Women leaders can be ideal coaches for Millennial employees who aspire to leadership roles but fewer and fewer Millennials are expressing interest in a leadership career. Most Millennials (also called “Generation Y”, composed of people born between 1980 -1995) say they’re not interested in management positions. Female leaders at all levels consistently report difficulties engaging Generation Y in traditional organizational structures and jobs. Companies are losing many existing Millennial leaders to start-ups, self-employment and the gig economy.
Generational Differences Regarding Leadership Career Ambitions
The Millennial response to the potential of a leadership role is dramatically different from past generations. Traditionalists (also known as the Silent Generation, people born before 1946) generally embraced what was available in the world of work. Career counseling was rare. The Silent Generation generally followed their parents’ guidance and did what was required to earn their paycheck, even if they hated their jobs. Leadership positions were highly coveted, partly because they were related to pay increases and enhanced status and respect.
Baby Boomers were born between 1946 – 1964 during the period of expansion after World War II. Even though Baby Boomers were sometimes cynical about climbing the corporate ladder, they understood organizational hierarchies. After experiencing being free-spirited hippies and protesting the Vietnam War, most Baby Boomers became goal-oriented and optimistic. Oriented toward social causes and making a better life for their families, they expected to be competitive and to work hard to pay their dues so they could earn promotions, including leadership positions, even if they intensely disliked their jobs. Like most generations, Baby Boomers became more conservative and more concerned with economic stability as they grew older.
Generation X (born between 1964-1979) tends to be independent, capable and flexible. They were labeled “latchkey children” because, since both parents usually worked, Gen Xers went home alone after school, locked the door, did their homework and entertained themselves. Their cynicism about corporate America and other systems, including government, increased over time, especially when their hard-working parents struggled to make ends meet during the Great Recession and their parents’ 401Ks dramatically lost value. Although this made Generation X question their parents’ willingness to sacrifice themselves for their jobs until retirement and to engage in workaholism, Gen Xers generally followed the American path of working hard to support their families. Most corporate Gen Xers welcomed the potential of gaining a leadership position.
As with every new generation, Millennials, now between the ages of 24-39, question many of the values of their parents. Generation Y came of age during challenging economic times. Today, even though inflation is low, costs of education, health care insurance and real estate are soaring. About 25% of Millennials are still accepting financial assistance from their parents and many are still living at home. Millennials are flexing their political muscles. Most are determined to have a different work life than their Baby Boomer and Generation X parents.
Why Don’t Millennials Want Leadership Positions?
Generation Y is a technologically oriented, purpose-focused generation. The majority of Millennials search for work they define as meaningful, instead of merely a vehicle for receiving a paycheck. When Millennials choose to work for a corporation, they want the company to build sustainability by giving back to the communities that support it. More than any other major workforce generation so far, Millennials are concerned about social inequality, income disparity and climate change. Generation Z (born 1995 – 2009), now 25% of the world’s population and a growing percentage of the workforce, will also bring deep concerns about these issues into their work lives. I address that in a different article.
Since Millennials are motivated by different drivers than previous generations, it’s easy to comprehend why traditional leadership positions are not attracting them. If we sincerely want to attract and retain Generation Y in leadership positions, it’s essential that we ask: What do Millennials require from upper management in order to make a whole-hearted commitment to a leadership career? What do they truly want to gain from their work lives?
Millennial Core Career Requirements
I compiled the summary below after reviewing my notes from coaching Millennial employees and leaders for decades and reviewing relevant literature, including the 2016 Gallup report, “How Millennials Want to Work and Live.”
Every one of the above “Millennial Core Career Requirements” can be met through a leadership position with an ethical company if upper management sincerely offers appropriate opportunities and supports the developing leader. Companies that don’t pay attention to what I’m saying are losing potential and existing Millennial leaders in frightening numbers.
Companies Face a Serious Gap in Leadership
For years, company leaders have expressed fears about the emergence of an hourglass organization. There are plenty of employees in lower positions and upper management. The problem is that the critical junction between the two layers (the middle of the hourglass), which is composed of personnel aspiring to leadership positions, is anemic. This middle tier is essential to ensure a steady passage from lower to upper employment levels so there is never a gap in competent, well-trained leadership.
Baby Boomers are now only a minor percentage of workers. These 55-73 year-old employees and leaders are retiring in droves. When they retire, they usually leave a significant gap in experience and expertise that leaders at many organizations are facing difficulty replacing. Boards of Directors at many companies tried to save payroll costs by offering Baby Boomers early retirement and generous severance packages. They now often regret their decision because Millennials aren’t interested in traditional leadership positions, aren’t trained for leadership, have different work habits than Baby Boomers and are leaving companies in droves to become self-employed, work in start-ups or take advantage of the gig economy.
Millennials are the largest group of workers today (over one-third). Even more important, Generation Y will comprise 40% of the workforce by 2020. Generation X was never a large population and cannot fill the growing leadership gap I’ve described.
It’s imperative to understand the value of the Millennial mindset. Companies that have embraced Generation Y’s unique skills, including their comfort with technology and their motivations for positive change, are achieving dramatic gains in innovations, profits and productivity.
Other articles in this series present proven ways to meet the challenges I’ve outlined. Every solution responds to the above list of “Millennial Core Career Requirements” (what Generation Y wants in order to commit to a leadership position).
Discover Proven Ways to Meet Your Millennial Leadership Challenges
During Women’s Leadership Coaching sessions, I provide proven ways to help you attract the best and brightest Millennials to your leadership team and retain them. I also share well-tested strategies and materials that guarantee you’ll be able to coach your Millennial leaders and other employees to success.
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© 2019 Doris Helge, Ph.D. as interviewed on “The Today Show,” CNN and NPR. Certified Master Leadership and Executive Coach Doris Helge is author of bestselling books, including “Joy on the Job,” Doris has helped hundreds of leaders like you meet every challenge you’re facing. Click here to view examples of solutions to women’s leadership dilemmas and sign up for your complimentary Leadership Coaching Consultation.