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Erin Walter

January 26, 2016

Millennials: Are They Really That Bad?


This article originally appeared on

In 2015 millennials surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. While there is no official age range for millennials, it is commonly accepted that they were born between 1981 and 1997. According to Pew Research Center, there are currently 53.5 million millennials working in the U.S., with a large portion still in college.

It is no wonder why working with millennials has been the frequent topic of conversation in everything from magazine and newspaper articles, to stages at business conferences.

Tom and I both have a fair amount of millennials on our teams and are faced with the challenges and benefits of this generation on a daily basis. Here we share our thoughts on some of the most frequently talked about challenges of working with millennials.

Challenge #1: Millennials Are Only Motivated by Money and Benefits

Erin: I’m not sure that this can be put solely on millennials’ shoulders. Ninety percent of my classmates in graduate school were there simply to get a promotion and more money—not for the education. And it’s not just millennials in grad school.

At nuphoriq, our entire team is millennials. If they were all motivated by money and benefits, we wouldn’t have a company today. We didn’t have the money to afford large salaries and glorious benefits when we first started. Come to think of it, we still don’t! And yet we retain incredible talent. The reason is that our team cares more about being connected to the mission of the company than about their salaries. They are willing to take less money and benefits in order to build a company together.

Tom: Money and benefits may be most desired conversations by some millennial applicants. But not all are. There is an emerging social conscience that propels a significant number of this generation to pursue a career with organizations that have a clearly defined purpose, core values, vision, and mission. This group wants to know what is expected and how their efforts will be judged, recognized, and rewarded. They also want to know that their work matters towards the socioeconomic good of the whole.

Challenge #2: Millennials Can’t Communicate Like Normal Human Beings

Erin: As an introvert that has always defaulted to communicating through instant messaging and texting, I can understand how this may happen. But communication is a two-way street, and to me, so is the inability to communicate.

As leaders, we have to work with our team members on how to communicate. We have to make sure they feel comfortable voicing their opinion. We have to work with them on growing their emotional intelligence so that they’re able to understand how to better communicate with their team members.

Tom: Normal communication is a variable, not a constant. Communication between generations can be a stumbling block because each generation has its own norms.

Some frightening generalities of millennial communication issues include:

  • The inability to construct a business letter, such as a proposal
  • Lack of legible penmanship
  • Poor grammar and spelling

Millennials have mastered communicating ideas in 140 characters, but can they develop an idea in greater detail? They may also seem to avoid discussing critical or confrontational issues face-to-face as opposed to texting.

Challenge #3: Millennials Are Entitled

Erin: Millennials want answers to everything. They want responsibility. They want what they want, and they want it now. Sound familiar? I won’t disagree, but I don’t think it’s always a bad thing.

On our team, we call this transparency. Millennials want to know the strategy of the company, the sales numbers, and the financials so that they can tell whether or not they’re doing a good job. They want to know the purpose of the company so that they feel like they’re spending their years contributing to something good instead of blindly working. They want responsibility so that they can take ownership of what they’re doing and feel proud when they go home at night.

And when we give them what they want...they shine. They constantly push the boundaries of what we are capable of. They come up with new ideas. They see challenges in the road sometimes before we do. Because of their “entitlement,” my partner Jamie and I aren’t two people trying to pull a company down a road. We have an entire team by our sides helping us push the company forward.

Tom: I agree with Erin on her opening point. Millennials want responsibility. They don’t want to wait 10 years for responsibility. They don’t want to earn “scars” before they can make major decisions. The entitlement they seek, in my opinion, is the right to responsible work. And why not? We explain to our new millennials that their ideas matter. They have vast networks due to their knowledge of technology, as well as the latest in educational theory. Why not use their talents in this area for the betterment of the organization?

Entitlement can be addressed by explaining to millennials the difference between privilege and responsibility. One of our most recent hires—a 23-year-old college graduate in her first full-time job—told me that she was surprised that her input was listened to and some of her suggestions adopted. She stated that she felt valued. From my perspective, that also means she’s engaged.

What do you think? Do you agree, or disagree, with us?

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About Erin Walter

Erin’s company, nuphoriq, is still in the early growth stage. It’s successful, and yet she has guided her team through a handful of tough, path-altering strategic decisions. She grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, which provided a great foundation. Erin surrounds herself with mentors with whom she has frequent communication.