top of page

What’s the Matter With Kids Today? (4 tips to get more from your young employee)

A manager was complaining to me that her young employees were all lazy, entitled and incompetent, and she feared for our future as a result. She’s a Gen X, so I told her, “You know the movie Slacker was written to describe Generation X, right?” To which she replied, “No way! We were nothing like that!”

The truth is, every generation has had complaints and doomsday predictions about the generation that came in after them. The song “What’s the Matter With Kids Today” from Bye Bye Birdie was about how much the previous generation feared what would happen when the Boomers (with their loud music and long hair) took over our world. Turns out we’ve not only lived, but we’ve grown and thrived through each of these generational transitions, including the current transition from Millennials to Gen Z.

We have beautiful, hazy memories of our youth. And we tend to have much clearer pictures of our victories than our failures from those times. If you don’t believe me, get together with some of your old friends from college to exchange stories, and I guarantee they’ll remember many things that you wanted to forget about yourself!

But just because I can normalize this phenomenon, that doesn’t make it any easier, does it? So here are a few tips I’ve seen work in those companies doing the best jobs of engaging, motivating and retaining young employees:

  1. Facilitate learning and growth. Just like when you were young, young people are thirsty to learn and grow. But many of our best learning experiences have been our mistakes, so provide an environment where they can safely make mistakes and learn. Any inexperienced employee will need a bit more supervision and direction in the beginning, so use this opportunity to build them the way you want them! And don't get angry if they don't already know it all.

  2. Tell them what you want – exactly.The younger generations were raised in an environment where advancement was based on meeting established standards. Historically the workplace has been vaguer than this. Provide clear expectations of what and how long it takes to advance. If necessary or possible, create titles or recognition programs to officially acknowledge achievement and learning. DO NOT do a “bait and switch” where you tell them what you expect, and then deny them a promotion for not exceeding your expectations. Be honest about what you actually expect and they’ll do their best to make you happy.

  3. Recognize good behavior! This is a generation raised on recognition in the classroom and on social media. They crave the approval and recognition of their managers, so you can use this to your advantage. Give specific praise frequently, and they will be much more open to constructive criticism. If you don’t have time for lots of praise, you can even implement peer-to-peer or group recognition programs to encourage more positive feedback in the office.

  4. Have fun! These are generations built on work-life integration more than work-life balance. They enjoy close friendships at work and frequently deal with work after hours online. The more they feel like they’re part of a happy, supportive community, the more they are willing to do whatever is necessary to make the team successful. A little fun at the office can go a long way toward improving productivity and reducing sick leave in your organization. If they feel like your company is a happy second home, they'll treat you with the commitment and support of a loving family member.

bottom of page