Frustration trumps action: To manage young employees, leaders need to learn, understand and adapt

By the year 2020, approximately 50 percent of our workforce will be comprised of millennials.

As conversations about the emerging workforce continue, frustration still outweighs action. That’s what I’m seeing, and if this tendency is not showing consequences yet, it may in the future.

Look at it this way: we know the emerging workforce is not enamored with the baby boomer cultures of today’s organizations. Yet only 25 percent of U.S. organizations are actively and strategically taking steps to reinvent their cultures.

On a consistent basis, many of us are still hearing rumblings of dissatisfaction about “these young people today.” And yet, it seems the dissatisfaction is not supported by a keen understanding of the dynamics related to generational differences or, in some cases, the realities. Many people, especially baby boomers and the older Gen Xers, are frustrated, though not really doing their homework to understand the basis of their frustration.

Recently, I talked with a group of about 50 HR and operations leaders of a global company, sharing insights related to the emerging workforce and the changing world of work. Much of what I shared was new information for them…or, at the very least, a new way of thinking. Mindsets were changed in the course of two hours. A common comment was, “I have never thought about it this way.” The value of education and awareness.

In the process of gaining a better understanding of the dynamics, the group raised the issues they are struggling with (and this list will not be new for some of you). Let’s use these as some case study situations, because each has a back story.

  1. “I have an individual who leaves work before 5 p.m. (And oh, by the way, this person comes in at 6 a.m. I just don’t want anyone from another department frowning because my people leave before five).”
  2. “They are not loyal long term. I have a high performer who just left. The bottom line from my perspective is that they’re only loyal until they’re not loyal anymore…until something better comes along.”
  3. “I have a new employee in marketing, and I walked by to see her on Facebook in the middle of the day. I mishandled it! She straightened me out later about what was going on.”

With each of these situations, here is what happened:

  1. AFTER this particular presentation, the leader of this individual and the individual who arrives at 6 a.m. and leaves (or wants to leave) at 4:30 p.m. had a conversation. The employee (a high performer) had been frustrated. The leader’s issue was “Well, what would your people say?” She said, “They know what time I’m here, and they know how to reach me on my cell if they need anything.” They talked about this and agreed to give it a try.
  2. This high performer did, in fact, leave. For several months prior to her departure, a peer of the employee’s leader warned her leader numerous times, “You need to pay attention to what your employee is trying to tell you, or you’re going to lose her.” She didn’t, and the high performer left.
  3. The leader of this new employee reprimanded her for being on Facebook during the middle of the day. In the moment, the employee basically responded with a sense of obedience. Later, she came around to her boss and told him, “I was stuck on a system issue related to compatibility. I was reaching out to my techie group of friends on our Facebook page for a workaround. That is how we communicate.” Oh.

These examples are just a few of the many that leaders within organizations are grappling with. The key for every organization and every leader is to be intentional: learn, understand and adapt.

Aleta Norris is a co-founding partner of Living As A Leader, a Brookfield-based leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. You may send her your ‘Leading Generation Y’ question to To read all “Leading Generation Y” columns, visit the knowledge portal at

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