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Stop B****ing About Millennials, Start Acting Like One

I know, it’s fashionable to complain about Millennial employees for all sorts of things – but the complaint I find most entertaining is that, “Millennials have to feel engaged by their company.” We’ve all heard the complaint, uttered as though demanding engagement were some kind of overbearing imposition placed upon the company by its younger employees. Don’t those entitled kids know that an employee’s place is to suck it up and hope for opportunity when it arrives? Or, that there's no trophy for doing your job? Or, at the very least, that they need to respect the wisdom of their elders? At least show some loyalty! It’s obvious to everyone older than they are - Millennials are entitled narcissists who are only in it for themselves.

Which is particularly ironic because, if it’s true and Millennials are narcissists , then every boomer and Gen X’er should take out their Moleskin journals and start taking notes – because that is exactly the kind of mindset that can help both companies and people to survive (and thrive!) in the gig economy! You read that correctly. If you want to succeed in the gig economy, you need to stop complaining about Millennials, and start acting like one.

Let’s revisit the chief complaint I hear so often – Millennials are only in it for themselves. Of course, the unspoken part is that Millennials are impatient and unwilling to pay their dues. You know, they won’t take one for the team, they won’t shut up and do the grunt work, they don't show respect for the way things are done. Instead, what they want (they demand!) is a clear path to personal and professional growth. They want to start making a contribution and they want to make it now. Right? Am I the only one who hears this complaint all the time?

I’ll leave the larger employee engagement issue (as in, the widely documented misery of those advocating for taking one for the team and/or shutting up and doing the grunt work or accepting the way things are done) to people like Ayelet Baron and Ruth Ross , who are doing great work on this issue. Instead, I’m going to focus on the simple fact that Millennials are running their lives like IP-based businesses. And that's really smart business.

Let's review the IP-based business model:

  • Customers expend resources (money!) to buy your products and/or services;
  • By selling products and/or services, you grow a revenue stream that funds the refinement and improvement of your IP;
  • By refining and/or improving the quality and usefulness of your IP, you increase the market value of your company over time.
  • (If you don’t think this is what you should be doing, I suggest you read the Lean StartUp again.)

    I'm sure you can see where this is headed because this is the EXACT same transactional formula that we’re accusing Millennials of adopting. Let’s revisit the steps.

  • Expending Resources. Well, we ask employers to expend resources (salary!) to buy our capabilities. That seems the same.
  • Selling products and/or services to refine / improve IP. If an employee is being challenged at work, then they are refining and/or improving their capabilities while getting paid. Check.
  • Refinement / improvement increases market value. This is a no-brainer. The more experience you have, the more valuable you become on the job market.
  • If it's not obvious to you, let me state it bluntly. Those Millennials that you find so narcissistically entitled are displaying the survival skills that make businesses successful. A set of skills that, quite frankly, you’re better-off harnessing than fighting. So the next time you see one of those ‘how to manage Millennials’ lists, instead of just nodding your head in agreement about everything that’s wrong with ‘kids these days’, instead take a step back and consider that maybe they have a few new tricks that you could learn from them.