Tapping the Talents of Millennials

We zero in on what this much-discussed generation has to offer in the veterinary practice.
Carolyn C. Shadle, PhD, and John L. Meyer, PhD
Published: February 19, 2018
When Anna Palin was hired as receptionist at Capital Veterinary Clinic (not a real clinic), she was misunderstood, perhaps because the older staff recognized that she had abilities different from their own. Her colleagues noticed, for instance, that Palin could answer very difficult questions without looking up from her computer. She was a millennial, and she was used to finding information quickly from a quick Google search, which set her apart from some of her older coworkers. But there’s much more to millennials than just being technologically savvy.

What Is a Millennial, Anyway?
Dates vary, but millennials usually are defined as those born between 1982 and 2008 — coming of age around the millennial year. They are sometimes referred to as Generation Y or Generation Me. According to Jean M. Twenge, PhD, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University who has conducted copious research on generational characteristics, generational differences between millennials and their predecessors are centered around their worldview, with millennials focusing more on the self and less on social rules — thus the term Generation Me.1

What Makes Millennials Different?
To understand the millennial worldview, one must appreciate the events that have contributed to it. Joan Nieman, owner of Essential Elements, a business consulting firm for pet care professionals, points out that every generation is impacted by events surrounding its formative years. The millennial generation experienced the 9/11 attacks, the war on terror, corporate malfeasance (think Enron, Goldman Sachs and BP Deepwater Horizon), the Great Recession, and scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church and heroes like Tiger Woods.

Before we use a broad brush to describe, label and categorize any age group, however, we should be cautioned about the danger of hasty generalizations. Individually, millennials may have been affected differently by these same events.

That said, some commonalities are worth noting. Although some see a dark side to millennials, observing seemingly negative characteristics, others view those same characteristics, among others, as offering a bright positive to the workplace equation.

On the Dark Side
Those critical of millennials are likely to make the following types of comments.

Millennials don’t want to work hard. Referring to high school seniors in the 2000s, Dr. Twenge reported, “Nearly 40 percent of millennials said they didn’t want to work that hard (an opinion embraced by only 25 percent of boomers), and fewer than half agreed that they would definitely be willing to work overtime to do a good job.”2

Millennials want to stay home and play video games all day instead of working. Erik Hurst, a macroeconomist and millennial expert at the University of Chicago, has looked at the research and raises this question: “Are young men playing video games because they are not working, or are they not working because they are playing video games?”3 Hurst thinks the latter may be the case — why work when you can live at home and play video games?

Millennials are slackers who lack focus. Bruce Tulgan, founder of the management training consultancy RainmakerThinking, said, “This will be the most high-maintenance workforce in history.”4 He concurs with those who say that if millennials are not supervised constantly, they become distracted and skip off the job. For her part, Nieman said she believes managing today’s workforce presents a new set of challenges. “To some of us, millennials are an alien species … we don’t understand how to deal with their ‘slacker’ attitude,” she said. “This generation grew up with lots of parental hand-holding and adult over-supervision. They are not accustomed to doing things entirely on their own.”5,6

Millennials prematurely expect promotions and want rewards for every little thing. A Harris Interactive survey for CareerBuilder indicated that 60 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds surveyed believe they should be promoted within two to three years.7 Ron Alsop, the author of “The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace,” explained it this way: “The millennials were brought up with an ‘everyone’s a winner’ mentality. Their parents were told to boost their children’s self-esteem. Hence, their offspring seek acceptance and continual ‘pats on the back.’”8

Millennials feel entitled. The term “entitled” is often ascribed to millennials — entitled to move up quickly in their job, even “entitled” to the job itself. As one young graduate wrote, “You are not even guaranteed a job after going to college! And once we graduate, we are in debt up to our ears! What do you mean I’m not guaranteed a job?”2

Millennials constantly criticize and question authority. Having lived through numerous high-profile scandals and betrayals, like that of Bernard Madoff, many millennials are unlikely to take advice from an authority figure without question. Julie Reck, DVM, owner of Veterinary Medical Center of Fort Mill in South Carolina, and member of the Veterinarian’s Money Digest® Editorial Advisory Board, has noticed that her millennial teammates are inclined to challenge a change in policy and require the reason to be clearly articulated. Unlike earlier generations of children who were taught to be “seen but not heard,” members of the millennial generation were taught to speak their minds.

Millennials are undependable. Human resources specialist Frances (Frankie) Williams discovered a problem at her New Jersey practice during the summertime when many millennials called in sick to join their friends at the beach. “They want a life,” she said, so she had to institute a summer bonus plan to ensure coverage all season.

Millennials don’t listen. Millennials are likely to be too busy to converse with coworkers, because they are checking their smartphones an estimated 43 times a day, according to Christine Shupe, executive director of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association.9 Management consultant Simon Sinek agrees that some millennials are so addicted to their smartphones that they can’t fully participate in meetings,10 leading to phones being forbidden in some workplaces.

Millennials don’t dress professionally. Most millennials (60 percent) don’t believe that how they dress is indicative of performance.5 This group is not concerned with social rules. They are likely to show up wearing flip-flops, with nose rings and visible tattoos. Millennials might find it difficult to conform to required standards of dress, such as a hospital uniform.

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