They've been called everything from lazy to prima donnas. They stand accused of being narcissistic, needing excessive handholding and having an unrealistic sense of entitlement.
They're the millennial generation - those born after 1980 -- and they are beginning to enter leadership roles in the workforce. Millennials have a lot to offer, and their generation is poised to revolutionize the workforce. If your business doesn't take time now to understand this generation's motivations and strengths, you risk losing out on a major competitive edge.
Nearly half of the U.S. workforce (46 percent) will be made up of millennials by the year 2020, according to research from the University of North Carolina. Rather than waste time deriding the perceived shortcomings of this younger generation, businesses should be working to better understand the motivations and strengths of these up-and-coming leaders and figure out how best take advantage of those skills.
Millennials Aren't Solely Motivated by Money
This generation grew up watching their parents work their fingers to the bone, prioritizing their work lives over family and social concerns, only to see accumulated wealth and investments vanish in times of recession, says Lindsey Pollak, a millennial workplace expert and author of a New York Times best-seller "Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders."
Pollak, who partners with companies like The Hartford, has developed a national educational campaign to help Millennials understand their benefits and protect their potential.
"Millennials say that culture, company mission and values are important to them, and I believe that is true. Where I most see this come up is when millennials talk about wanting to work for a company that will support and develop them as a whole person -- their career, their personal life, their health and their values. Millennials tell me that they want to feel proud to be associated with their employer, on social media and elsewhere," Pollak says.
While compensation is a factor in millennials' job satisfaction, they are less likely to tolerate unpleasant working conditions than previous generations, according to research from Bentley University's Center for Women and Business.
The best way for companies to address this discrepancy, says Pollak, is to regularly provide opportunities for employees to tell leadership what they want, and to listen to your employees and let them know their opinions and preferences are taken into consideration.
Millennials Want to Lead
Millennials confident in their ability to contribute to the growth and success of their employer from day one, says Pollak. Research from The Hartford's 2014 Millennial Leadership Survey reveals that 83 percent of the 785 respondents felt they were leaders among their family and friends, and 73 percent of those surveyed aspired to lead in the workplace over the next five years.
"As a generation, they have a high level of confidence and a very strong desire to contribute, right away, on the job. They don't like the notion that to get ahead, to be a leader, a worker must first 'pay their dues;' they are well aware that they have these incredible technology and critical thinking skill sets from day one, and they want to put those to work," says Pollak.
Millennials Crave Continuing Education, Training and Growth
Millennials also are honest about their shortcomings, says Pollak. As much as they have confidence in their technology and leadership skills overall, they know they need training, coaching and mentoring to be able to apply those skills to the workplace, according to Pollak.
"They really have a lot to share, but it has to be give-and-take. Millennials are more than willing to put their skills to work for their workplaces, but they really crave mentoring, coaching and continuing education and training to help them better develop their communication skills, workplace etiquette and other 'soft' skills," Pollak says.
If an organization is willing to provide these types of continuing education and training resources, the reward will be an incredibly loyal, productive and engaged employee, according to The Hartford Research.
Millennials Want to Collaborate
Despite their reputation as loners whose main concern is their smartphone, millennials are huge proponents of collaboration, says Pollak. While they may not love to work in groups, they excel at collaborating with peers to achieve a common goal.
"Millennials grew up with collaborative technology: Skype, Google Docs, Wikis. They don't like working in groups, but they do like contributing to a shared project or goal and they gain great satisfaction from seeing how their individual contributions affected the sum of a project," Pollak says.
With that comes incredible frustration when this generation is prevented from communicating and collaboration because of technology shortcomings, she adds. Companies must make collaboration easy, secure and easy to use or risk alienating these younger workers.
"Millennials much prefer to use social media and social applications instead of email to communicate," says Pollak. The idea of using internal social media and chat or collaboration apps like Yammer is much more appealing to this generation, and that can take some getting used to, says Francis Li, vice president of IT at communications and collaboration solutions firm SoftChoice.
Millennials also want to have a clear voice in deciding what technology they will use, and if it's not up to snuff -- forget it, according to Li. That's why businesses must invest more time up front with millennials to make sure any technology decisions are geared to the way they work.
"If there's no buy-in, they just won't use the technology. To accommodate that we've had to do a lot more work on the front-end to get buy-in and involvement. This generation wants to feel like they're really a part of the decision-making process," says Li.
Millennials Want Work-Life Balance
For millennials, flexibility is key. Millennials understand the importance of work-life balance to a much greater extent than many of their older counterparts, and they demand the ability to work anywhere, anytime as a way to strike that balance, says Pollak.
"One of the most surprising things I noticed from our research was when we asked millennials, 'When you become leaders, what do you want to change in the workplace?' and 47 percent said 'work-life balance,'" says Pollak.
From a very early age, millennials understand the importance of having a life outside of their work, and will not tolerate an employer that refuses to let them have it, notes Li.Read more: What companies look for when recruiting CIOs
"The personal and professional tend to blend with this generation. The expectation is that employers will accept the lines are very blurred, and that as long as work is being done, as long as the quality is there, we need to be much more hands-off and trust that this generation will get it done," says Li.
As the Bentley University research reports, "Millennials have not rejected the corporate world, but they will seek other options, such as starting their own companies, if they cannot find workplaces that accommodate their personal values. On the other hand, they are loyal to companies that allow them to stay true to their personal and family values."
For business executives, it's especially important to provide a working environment and a company culture that supports a healthy work-life balance, and to provide technology that allows millennials to work and collaborate from wherever they happen to be, whenever they want to work.
Millennials Want What We All Want at Work
The bottom line is millennials want what all of us want from their workplaces -- great technology, great collaboration, flexibility and an ability to grow and learn.
What makes this generation so different from those that came before is that millennials are much more willing to speak up when they feel they're not receiving what they feel they deserve, according to Li.
While that can come across as a sense of entitlement, it's simply a different way of communicating that, if interpreted correctly, can help millennials, workers from other generations and business as a whole reach common goals.
"When trying to drive change, move in a new direction, introduce new products, boost profits, whatever the case may be, the old 'norm' was that the dictate came from the top down, and everyone was expected to fall in line and be good corporate soldiers, but with millennials, they are much more willing to challenge the status quo and make executives really think through the 'why' and the 'how' of business decisions. It keeps executives like me on our toes, for sure, but it also generates a better business," Li says.
Taken together, all these qualities make millennials far from an irresponsible, selfish and arrogant generation. Instead, they are forcing managers to be better and do better, and that makes the workplace better, Li says.