It’s become fashionable to bash millennials, for expecting to be gainfully employed after borrowing thousands of pounds for a university education, for daring to hope to enjoy their jobs, and for demanding better employee benefits.
A theatre in Vauxhall made the headlines in July for a job advert targeted at millennials that asked: "Are you just not taught anything about existing in the real world?"
The ad stated that "it shouldn’t be this hard... to find a grafter, who can commit." It added: "We have not been impressed so far."
Given this central London job came with a salary of £15,000 - £20,000 per annum, it’s perhaps not hard to imagine why the employer was unimpressed.
The under 35s don’t have an attitude problem. And name calling - 'entitled' being the most common - is futile. Employers are simply failing to adapt to the needs of a new type of worker.
We, as employers, are dealing with a more confident, and individualistic employee with a completely different set of skills. These are digital natives. Many speak code, still more inhabit a variety of social media platforms.
I also know many millennials who would be the first to own up to an addiction to - or at least an unhealthy reliance on - their smartphones, a thirst for instant gratification, and a concern for their social skills.
Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek's interview on millennials in the workplace - which went viral - is well worth a watch. Although he makes sweeping generalisations, he puts forward a compelling argument that millennials are quitters because they are smartphone addicts who can’t cope with the rigours of career building, with so few instant rewards.
But, Sinek argues, it’s up to employers to work extra hard and to figure out how best to support this generation, and pick up the slack from the failings of society and their parents.
He says: "We’re taking this amazing group of young and fantastic kids who were just dealt a bad hand - it’s no fault of their own - and... we are putting them in corporate environments that aren’t helping them build their confidence, that aren’t helping them learn the skills of cooperation, that aren’t helping them overcome the challenges of a digital world and finding more balance."
Sinek adds: "That isn’t helping them overcome the need to have instant gratification and teach them the joys and impact and the fulfilment you get from working hard on something for a long time that cannot be done in a month or even in a year."
When any employee feels their skills are not being utilised, or that they are not making a noticeable or real impact, you get resistance.
This is not to be mistaken for arrogance, it's ambition.
The positive for the start-up community is that it’s far easier for employees of small businesses to shine. We all know that it’s very hard to hide in a small business. We have less work to do to make each and every employee feel valued than a corporate giant.
How to work with, not against, millennials
Start by following Sinek’s suggestion and look at ways to encourage real human interaction, because it leads to innovation. You can do this by implementing no smartphone rules in meeting rooms or breakout areas, and lead by example.
Always give praise where it’s due, whether that’s a public mention in a team meeting, or a personal email to the employee. If you don’t have time to do this yourself, buddy up new recruits with seasoned employees, and encourage mentoring relationships.
Get to know your employees and find out if any have hidden talents that could benefit the business. Perhaps the person you hired to do sales is a talented videographer, or perhaps your office manager earns a second income by Instagramming their poodle. Digital "hobbies" are often highly transferable skills. Ideally you’d tease this information out at interview stage so you can create a suitable role.
Studies suggest millennials are collaborative and prefer to work as part of a team. They also crave flexibility - be that choosing their hours or working remotely. A 2015 report by IBM’s Institute for Business Value entitled Myths, exaggerations and uncomfortable truths: The real story behind millennials in the workplace is an enlightening read.
The key to great leadership is to adapt to the needs of your whole workforce, across all age groups, and certainly not to write off an entire demographic. Your business will reap the rewards of a more engaged team.