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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Last laugh—Why are Millennials …?

Have you ever Googled “Why are Millennials …”? Terry Williams has, and he found some interesting answers. But look beyond the stereotypes and you’ll find skills to leverage, he says.

I RECENTLY HOSTED A conference at which the average age of the attendees was, um, above average. I’m no demographologicalist (not a word), but I do recall something from high school geography about a Baby Boomer bubble working its way through the timeline of the economy. I’m a Gen X-er myself so I can judge those either side of me and feel highly inclined to do so mercilessly.

This lumpy cohort on a graph somewhere is, in fact, a large bunch of real people, not just a statistic, and they are at, or approaching, what has traditionally been considered retirement age.

There has, for years, been much alarm at the potential impact as their productivity and “wisdom” departs and their needs wreak havoc on our welfare state, health systems and golf courses.

I raise this in a magazine where the theme options I was given were performance management or engagement/retention. My focus is not so much on these Boomers ahead of me, but the Millennials behind me.


This conference and the industry from which the attendees were drawn have a problem I’m seeing around a lot—or, at least, the perception of a potential problem.

What is going to happen to their organisation and industry once the Boomers depart?

Where is the replacement expertise and leadership going to come from? Performance managing those contemplating some form of retirement or deemphasising their nine-to-fiving needs conscious effort from employers, as does engaging and retaining these folk who may have a lesser need to work to live.


As conference MC, I could not help but notice the professionalism of the audio-visual team of ninjas dressed in black at the back. Often unnoticed as they twiddle dials and switch cables, they clearly sussed their audience and their background music playlist was very skewed to hits from the late 70s and early 80s. (I’m not complaining.)

No doubt, the vast majority of the people enjoyed it, but there was a group of targeted emerging leaders who were not born for Born In The USA. Now, I do not remember the moon landing, but I was alive when it happened and I still know it happened. (Shut up, it happened!) This group of people seemed to enjoy the Eurhythmics, but in a way that maybe I enjoyed classic Elvis, as a historical curiosity.

The emerging leaders programme, and those like it, are a great idea, partly because it is just is, but it is also a sensible response to the demographic problem. Having a pipeline of replacement expertise and leadership isn’t just a distant academic moot. It is an imminent drop-off.

Find these people, connect these people, develop them and challenge them. That way, they’ll be available and tooled up before you need them, not when or after you need them.

How do employers engage, retain and performance manage these people? Spoiler alert: It does not include muttering, “Kids these days” or “Get off my lawn!”


A couple of these emerging leaders also presented at this conference, and in their well-researched and entertainingly presented slideshow were some myths debunked and some practical advice. It definitely included a rebuttal of spending too much money on smashed avocado on toast being the cause of any problems affording a house.

Firstly (and this checks out), typing “Why are Millennials …” into Google gives several auto-fills, the first of which is, “Why are Millennials so depressed”? Ouch.

Change the question to, “Why do Millennials …” and the top two auto-fills are, “Why do Millennials travel” and “Why do Millennials leave jobs”?

That doesn’t bode well for engaging and retaining experts and potential leaders. That’s your institutional knowledge and memory walking out the door and ending up on a Corfu beach or up a Peruvian mountain.

The myths addressed by the two women were that Millennials are screen addicts, are bad with money, spend too much time at university, are narcissistic, and are all dreamers. Sweeping stereotypes and generalisations anyone?

The screen addiction is a connection multiplier and a tool of engagement. The Millennial leaders you have are more than connected than ever to others who might join you. Rather than disparaging it, consider leveraging it?

But it is fair enough that people of any age actually do their jobs and not live on social media, unless their job is social media. Like anything else in performance management, clearly set expectations and feedback as soon as those expectations aren’t being met. Whether they’re on a phone or reading the racing pages of a newspaper, if breaktime is over, it’s over.

The money thing is an issue, but engaging doesn’t necessarily require more money—although Millennials and every other demographic segment will take it if you’re giving it away. Support, development, variety and flexibility go a long way. In that sense, I’m a lot like a Millennial myself. And, not just because some days I feel a thousand years old.

TERRY WILLIAMS, aka The People Engagement Expert is a speaker, trainer and author. Visit:

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