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Last week, we sat down with three credit union professionals who attended this year’s World Credit Union Conference to ask them about their experience. Each of them mentioned that one of the biggest highlights was a panel discussion with a diverse group of millennials. The discussion illuminated a few truths about this often misunderstood generation, including insight into how their unique perspectives and abilities can combine with the skills and experience of older generations to benefit the entire credit union industry.
The millennial generation is often labeled as having a poor work ethic, but I believe nothing could be further from the truth. The challenge for leaders is to understand what a good “work ethic” means to them and how they are actually transforming what hard work means.
Smart Work is Not Lazy Work
Technology and the Internet has unarguably changed the tools, rules, and pace of work. While older generations try to adjust, we need to recognize that this is the only reality younger generations know. Continuous advances in technology means that there is more opportunity than ever to do more with less. The challenge is that older generations often equate this reality with laziness, while millennials perceive as working smarter.
This GE commercial humorously highlights this point. In the ad, the parents of a Millennial offer their son his grandfather’s hammer while he tries to explain that he will be writing the code for manufacturing machines and doesn’t actually need the hammer.
Amber Fehrenbacher, CMO of SuretyBonds offers this assessment: “With answers to any possible question in the palm of their hand, in most situations, Millennials tend to take the fastest route. That’s not laziness. That’s problem-solving.”
The technology that millennials have grown up with allows work to be more streamlined, automated and collaborative than ever before. Millennials are focused on getting more done in less time for good reason – they have the tools to do so. As leaders, this means that we should perhaps begin defining work ethic more in terms of outputs and problem solving ability than time and effort.
The New Generation of Work Martyrs
Although Millennials might be focused on getting more done in less time, that certainly doesn’t mean they are working less hours. According to a new survey from Project Time Off, Millennials are actually more likely to see themselves as “work martyrs” than older workers, and less likely to use all their vacation time. Millennials have grown up in a world that’s “on” 24/7 – a world where work is easily accessible anywhere, at any time. They are the first generation to have had Internet and email as a stable fixture of their work life, and the first enter the workforce in the era of vacation decline. Most millennials feel that competition for jobs is fierce and that it’s vitally important that they are seen as irreplaceable by their employers. Rather than finding enough time to work, the challenge millennials face is disconnecting and taking time off work.
According to the Project Time Off survey, 39% of millennials actually want to be seen as a work martyr by their boss – even though most (86%) believe it’s a bad thing to be seen as a work martyr by their families. Not surprisingly, this desired perception at work often results in feelings of pressure that contribute to high stress levels and a willingness to give up vacation days. This isn’t good for them – and it isn’t good for the organizations they work for. As leaders, it behooves us to recognize this tendency in our younger employees and do what we can to help them achieve greater balance. One way to do this is to reward hard work with “forced” time off. Giving employees a long weekend, or an unexpected day off after completion of a large project tells them that we appreciate the work they do, reassuring their value, while also recognizing the importance of down time.
Millennials sometimes get a bad rap when it comes to work ethic. As leaders, if we want to retain up-and-coming talent, we must turn that around and embrace this generation’s strengths and abilities, opening the way for them to change what it means to work hard and get things done, while also encouraging them to learn how to disconnect and recharge.
Perhaps, the “poor work ethic” label should now be reserved for those who refuse to adjust and learn the tools that will continue to shape 21st century work. What do you think?