Building Trust with Millennials

Don’t look now, but the “millennials” are coming. Often disparaged as “techaholics” with a high WIIFM factor (what’s in it for me), the millennial, generation Y, echo boomers, or those born sometime after 1976, are changing the shape of the American workforce.

According to a recent NY Times article, the new kids on the block have a sense of entitlement;

Professor Marshall Grossman at the University of Maryland said, “I’ve come to expect complaints whenever I return English papers. Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark.”

The sentiments are echoed by Sarah Kinn, a junior English major at the University of Vermont: “I feel that if I do all of the readings and attend class regularly that I should be able to achieve a grade of at least a B.”

I have noticed the same phenomenon in the course I teach at Loyola University. A disgruntled student who received a grade commensurate with the final product shifted the blame to me, saying, “Well, I guess it is in the syllabus, so you technically can give me a lower grade.”

How did they get this way? Michele Norris, a Tampa-based consultant, asserts, “If students have a sense of entitlement, it’s not entirely their fault. They are the product of “hovering” parents and an education system that is ‘results oriented’ to prove worthiness. Parents and coaches have rewarded them with trophies just for being on the team”.

According to Norris, millennials do have a great deal of self confidence. “The reality is that this generation is entering the workforce with the ability to multi-task, sort through vast amounts of information (the internet), and navigate the information age.”

John O’Neill, a millennial and senior business student at Loyola University, takes exception to the typical millennial line of thinking. “I am not a proponent of the "effort = quality" train of thought. In many situations, if an assignment can’t be completed on time or up to quality standards, no matter how much work was devoted, it should be considered a failure. “

Like John, not every millennial fits the stereotype. Alex and Brett Harris, authors of Do Hard Things: a Teenage Rebellion against Low Expectations tap into their faith and Biblical principles to combat the idea of adolescence as a “vacation from responsibility.”

With over 16 million hits to their website, they are leading the charge in a growing movement of young people who are rebelling against the low expectations of their culture by choosing to "do hard things."

“The world says, ‘You’re young, have fun!’ It tells us to ‘obey your thirst’ and ‘just do it.’ Or it tells us, ‘You’re great! You don’t need to exert yourself.’ But those kinds of mindsets sabotage character and competence,” says Harris.

Meanwhile, millions of millennials are merging into the market. How to integrate them into the workforce?

During a recent 60 Minutes interview with Morley Safer, Marian Salzman, an Ad Agency exec who has been tracking Millennials ever since they entered the workforce said, “You do have to speak to them a little bit like a therapist on television might speak to a patient," Salzman says, laughing. "You can’t be harsh. You cannot tell them you’re disappointed in them. You can’t really ask them to live and breathe the company. Because they’re living and breathing themselves and that keeps them very busy."

Faced with new employees who want to roll into work with their iPods and flip flops around noon, but still become a CEO by… Friday, companies are realizing that the era of the buttoned down exec happy to have a job is as dead as the three-Martini lunch.

How can we build trust with these narcissistic praise hounds now taking over the office?

Coach vs. Boss
"It’s the boomers that need to hear the message, that they’re gonna have to start focusing more on coaching rather than bossing. In this generation in particular, you just tell them, ‘You got to do this. You got to do this.’ They truly will walk. And every major law firm, every major company knows, this is the future," says Mary Crane, a millennial coach.

In order to be perceived as trustworthy, we must have a high “other” orientation. In the case of millenials, we need to speak their language. Be willing to lose the battles like wardrobe and time clocks, so long as they understand results matter.

Back Patting
They need more accolades. What does it cost to give it to them? Go ahead.

Give Trust to Get Trust
Lastly, to get trust, we must first give trust. Before we can expect them to understand and appreciate where we’re coming from, we must first take the time to make them feel understood.

But that’s just me; I welcome your thoughts!