Loyalty: A Trait “Lost” on the Millennials

Posted by Sarah Becker • April 26, 2017

As the second post in my series about those “damn” millennials, I feel I should address, yet, another of their weaknesses: their lack of loyalty.

You know, as I look at today’s work force, I realize that it’s true. Millennials really don’t have the loyalty that young employees did 50 years ago. People went to work for a company at a young age, grew with their jobs and retired many years later. They went to work everyday, day in and day out. They knew their organizations inside out.

But, the reality of that occurring today is nearly impossible. And, here’s why:

Corporate Layoffs

Large corporations frequently implement layoffs as reactions to the ever-fluctuating economy. I have a friend (an “old” millennial, like me) who is going through his third (yes, THIRD!) round of layoffs. He is employed in the IT space working for medical device companies. He’s a hard worker with a family, but he keeps finding himself job hopping to just stay employed, by no fault of his own. He’s never had the chance to develop the kind of loyalty expected from the “old days.” While he would be a very loyal employee, given the chance, he’s forced to face other options to keep food on the table for his family.

Corporate Climate Doesn’t Understand Them

Many millennials go to work, expecting their new jobs to be terrific! They arrive excited and ready to take on the world, only to find out that they are responsible for menial, mundane tasks. But, they put their noses to the grindstone, anyways. After awhile, they find that their hard work isn’t really recognized or appreciated. (Yes, millennials thrive on recognition — but, doesn’t everyone?) They find there’s little room for advancement. And, they start getting that itch for flexibility, more opportunity and increased challenges. They want to truly be engaged in their jobs and excited to come to work each day. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Except that many corporate cultures don’t embrace those values. So, millennials keep looking for organizations who do. If a company doesn’t value or understand them, why should they stay?

Underutilization

Conscientious millennials (yes, they exist!) work themselves out of jobs. This has happened to me several times. When I’m hired for a 40-hour per week role, I try my best to work as efficiently as possible, developing new ways of doing old tasks. Usually, I get my tasks whittled down to taking about 20 hours or so to complete. I’m never shy about asking for more work, because I know they’ve hired me to be there between 8 am and 5 pm, busily occupied. But, do you know how painful it is to get done with your work and, still, be asked to sit there for the remainder of the work day? No one, actually, wants to live their work life that way. The vast majority of people want to perform at a high level and be successful in their jobs.

So when I’m wasting away in a job that is severely underutilizing me, you’re damn right I’m going to leave!  When I bring this up to older generations, the majority of the time the response is: “It comes back down to their work ethic. They’re lazy. If that was me, I would be finding work to do on my own and filling up my time.”

So, let’s look at that scenario:

  • None of my leaders would ever have called me lazy, AND I was always one of their highest performers. All of my reviews have always been excellent.
  • Really, you’d be able to find 20 hours of work a week on your own? Good for you! But here are some real-life situations that I ran into when trying to find work on my own:
    • You can only find so much on your own, especially if you are new to the organization. Expecting an employee to run around an organization creating work only a few months into a role might be a bit much!
    • In small organizations there may not be a ton to do. And, people can get territorial about their jobs, so they weren’t always willing to allow me to help them with their work.
    • In larger organizations, I’ve run into the silo’d, roles and responsibilities political black hole, which means that I was more than willing and overly capable of helping a team out in a different department; however, that’s their job. So, if I were to step in and help, I would be crossing the lines of roles and responsibilities. Even though both I and the other team members in the other department were begging for me to go over and help, the leaders put the kibosh on it, because of not wanting to cross the imaginary roles and responsibilities lines.
    • The organization isn’t accepting of your new ideas. I developed ideas on how my team could improve the way that we were doing things. (Why were they still using a paper-tracking system? It was 2010 — converting to an excel file only made sense!) I was able to present the ways that the new process was an improvement, how we could implement the new process seamlessly and the leaders were impressed. However, after thinking it over, the leaders, literally, told me, “Your idea is great; however, we are going to need you to think a little bit more in the box.” What? Really? Where is your business going, if that’s your mentality? Is your business really going anywhere if that’s you and/or your leaders’ response to a suggested improvement? “Your idea is great and we see great benefits; but we’re not going to do it. Please get back in your box.”

Okay, so maybe this all sounds a little harsh and judgmental. Maybe you think I’m bashing traditional work and office cultures. I really don’t mean to. But, I think it’s important to understand the gap between an employee who wants to be more than just a paper pusher and many of the jobs offered to millennials.By underestimating a millennial employee’s capabilities, an employer is actually driving away a good worker. Workplaces that offer challenges and are open to ways that their employees (millennials and non-millennials, alike) can match their talents with their jobs will earn the loyalty that many companies seem to think the generation of today is incapable of exhibiting.

Loyalty is earned between both an employer and employee. It’s not just a given that an employee will be loyal to a firm, simply because they’ve been granted a job. As you adapt and become more flexible in the opportunities you present to your employees, your company may find that it’s more efficient, spending less and acquiring more time to apply to new, exciting projects.

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