Engaging your Entitled Millennial Employee

Balaji’s Food For Thought - Jan 12, 2015

Balaji Krishnamurthy
Leadership & Culture

Let us begin by wishing our readers a happy and prosperous new year. I hope all of you had a great holiday and that you are back to an exciting start of 2015.

If you don’t have any Millennial employees today, you will soon.

They are the workforce of tomorrow. Born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, they will serve as the bulk of the workforce in 20 years. Why are the Millennials different? Hasn’t every generation been criticized by the previous when entering the workforce? Weren’t the baby boomers called hippies? And, the Gen X’ers labeled slackers?

So, isn’t the current reference to Millennials as being entitled, in the same vein? Probably. Nevertheless, let us identify and understand how they might be unique as a generation. We should preface our discussion with the caveat that a lot of the observations made here are based on the current American society and might not apply to the environments of some of our foreign readers, although we suspect that there is much parallel.

Millennials are accused as wanting everything given to them, which, some believe, has been.

The accusation is that they feel entitled to get a college degree in a discipline with little employment opportunities, hang out in their parents’ basement, work as a barista at the local Starbucks and update their Facebook and Instagram accounts on their iPhones, which are part of the family plan, just like their healthcare. As Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post writes, “To some, this arrested development is evidence of a prolonged adolescence and a rejection of self-sufficiency, perhaps encouraged by indulgent helicopter parenting.”

The Great and Silent generations that have retired from the workforce found a loyal employer to whom they gave their working life. For the “one-company” professional, it was essential that they be engaged. The Baby Boomers and the Gen X’ers realized that there was no guaranteed employment, but rather they had to guarantee employability for themselves. So, they devoted their working life to a career, albeit with different employers. For the “one-career” professional, it was in their interest to be engaged and get the most from this job. The Millennials seem to center their choices upon a particular lifestyle. They choose a lifestyle and construct the necessary underpinnings of work, family, relationships, etc., to support that lifestyle. Will that lifestyle be their invariant in their life? Time alone will tell. But meanwhile, they are convinced that the lifestyle is what is most important. Engagement in the job? Only to the extent that it supports my lifestyle!

So, how do you engage your Millennial? Understand their lifestyle!

In the “one-company” view of the world, it was possible for employers to invoke JFK’s language and rally their employees around “Ask not what the Company can do for you, but ask what you can do for your Company.” 

That rally worked even in 1980 when Lee Iacocca used a variation of it at Chrysler when he returned from Washington with a loan to save the company; and as recently as 1995 when Lou Gerstner made a similar appeal in the name of saving “the greatest computer company of the world,” IBM. Yet, today, can you imagine even making that appeal? Imagine if you did just that. How would your employees respond? Analyze the response based on their generation and see if you see a pattern.

We have discussed the concept of loyalty in a company before, in the July 2012 Food for Thought, Is Loyalty Good for Business?

A culture of loyalty encourages going over and above the call of duty when the company needs you.

All cultural benefits have a shadow side weakness. In the case of loyalty, it can be entitlement. The employee argues that if he or she is expected to do something for the company when the company needs it, shouldn’t the employee expect the company to be there when he or she needs it? This sense of entitlement permeates loyalty-based cultures. When Millennials enter into such an environment, they are more likely to grasp one side of the equation and not the other.

Why do the Millennials not give as much?

Are they just takers? Not really. In fact, there is a point of view that the Millennials actually believe that they can do well by doing good. They were raised in a generation where doing good – good for people, good for the environment, good for the disadvantaged, good for different races, etc., – was in vogue. Their apathy towards corporate America stems from a different source.

Millennials entered the workforce just as the market crashed in 2008.

The recovery never trickled down to them. They don’t believe it ever will. Millennials have different utility associated with different resources. So, their utilitarian economics, if we may call that, is very different from the previous generations. Whereas the previous generations were willing to readily give of their time in exchange for money, Millennials find a very different balance in that equation. Whereas the previous generations had a lower discount factor for time value of money, Millennials put less trust in long-term investments, and hence apply a high discount factor. Whereas the previous generations respected their predecessors for their knowledge and experience even if telling them to modernize, Millennials know that the non-digital previous generations are dinosaurs from whom they have little to learn. Finally, the Millennials saw how their parents worked hard only to get nowhere and the time they put in was just not worth it. The Millennials aren’t going to do that.

So, how do you engage them?

You understand their lifestyle. In keeping with one of our Tools, Coaching through Advocacy, we have to be able to advocate their point of view. To do this, we thought we would start a new approach with this new year. On January 23, we will hold a complimentary webinar at 8am (PST) where we will discuss this article, the Millennial’s point of view and the entitlement shadow side of loyalty.

On behalf of all of us at Think Shift, we wish you a happy and prosperous new year.


Food for Thought is our way of sharing interesting concepts on corporate leadership and management with others who might find it useful. The thoughts offered are intended to be controversial and thought-provoking. They are intended to help our readers intentionally realize their potential, what we call Potentionality.