Do Millennials Make for Bad Employees?

The generation has been called lazy, entitled, and narcissistic. Their bosses beg to differ.

More offices are making an effort to incorporate playtime into the workday.  (Stephanie Keith / Reuters)

Yes, many Millennials are still crashing on their parent’s couches. And there’s data to support the claim that they generally want more perks but less face time, and that they hope to rise quickly but don’t stick around for very long. Millennials have also been pretty vocal about their desire to have more flexible jobs and more leave time.

But does all of this mean that all Millennials are actually worse workers?

Laura Olin, a digital campaigner who ran social-media strategy for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, says that’s not been her experience. “You always hear about Millennials supposedly being entitled and needing coddling, but the ones I’ve encountered have been incredibly hard-working and recognize that they need to pay their dues.”

Other managers I spoke with largely echo Olin’s sentiments, especially when it comes to younger Millennial workers, those who are between the ages of 21 and 25. These managers mostly described the set as bright, competent, and hardworking—anything but lazy and entitled. Several noted that they were more impressed with their young twenty-something hires than their workers who were born in an earlier generation.

There’s reason to believe these tales of Millennial on-the-job prowess are more than anomalies. According to a 2014 survey of about 1,000 Millennials and 200 hiring managers conducted by the freelance platform Elance-oDesk and a Generation Y consulting firm, nearly 30 percent of Millennials reported that they were already in management positions. More recently, one-third of Goldman Sachs’s coveted managing-director promotions went to employees born after 1980, a major coup for young financiers.

Though the Elance survey size is small, the results provide a small amount of insight as to how bosses might view their Millennial employees. Bosses in general agreed that Millennials were more narcissistic than prior generations. But other findings suggest that, perhaps the different way that Millennials view themselves, and their careers isn’t such a bad thing. Almost 70 percent of managers say that their young employees are equipped with skills that prior generations are not, around 82 percent are impressed with their tech savvy. Around 60 percent of managers say that the generation is full of quick learners. And though they trailed older cohorts, a 2013 survey from Ernst and Young found that a growing number of workers believed that Millennials were the best-suited generation to lead businesses in the coming decade, thanks in large part to their tech skills and commitment to diversity.

Olin thinks it makes sense that so many Millennials, especially young ones, are so impressive in the workplace, “I think these kids are preternaturally together, inventive, and socially aware because they have to be. Getting into a great college has never been harder, getting a job that’ll actually help you pay back your crushing student loans has never been harder,” Olin says. “I think they’re wise enough to realize that no one is going to fix the world for them—it’s up to them,”

If Millennials turn out to be great employees, that will be a huge boon to American companies and the economy more generally. The group is large: In 2015, they overtook the Boomer generation as the biggest share of the workforce.

No one seems to be disputing the idea that Millennials differ from their predecessors.They want change, which can be difficult and frustrating, and their quest for personal achievement can result in bouncing from company to company. But it’s possible that the distinct characteristics of this generation may also help them be better workers.

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