What Employers Really Think of Millennials

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As the Millennial generation slowly dusts itself off from the ravages of the Great Recession, it's finding a new career issue to contend with: a study by American Express and Millennial Branding shows significant disparities in how employers and young adults view one another. Most notably, the study showed about 50% of employers viewed Millennials as having unrealistic compensation expectations and a poor work ethic. That's a problem for Millennials trying to start careers or advance through the ranks.

The Bad News First

Before we get to the good news, let's rip off the band aid and dispense with the bad first. Though it's always hard to take criticism, experts like Piera Palazzolo, senior vice president of marketing at Dale Carnegie Training, thinks it's important Millennials understand how they're viewed by their employers, so that they can better prepare themselves to counter negative stereotypes. Her views (which overlap with many of the study's findings), suggest three key perceived weaknesses Millenials face in the workplace:

  • "Millennials tend to have more unrealistic compensation expectations compared to other generations," says Palazzolo. "Gen Y workers tend to expect that everything happens quickly, leading them to believe that promotions and successful growth in a company happens at a much faster rate than in reality."
  • "Operating under this assumption may also lead Millennials to think that their career success isn't necessarily dependent on their hard work and dedication to their job," says Palazzolo.
  • "Lastly, Millennials seem to be unaware that their responsibilities go beyond the basic job description," she says. "An employee's job is to make their manager's life easier, meaning they are expected to do more than what they were hired to do."

Now, the Good News

But the news isn't all bad. Among other things, the study notes that employers prize Millennials' adaptability, facility with technology and entrepreneurial attitudes – and that they're willing to nurture these attributes. Palazzolo echoes this sentiment as she describes the top traits employers value in young workers:

  • "Millennials are technologically savvy," she says, noting their particular contributions in areas such as social media.
  • "Millennials are also adaptable," she says. "The fast pace growth in the digital world means today's younger generation is able to quickly adapt to change. This ability to adjust to new environments and situations is key to workplace success."
  • "Young people are multi-taskers," says Palazzolo. "Juggling a number of tasks is the norm for Gen-Y workers and this ability can also help them easily operate and thrive in many industries."

How to Improve on the Employer-Employee Relationship

Differences across the generation gap are nothing new, and there are productive ways to smooth these in the work environment, says Palazzolo. Both Millennials and employers can play a role in helping to create a positive and productive work environment. Palazzolo thinks employers can do quite a bit to encourage Millennial workers, too.

"Employers need to instill a sense of enthusiasm, empowerment, inspiration and confidence," says Palazzolo. "And Gen Y individuals are inspired by having role models that encourage goal achievement, contributing to positive engagement and a better overall workplace environment."

For their part, Millennials should consider some of the study's findings: while the Millennial Branding study lauds young adults for their tech savvy and social media skills, it also notes discrepancies in how employers and employees view its use. Employers, for example, are likelier think employees should limit their use of social media during work and consider altering their personal profiles to meet company guidelines. Likewise, they encourage Gen Y'ers to be more patient for advancement and consider more traditional forms of workplace communication, such as in-person meetings, rather than relying on instant messaging or email for everything.

And just because they're usually older and more traditional doesn't mean employers are heartless dinosaurs without a sense for Gen Y's struggles. Palazzolo empathizes, and notes that 16% of American Millenials are unemployed – a rate far higher than the general populations. She says employers understand this creates some frustration among younger workers and partially explains slower career progression.

Still, understanding what employers want isn't rocket science. The study notes that the three traits employers overwhelmingly want to see in Millennials are simple enough: the ability to prioritize work, teamwork and a positive attitude trump all else.

--Written by Janet Al-Saad for MainStreet

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