First it was Gen X, then Gen Y, then the so-called "Tweeners." Now a new moniker has been slapped on the NEW generation that is phasing in while the the Baby Boomers phase out; they are being called "Millennials." Born between 1980 and 1995, they are 80 million strong and are poised to take over the job market (assuming we ever have on again).
The conventional wisdom is that Millennials were raised by overly doting parents who not only spared the rod and spoiled the child, but handed the rod over to the child and then let them beat us with it. As the story goes, they were molly-coddled from birth, grew up feeling entitled to things they did not earn or deserve, have distorted values molded by reality TV, rely on technology to cover their laziness, are too obsessed with themselves to care about others, brook no criticism for their actions because they don't actually make mistakes, and are going to be the world's worst nightmare when they enter the workforce.
The prospect of them becoming the workers of tomorrow has some companies terrified. As correspondent Morley Safer first reported last November, corporate America is so unnerved by all this that companies like Merrill Lynch, Ernst & Young, and scores of others are hiring consultants to teach them how to deal with this irksome generation that only takes "yes" for an answer.
As the parent of two Millennials, I am qualified to weigh in. And I have a completely different take. What a difference a generation makes. And how short our memories are. It seems like only yesterday that similar criticisms and concerns were directed toward Baby Boomers like me. We were spawned in the post-war euphoria of the '50s and knew nothing of the pain and deprivation of the Depression and WWII. We enjoyed unprecedented safety, security and affluence. Our lives were sheltered and privileged. Not having to work from an early age left time to experiment widely and wildly. During the tumultuous '60 and '70's our parents were certain the world was coming to an end. Now it is our turn to wring our hands and fret that our children won't share our illustrious work ethic.
Balderdash. Has anyone out there noticed what a fiercely competitive world has emerged during the last 20 years? Getting into college has become as challenging as getting elected to Congress was when I was a kid (and requires a much more impressive resume). Corporations provide little long-term stability and are ready to jettison any employee in the blink of an eye. Young people work harder in high school than I did in college, and they come out knowing more. And there is so much more to know. The accelerated pace of the world, and the tools that are available to understand it, places an enormous burden on young people to stay current. Yet they take it all in stride since it is all they know.
THE MEASUREMENT VACUUM
And through it all, one thing remains unchanged and has gone largely unnoticed. In our society, there is a strange and abrupt transition that occurs between the last year of college, and the first year of work. For the first 22 years of our lives (more if you go to graduate school), you are measured, assessed, tested, graded, scored, rated, ranked and evaluated. It seems that everything a young person does is tracked, from their IQ to their GPA to their class ranking and more. They get scores for homework, tests, participation, attendance, citizenship, you name it. They grow accustomed to this scrutiny and many thrive on it. They know where they stand, where they fall relative to others, whether or not they are ahead or behind, how they measure up.
Then they graduate college and something very strange happens -- they never get measured again. The GPA and transcript that they worked so hard to compile is forgotten, nobody ever looks at their SAT scores again, their class ranking is irrelevant. They enter the world of work and suddenly objective measures disappear and they are adrift in a world of subjectivity. They struggle to learn what they need to do to advance. They rarely if ever know where they stand. They find themselves at the mercy of bosses who are ill-equipped to offer meaningful feedback. The clear connection between hard work and success is broken. They see co-workers stalled in careers and don't know why. They fear the same might happen to them. They get a crash course in office politics, favoritism, and capriciousness. Their world is turned upside down. The most competitive ones soon learn that money is the GPA of business, the way to keep score, the bottom line. This transforms them. Some get greedy. Others get rich. Many feel conflicted and confused in this new reality.
THE PERFECT PAY PLAN
Which brings us around to the basic question -- Can a Contemporary Pay Program Motivate Millennials? The answer is decidedly, yes. And it doesn't need to be any different from what a well-designed pay program would be for any employee. We all crave clarity and predictability in our surroundings. And that is precisely what a well-designed pay program does. It clarifies:
- What the organization values
- Why we receive a base salary and what we must do to increase it
- What specific outcomes are most important and what we will earn when we produce them
- What the career path is and how to advance
Such a program can provide young people the meritocracy that they crave. It can break the cycle of entitlement that infects the workplace and undermines performance. It can stimulate young people and inspire them to produce their best. It can restore their faith that people more experienced than them understand what they want and have a plan to achieve it. It can make everyone proud to play a role in the success of the business, the success of the economy, the success of the nation.
Remember, Millennials have grown up in a very empirical world where almost everything is instantly retrievable and known. The Internet has seen to that. This makes them more immediate, more fact-based, more pragmatic than we ever were. So if we can provide them with a pay program that makes firm connections between what they need to do and what they will get when they do it, I believe they will move mountains.