Talent Wars: The Millennial Menace?… or… Generation Y Awakens

There has been a lot of talk recently about Generation Y (or Millennials) in the workplace. A few weeks ago, news broke about a Millennial employee who was fired from Yelp after she wrote an open letter to her CEO and posted it online. Here’s her original post. Then the internet blew up with commentary from those empathizing with her position and those labeling her as entitled. The conversation surrounding this event is part of a much larger discussion about Gen Y’s powerful impact on the current business landscape…and it got me thinking…about Star Wars.

On December 18th, Star Wars: The Force Awakens brought the magic of the most beloved franchise in the history of cinema to a new generation of movie goers. The stars of The Force Awakens  – Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver – also represent a new generation; stewards of the continuing saga in a galaxy far, far away.

What does this have to do with employee engagement? Well, much like General (formerly Princess) Leia and her Resistance have placed their hope in these young heroes to restore peace and defeat the evil First Order, organizations today must enlist and place their trust in Millennials – those individuals born between  the early 1980s and early 2000s – to carry the torch (or lightsaber). To put things in perspective: as of 2015, Millennials make up the largest segment of the workforce. That number will continue to grow as more Baby Boomers leave to enjoy their retirement years…hopefully someplace more hospitable than Dagobah or Jakku…

Below is a trilogy of truths that leaders must come to accept if they have any hope engaging a Millennial workforce and ensuring the long term success and sustainability of their organizations…and saving the galaxy.

Millennials are a Force to be reckoned with

“These new kids are so entitled!”

“They’re impatient and disrespectful.”

“They don’t understand how the business world works – you pay your dues!”

Many business leaders today make these statements or similar complaints, lamenting the Gen Y conundrum as more and more of these young employees join their organizations. They dig in their heels and refuse to accept that this generation has become a powerful force in today’s economy. Here’s the thing: Millennials aren’t going anywhere. According to most studies, Generation Y will comprise roughly 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. If you continue to resist adapting your organizational culture to the needs and expectations of Millennials, your business will ultimately suffer. Turnover costs alone (on average, 100 to 150 percent of a departing employee’s salary) will eat away at your bottom line. If a Millennial leaves, who are you going to replace her with? Odds are, by 2025, another Millennial.

In the Star Wars universe, many jobs have been outsourced to “droids” who are far more complacent and inexpensive than their living counterparts (BB-8 probably didn’t ask for a promotion or better health insurance plan after surviving the events of The Force Awakens). We’ve certainly come a long way in the areas of artificial intelligence and robotics, but C-3PO won’t be an alternative to Gen Y workers anytime soon.

Industrial Era business practices – The dark side of the Force are they

Command and control management, stone-cold bureaucracy, fear-driven culture, and obsession with metrics were hallmarks of the Industrial Era. Today’s Knowledge Economy has made such an antiquated business model all but obsolete. We are in the Age of Ideas. The age of innovation-stifling bureaucracy is long gone. Millennial employees expect their employers to operate under a much different model, and organizations that stick with what worked in the past will surely face some hard times in the future. Today, organizations will need to adapt in order to effectively do business with and work with Generation Y. Millennials expect companies to do good in the world; to be responsible corporate citizens. They crave development opportunities, frequent feedback, mentoring, as well as innovative and collaborative work environments. They expect flexible work arrangements and interesting work assignments. They demand a healthy work/life balance. Those leaders who balk at the idea of molding corporate culture to fit Millennial expectations are missing the point. They must be forward-thinking and embrace change for the long term survival of their organizations.

Following the same business model didn’t work out so well for the Galactic Empire. They built one super weapon with an easily exploited weakness and then did the exact same thing a few years later with the same result – it was blown up! The Empire’s successor, the First Order, tried their luck with essentially a planet-sized Death Star thirty years later and the Force was certainly not with them, either. Now is the time for you to, as Master Yoda taught, “unlearn what you have learned” and reframe how you think about organizational culture.

Engage them and they shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine

Leaders who strive to unlock the potential of  Millennial employees through effective engagement practices will be positioning their organizations for success. Engaging Millennials means proactively finding out what makes them tick and adjusting your engagement strategy accordingly. Involve them in the process and ask them what they think. Don’t guess at what will work. Millennials are a smart, entrepreneurial bunch. They have ideas for how to help your organization. All they need is for you to listen, offer your your support and guidance, then see what they can do. Contrary to stereotypes, Millennials do have a strong work ethic. They’ll work for a company whose values align with their own. They’ll put in the time if the work allows them to stretch, learn, grow, and have fun. They’ll care about your organization if you show that you care about them as human beings. Nurture their natural  Jedi powers and watch them take on your business challenges with tenacity and enthusiasm unlike you’ve ever seen.

Although Han Solo wasn’t too pleased when he first found Rey and Finn hiding aboard his prized Millennium Falcon, he eventually warmed up and took on a mentor role for the pair. Solo was so impressed with Rey’s earnest enthusiasm, resourcefulness, and mechanical skill, that he even offered her a job helping him fly the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. As fate (or the Force) would have it, Rey’s career path was actually revealed to be that of a Jedi Knight. Still, had Han Solo not taken a chance on this young hero and set her on the path to her destiny, she probably could never have realized her full potential.

“There has been an awakening… Have you felt it?”

Millennials are here to stay, and the labor market will only continue to become saturated with them as more Baby Boomers retire. Moreover, with the improved state of the economy, Millennials now have something they did not a few years ago: options. They have the ability to leave for a more engaging organization if their current employer will not meet their needs or expectations. Rather than crying “disloyalty!”, leaders should reevaluate their approach to working with these very talented individuals. They must adapt.

As a certain Jedi Knight once told Jabba the Hutt while bargaining for Captain Solo’s release: “You can either profit by this or be destroyed.” Leaders, you can either embrace the unique talents of Millennials and make engaging them your top priority…or you can complain about them, refuse to validate their needs and expectations for the workplace, call them names, stick to the old business model…and watch your wiser competitors Force choke you into irrelevance.

May the (Millennial) Force be with you! “You’re gonna need it.”

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