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VOL. 127 | NO. 221 | Monday, November 12, 2012

Chris Crouch

Millennials, Merit and Malarkey

By Chris Crouch

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If you’re looking for answers on how to handle millennials, you will not find them in this article. Experts can’t even agree on exactly who to include in this category of young employees now entering the workforce. They generally seem to think of millennials as those born somewhere between the early 1980s and around 2000.

The main message of this article is if you currently manage people, don’t ignore the sometimes crazy-sounding ideas of the millennials. Members of every generation look at members of subsequent generations and think, “Why aren’t these people normal like me?” You can bet that a lot of the 23-Skidoo folks observed the Greatest Generation folks and thought, “These whippersnappers are nuts!”

I think when we sort through it all, we will find that some of the millennials’ ideas have merit and some are malarkey (I’ve been looking for a way to use that recently revived 23 skidoo-era word since the Biden/Ryan debate).

Let’s focus on one thing that several people think is important to millennials. Millennials prefer to base the requirement to be physically present in the official workplace (such as their office or cube) on their productivity rather than just the passage of time on a clock.

That may sound like malarkey to managers who paid their dues for years, somehow got the kids off to school, fought rush-hour traffic, made it to work at the appointed time, stuck it out for the required number of hours, and then reversed the process at the end of the workday. Wait a minute, when you put it that way; I’m not sure who is crazy.

As one person put it, “These young people are more concerned about life balance than their careers.” I’ll let you decide if that is a good idea or not. Here’s what I can tell you about the working-hours issue. The desire to reduce working hours is not a new idea. And here’s the big surprise, the last time it came up in a big way, it was an employer’s idea, not an employee. And it worked quite well.

In the 1930s, W.K. Kellogg (yep, the Corn Flakes guy) decided that it was better for his employees to work six, rather than eight, hours a day. As it turned out, accidents plummeted 41 percent, days lost due to accidents improved 51 percent, morale increased, and unit cost of production was lowered enough to pay as much for six hours as they formerly paid for eight hours. It, in fact, worked well at Kellogg for two decades. The idea was eventually reversed by an increasingly work-obsessed nation in the booming post WWII economy. People began thinking of and calling six-hour workday supporters lazy. Even unions fought for a return to the eight-hour day.

I’m not sure what the right answers will turn out to be for your business. But I’m sure you should listen carefully to the ideas of all your employees, including the millennials, and attempt to sort the meritorious ideas from the malarkey.

Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.

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