Managing Millennials Q&A: Why Don’t My Millennial Employees Seem to Work as Hard as I Did?

Note to readers: This is the fourth post in my new series based on questions I frequently hear about managing millennials — those ongoing management challenges that can really make or break workplace relationships.

Each month I’ll tackle a question and provide some advice for managers and millennials (and millennial managers!). I hope the advice I share is helpful for all generations.

Have a question you’ve been dying to ask? Send me an email and I will try to cover it in a future edition!


Here’s a question I often hear from Gen X and Baby Boomer managers: “Why are millennial employees such slackers? They don’t seem to want to work as hard as I did.”

Whatever your feelings about millennials and whether or not there is any truth to this complaint (and anyone who reads my blog knows that I am anything but a millennial basher), there is no question this issue is out there. Acknowledging that not every millennial is the same, nor is every Boomer or Gen Xer, let’s explore this common lament and try to help everyone get along a little better.

Question your own memory.

To me, the “They don’t work as hard as I did!” complaint is very reminiscent of that old saw we used to hear from our grandparents: “You have it so easy! I had to walk to school through three feet of snow. Uphill! Both ways!”

When you look back on your early career, it may seem as though you worked all the time — you came in early, left late, and had no time for a social life, right? And maybe you did work longer hours sometimes, but if you’re honest, how much of that time was spent doing important work and how much of it was spent gossiping with colleagues or hanging out in the kitchenette back when we brewed coffee in the office rather than grabbing a latte on our way in? Working long hours isn’t the same as getting things done, and sometimes we tend to overestimate our own work ethic. Even if you were a 100 percent hard worker who never slacked off, were you the norm or the exception?

Remember that technology has changed everything.

The technological realities of today are so unfathomably different that it might seem like your millennials employees are slacking because they’re not putting in as much “face time” — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working on their own time.

Back in the day, you had to be in the office to do literally anything. There was no email at home. No texting while leaving yoga. No taking a conference call in your PJs. Our new ability to work from anywhere means you can’t assume that your millennial employees aren’t working just because they’re not working right in front of you.

Ask yourself if you’ve set the correct expectations.

In my first Managing Millennial Q&A, I gave advice on what to do about millennial employees who come in late and leave early. Lots of the advice applies here, but the key takeaway is that in general they’re doing it because you let them. You’ve never explained to them exactly why office hours exist.

If they need to come in before the boss and stay until after she leaves, articulate it. If they need to be there when clients call, explain why. Giving them a good reason is probably all it takes for them to alter their schedule to suit office norms. And if you don’t have any good reasons, perhaps your expectations need rethinking.

Realize that the work contract has changed.

Back when many of us started, we were more apt to look at the workplace as a ladder to climb. Now, many younger employees don’t have the same ambitions. For example, I know many junior law associates who are perfectly happy doing great work but don’t want to put in the extra effort to be on the “partner track.” They tell me they see the sacrifices others make to become partner and think, “I genuinely don’t want to get there.”

And as much as millennials might seem less loyal, we have to remember that loyalty is a two-way street. Members of previous generations could often count on a long career at a single organization, likely retiring with a pension. Those days feel long gone. You probably can’t say that you would never, ever lay off an employee. Or that if they put in a certain number of hours or work, they will definitely, for sure, get that raise or promotion. Mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies, outsourcing and other factors mean that you might not even be able to guarantee your organization will be here 10 or 20 years from now.

Some millennials may look like they’re slacking but instead have made a conscious choice to spend time on their family, friends and hobbies. That leads to a bigger question of whether killing yourself at work is something admirable. Maybe they’re the ones doing life right?

Or maybe our memories are failing us again. Consider this study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which debunks the myth that millennials job hop more than other generations.

Maybe it’s not a generational issue. Maybe the employee is just a dud.

Finally, remember that there are losers and bad employees of every generation. If you have a millennials who is a slacker, maybe you just have a bad employee — which has zero to do with an entire generation. It happens.

Did this post help clarify any of your thoughts about millennials? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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