One Consultant's Take on Millennials

Business leaders I talk with are perplexed—even agitated—by the attitude of entitlement that seems to have overtaken the Millennial generation (those born after 1980). To get a first-hand look, I spent a day shadowing 12 young, professional millennials.

We sat around a conference table for an hour and talked about what motivated them, how work compared to college, their take on achieving work-life balance, and so forth. Then I spent 30 minutes with each of them. We crammed into their work spaces as they handled incoming client inquiries and talked as they went about their work. Here are four surprising things I learned that I think will strike a chord in any business.

1. Autonomy breeds commitment. One big difference between university life and the world of work: They had more autonomy at school. "In school, you get to pick your term paper topic. Here, they give you the topic." Finding ways of giving this group some say in their work can be a big motivator.

2. Engagement is more important than recognition. The way this group feels appreciated is to be asked for their ideas on a problem. They’ve had it with gold stars.

3. High performers don’t multitask. We tend to think of this group as the ones who did homework, watched TV, and IMed, all at the same time, as they were growing up. Maybe they did. But the people I met with had developed their own ways to minimize multitasking: checklists, noise-canceling headphones, and limiting their access of personal e-mail and Facebook to breaks.

4. Sometimes young people really do know what they’re talking about. These days the resumé of the average 25 year-old has some pretty eye-popping things on it, especially if you compare it to the resumés of today’s 50-year-olds when they were 25. Maybe more people should be asking Millennials what they think.

Richard C. Harris, PhD Independent Consultant Boston