Entitled? Try Empowered: Why Millennials Work the Way They Do

And 4 things to consider if you want to retain them

What's the matter with "kids" today … at work? Across our great nation, grumpy middle managers, executives and owners alike are wondering who these fresh-faced, impatient and entitled millennials think they are with all their outsized demands.

I'm here to tell you.

Scott Hess

At the intersection of evolving generational values and the empowering nature of new technologies resides a new type of worker, one for whom a j-o-b is supposed to be (gasp) f-u-n. It's supposed to mean something more than just a paycheck.

Perhaps today's millennial salarymen and women are the figurative sons and daughters of Office Space's infamous Peter Gibbons, who put it thusly: "Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements."

Gen X peers, let us not forget: Peter Gibbons is one of us. He said out loud what we were all thinking in the late 1980s, and now, the millennial workplace invasion seems to have adopted his clear-eyed vision as their workaday ethos. Should we really be mad at them? As we seek to recruit, motivate, manage and retain young workers, here are a few things we might want to accept, or even embrace.

It's all about work-life integration

Mad that your twenty-something staffer doesn't alt-tab away from Facebook when you slither up behind her? OK. But how do you feel when she answers your email in seconds at 10 p.m. on a Wednesday? Unlike Gen X icon Allen Iverson, for whom "practice" and "the game" famously were separate, millennials see work and life as an integrated whole, reflective of an ongoing journey to find meaning and money, together. Bring on the nap rooms and the mindfulness classes.

And don't tell me about how "we" didn't get to mix business with pleasure. Fact is we mostly couldn't. If we were lucky enough to have a computer, we didn't have email yet. And if we had a phone on our desk, it didn't dial long distance unless we punched in a code. Many of us even had to log our personal calls. Dude …

Let's face it, when we went to work, we were stuck there. Our desks were where we sat, and we worked (or at least did a good job faking it). If we wanted an illicit break, we smoked, God help us.

Why won't our young colleagues sit still? Because they have more computer firepower in their front jeans pocket than we did in our entire server closet. Because they have more connectivity in the coffee shop next door than we did in the executive video-conference suite upstairs. Let 'em roam.

Parents are on board

Think millennials spend way too much time thinking about and talking about their parents? Shouldn't they just grow up? You're missing the point. At our agency, as we began to plan for another rousing edition of "Bring Your Kids to Work" day, one millennial employee joked, "Oh, you mean 'The Parade of the Bosses' Kids?'"

What did they want instead? "Parents' Day!" Before you roll your eyes and launch into a rant about how these young employees need to learn to stand on their own two feet while pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, consider this: We tried it. And it was awesome.

More than 100 moms and dads (and grandparents!) joined us in our office the first year, and more than 150 showed up for the second. Coming to Chicago from as far away as New York and San Francisco, these engaged "olds" (many of whom were, sadly, about my age) joined their kids for a half-day program comprising media agency basics, a parenting panel, a job shadowing segment and one of the most rip-roaring happy hours in agency history. Want to engage and retain your millennial employees? Maybe start by wooing their parents.

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