Working with millennials

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REY SALAZAR

The middle-child generation. A generation of lazy slackers. A bunch of 20-somethings who couldn’t be bothered.

“MILLENNIALS,” am I right? The Internet is rife with advice on how to deal with this mercurial bunch— and it seems that you have to be an ego-coddling, emotionally telepathic genius to get them to perform.

But no, I’m not right at all. It may surprise you to know that these characterizations aren’t directed towards today’s generational punching bag, millennials, but rather is a snippet of a commentary describing Gen X in the early 1990s.

Dig deeper and you will see older generations consistently and emphatically belittling their younger counterparts since the beginning of recorded history. Socrates in the 4th century stated that “the children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect their elders, and love talking.” Sound familiar?


While generational angst has been more or less the norm since the beginning of time, it is peculiar how companies are failing to adequately integrate millennials into their workforce.

Change is here
According to a 2015 study by Red Brick Research, only27 percent of managers believe that their young employees are team players and an eye-popping 80 percent of hiring managers claim that their millennial employees display narcissistic tendencies. Yes, we now live in a world where the typical company culture paints an entire generation as narcissists who don’t work well with others.

At the same time, there is no stopping demographics and the demand for companies to change will only get larger. PwC estimates half of the global workforce will be coming from this generation by 2020. For Philippine firms, we’re already there. As early as October 2015, the government classifies 47 percent of the workforce as millennials.

Whether companies accept it or not, the statistics are clear—adapt or die.

Bean bags are (not) the answer
The overall response of the business community to the so-called “Millennial Challenge” has been tepid at best—with companies opting for band-aid solutions rather than a much-needed organizational shift to fit to its changing workforce.

A cursory scan of today’s office will see it littered with the accessories of a stereotypical millennial environment— ping pong tables, bean bags, bespoke company apps, fun rooms, etc. but more often than not, these companies simply miss the mark.

The things that matter most are still the same. The policies they enforce, the benefits they provide, and how they perform their assessments are still suited to an older generation that is now a shrinking minority.

Two sides of the same coin
It is ironic that some of the complaints that people have against millennials are the same qualities that can be their strengths when they are fully engaged in their work.

At our company, our increasingly large millennial group demanded greater participation. Instead of shrugging them off as having an entitled me-me-me attitude, we created a comprehensive survey for them to rate the company on their specific pain points. Their critical eye and unwavering need to improve on the status quo provided us the data we needed to dramatically enhance our employee experience. We won best culture in Asia from a prestigious industry group as a result.

At one point, our millennials got tired of the annual performance review process. Too slow and too hard to do, they said. Instead of labelling them as impatient and lazy, we listened and discovered that it had a disproportionately high administrative burden and gave little feedback for the employees to act upon. We are now looking at replacing it wholesale with a system that provides concise, timely, and actionable performance feedback which will benefit not just millennials but the entire company.

Granted, neither of these initiatives, taken singly, will be able to create the perfect millennial workplace. But what it does show is what the millennial generation is capable of, if only we are able to get over our biases and get them involved.

Rey Salazar is the chief of staff of TaskUs, a customer experience startup that powers some of the world’s most recognized apps and counts 13 unicorns as its clients (companies with a $1 billion valuation). There he leads strategic initiatives and heads the Project Management and Brand & Marketing teams. A former corporate and investment banker for Citibank, he holds a master of arts degree in management from Harvard University where he was class marshal. He also graduated magna cum laude from the University of the Philippines with a degree in molecular biology and biotechnology.

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