Recently, I met someone who works in management for a mid-sized corporation in Minnesota. Her company has hired several Millennials to work in their on-call help desk service. But the company discovered that whenever the supervisor wasn’t in the room, the majority of their young staff would shirk their work and instead jump on Facebook or text their friends. The phone lines would light up, but if no boss was around, the kids ignored the calls.
Due to this, part of this woman’s job is now to periodically pop in on the Millennials unannounced, to make sure they are still working. The new strategy has had varying degrees of success—they still catch much of their staff putting off assigned tasks. Understandably, this woman does not have high regard for my generation.
I winced when she told me this. Part of me was embarrassed to be a Millennial, the other part of me found the company’s solution rather distasteful—extra scrutiny given only to one group of people seems kind of discriminatory.
But what is fair?
People are unique—every individual thrives under different forms of management. I applaud this company for being willing to experiment with new styles of oversight. But I also wonder if this added change is really worth it for them. If you have employees who are not doing what they were hired to do, you are within your rights as an employer to fire them.
One of the biggest complaints regarding Millennials is a perception that young people are entitled and expect to be catered to, instead of playing by the same rules everyone else has. We are often referred to as “the ‘me’ generation.” If an employer creates workarounds to make up for Millennials’ lack of effort, hasn’t that employer just contributed to the very problem that bothers them? How will those young workers ever understand “the real world” if the real world doesn’t ever provide consequences? And further—how are good, hard working Millennials going to stand out if society keeps catering to the lazy ones? Their opportunity to look good is being diminished—if no one is at risk for losing their job, then doing well isn’t really an impressive feat.
I don’t find social media or personal phone usage during work to be a wrong thing in and of itself. It really depends on the job and the rules of your company. In today’s schedule-juggling, communication-driven world, it is very hard to expect employees not to remain in contact with family, friends, or outside obligations during their day. Often, their balance of personal and work messages signify that your employee is a capable multi-tasker. When I’m at my work desk, I usually have a tab open of my personal email account. And I do reply to texts between assorted tasks throughout my day. The problem is when these things, or anything else, cause employees to ignore their assigned tasks.
Millennials can bring many wonderful things to your workplace. But we are not so special that you need to add work on your other employees to make up for any problems we might create. Treat your Millennials like you treat everyone else: communicate your expectations; give them fair warning; and, if you have to, terminate them.
Emily Enger is a Millennial farm kid turned farm journalist. She also works in marketing, serving as communications director for a nonprofit that covers nine rural counties in northern Minnesota. These opinions are her own and should not take the place of legal or professional advice. To comment or pitch future topics, email her at For reprint permission, email editor Joan Kark-Wren at