Participation Trophies at Work

Found this post while cleaning up my drafts and decided to publish it. I wrote this almost two years ago, yet didn’t need to change a thing.  

I have yet to meet a millennial that enjoys being called a millennial. I often hear from my fellow generation that they are often called out in meetings for probably being too young to understand a reference, or too young to remember such and such event or some other ridiculous comment. When there’s only one or two young folks in the meeting room out of twenty, this can be very uncomfortable and slightly embarrassing. We are often talked to like we are responsible for an entire generation of people, for example “your generation is lazy because you all received participation ribbons.” or “you have never lived without technology and that’s ruining you all.” I usually listen with a nice warming smile, but I’m screaming at you in my head. I don’t want to take responsibility for how my generation turned out (mostly because your generation raised us)!

I don’t understand the uproar over the participation ribbon phenomenon because we didn’t give them to ourselves. This particular topic is one that will send any boomer or gen xer into an uproar even though it can be linked directly back to them. Going back to the time we were all running around a soccer field as tots to now. Why up until now? Because they are still handing out participation ribbons. That problem employee that you wish had a better attitude, you aren’t correcting it and you’re still signing a paycheck for that person every week. That entitled employee that thinks he knows everything isn’t being counseled by you because you don’t feel like dealing with him, but you’ll sign his paycheck every week. That employee that’s late every single day isn’t getting written up because you don’t have the time to sit down with her, but you still sign her paycheck every week. That employee who is only grasping half of her job isn’t receiving any further training because you can’t deal with her millennial attitude, but you can still sign her paycheck every week.

We don’t live in a perfect world so the stereotypes will always exist. The next generation to enter the workforce will endure their hazing that every previous generation has endured in years before them. They will listen to the snarky comments and smile when being called out for being to young (or incompetent) to understand what every one is talking about. We can’t get rid of the stereotypes overnight, but what we can do is try to fix the problem instead of contribute to it. If you don’t like what your “millennials” are doing, then talk to them about it. Stop going to seminars (led by people who are not millennials) about how to work with millennials and how to talk to them and just treat them like human beings. I can tell you right now how to talk to millennials:

Step 1) Find a millennial

Step 2) Open mouth

Step 3) Say words

Bam! Easy enough? And you saved a couple hundred bucks. We are not super secret, hard to understand human beings. We are employees who come to work just like you do and need guidance and feedback sometimes. We are the future of your organization and we will be responsible for the generations after us, just like you should feel responsible for us. We will carry on the legacy of our chosen fields and the organizations that we work for. You will one day pass the torch on to our generation and we hope you can do so with words of wisdom and encouragement instead of crappy remarks about how we conduct ourselves. We aren’t all the same and we know that everyone in your generation isn’t the same.

Here’s what I really want to know: What are you doing at work to address your “millennial problems?” Are you still complaining about participation trophies, but letting your workforce go rewarded for poor performance?

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Pamper your millennials

So you want to retain the best and the brightest millennial talent? How can you do that? Pamper them, duh! Throw things like stacks of money, bring your pet to work, unlimited snacks, nap rooms, and tequila shots at them. They will want to work for you and stay there forever!!!

drinking at work

Now that I have your attention lets address some misconceptions. You don’t have to do a bunch of flashy things to get your millennials to like you. It can be much simpler than that.

I was recently in a planning meeting for an upcoming event in our area and the committee was making a list of key young professionals to invite. This is an event where top employers will have access to who we invite and plenty of networking time to take advantage of. Someone made the comment “how do we make sure that other companies don’t recruit our good millennials” Without skipping a beat I said “we don’t have anything to worry about if we are taking care of them.” The response to that comment was “throw a bunch of money at them,” accompanied by an unsettling wink.

Here’s my millennial + HR perspective on this solution. No. Millennials don’t need more money, well most of us could use more money, but that’s not solving our problems. For example, say you have a millennial that has a very specific career path carved out for herself and wants to sit down with you and talk about how to execute the appropriate steps for said career path. Throwing money at her will not solve that problem. What if you have a millennial who wants to have an opportunity to attend training that will help him in his field, but he’s not sure you will pay for it. What happens when a recruiter calls the young lady and happens to hit her pain point by promising to sit down and negotiate the desired career path and steps to support it? What happens when you have a recruiter call the young man and guarantee that he is going to get a set training budget to use every year for conferences like the one he wants to attend. They are going to add some cash to their current salaries, but they are fixing current pain points for your young professionals. This can be true of anyone at your company, not just the young folks.

obiwanmillennials
Is it because you aren’t giving any constructive criticism or because Millennials are terrible people? 

Those millennials aren’t taking those phone calls because they are ungrateful, they are taking those phone calls because you’ve ignored their requests to solve these issues internally. Money won’t guarantee a young professional will stay at your organization anymore than any other one thing will. I’m sorry there isn’t a one size fits all answer like you may have been led to believe. Get to know your workforce, not pamper them. Find out what they need, find out what motivates them, listen, give them honest feedback. Don’t treat them any different than you treat the other generations. At the end of the day every generation needs to get their work done-no excuses! Are you treating your millennials different than your other generations?

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Conversations about Millennials are around every corner, even after all these years that we’ve been in the workforce. Want to continue the conversation? Check out a couple of upcoming events in the Huntsville area: 

Rocket City YP Summit

Night of the Living Millennials