences?
  • Collaboration - this is a team orientated generation - they thrive by working together and believe together they can make a positive impact on the world.
  • They want transparency - open and honest communication, feedback in the moment, not waiting 12 months for an annual appraisal
  • Career advancement is important - they want to progress, they want to develop, they want to take on more responsibility
  • They believe in CSR and having a purpose - does your company believe in giving back to society and have a platform to do this? Do your employees really believe that there is meaning in what they do?
  • They want to be challenged - if they feel they aren't learning, if they feel they aren't making a difference, if they feel it's all too easy then they'll go somewhere else
  • These are a few considerations that employers should think about when hiring and when looking at how to retain their people.

This generation is undoubtedly improving and bringing more meaning to work that we have ever seen before. They have made organisations rethink what they stand for, realign their responsibilities to employees and broader society, and spend much more time investing in how they too can make a positive impact in the world. In addition, organisations are rethinking roles, changing management styles (more coaching that dictatorial) and in turn seeing higher performance through these changes.

So, is this Millennial generation lazy, self-absorbed and entitled? There will be some for sure, but no more than any other generation. The difference is they are clear on what they want, aren't scared to voice their opinions and to walk away if they're not satisfied. That's hugely powerful and will continue to keep organisations on their toes and in doing so continue to improve workplaces, careers and, in turn, the world. Not bad work for a generation!