As part of my job, I regularly work with people who own and run their own businesses. Many of these people are what you might call "thought leaders," highly respected in their fields. They're movers and shakers. And starting a few years ago, they all started saying the same thing:
We're firing our millennial employees.
This troubled me. Why were they firing them? And why did they feel so strongly about the firings that they felt the need to tell me about them? I asked nearly a dozen experts, influencers and business owners why they thought millennials sometimes struggled in the workplace, and why they were getting fired.
As I investigated, trends began to emerge.
What I learned didn't change my positive opinions about my generation -- but it did give me insight into why business leaders sometimes complain. Here's what my contacts said about millennials, and why they get fired.
1. Lack of vision
Josh Steimle, CEO of MWI, told me that in his opinion, lack of vision was the biggest reason why millennial employees sometimes flare out. "A lack of empathy is hurting many millennials in the workplace, because they're not understanding the circumstances of their employment from the employer's point of view," he says.
Millennials sometimes struggle to appreciate the bigger picture and their role in it. This can hurt their workplace performance.
Being able to think like your boss -- to see the big picture -- is vital in the workplace. If you think of yourself as nothing more than a cog in a machine, you won't exactly be irreplaceable when it comes time for layoffs.
One common complaint about millennials is that phones and computers preempted their need to learn face-to-face communication skills. They're great at Snapchat, the story goes, but they struggle to get their point across any other way. While I don't necessarily buy into this theory, it did come up a lot in my conversations with experts.
"Communication is vital in any relationship," Tayeb Malik, the founder and CEO of Glydr told me, "not least that between an employee and boss. Even in today's tech-heavy workplace, the most important communication is still done face-to-face."
Meetings, calls, interviews and sales pitches all require sharp communication and interpersonal skills. Consistently look helpless in these settings, and your boss might wonder how much value you bring to the company.
3. Anxiety or depression
Let's get real for a minute. Depression and anxiety are serious issues that affect millennials more than any previous generation. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as many as 30 percent of college-age students have experienced symptoms of depression, and it's not like those symptoms go away once they hit the job market.
These chemical imbalances can make it difficult just to get out of bed in the morning -- let alone flourish in a stressful or competitive work environment. A boss who was quick to jump to conclusions could easily assume an employee with depression was lazy or disinterested.
Fortunately, many employers now offer support to workers with depression or anxiety. As workplaces adapt, hopefully this will become less of an issue, but for now it's safe to say that suffering from mental health disorders makes it difficult to hold down a job.
4. Lack of confidence
"Leaders are looking for people with four things," John Eades, CEO of LearnLoft, told me. "Confidence, drive, selflessness and character." Without confidence, the other three characteristics are difficult to develop.
Self-esteem is vital in the workplace. You need to feel comfortable speaking up in meetings, presenting ideas to your boss, addressing unfamiliar people and working under stressful conditions.
Millennials, particularly those who had helicopter parents, may be unused to accomplishing things on their own, and therefore suffer from poor self-esteem. Unfortunately, if you don't stand up for yourself in the workplace, nobody else will.
5. The need for independence
Millennials don't like to be micromanaged. We want our bosses to trust our judgment and get out of our hair. Sometimes this even extends to working with a team. Some millennials simply prefer to work independently.
For employers, of course, unwillingness to accept a hands-on management style or work well with a team can be a deal-breaker.
"I have found that forcing a millennial to do something my way, on my schedule, is often a losing proposition," said Brian Evans, CMO of ShipChain. "But, if you give millennials both freedom and ultimate responsibility, you can find a sweet spot that works. It's a lot better than having to constantly hire and fire unhappy employees."
6. No fear of being fired
Millennials treat jobs differently than their predecessors. For past generations, a job was a career -- a vital part of their identity that often lasted until retirement. Millennials don't see it that way.
Most of them plan on changing jobs every three years. If you're leaving anyway, why worry about sucking up to a boss or trying to make everyone happy?
"They either disagree with how the company is being run and believe they deserve to work somewhere else, or they are too much of a 'lone ranger' to work well within a team," Nicolas Cole, founder of Digital Press told me.
No wonder bosses complain.
I realize that I already listed low self-esteem as a key reason millennials get fired, but in true Newtonian fashion, the opposite problem has an equal reaction. Overconfidence came up a lot in my conversations with business leaders -- and yes, they used the "E" word.
"Some millennials act entitled," said John Rampton, founder of Due. "Those that expect all the perks for half the effort are the ones losing their jobs."
Related: 11 Tips for Firing an Employee
8. Inappropriate behavior
This problem is not unique to any demographic, but it is particularly timely. Businesses everywhere are cracking down on inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
Entertainment giants like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Kevin Spacey all recently lost their jobs as a result of sexual misbehavior, but younger millennials are not immune.
As more women enter positions of leadership, pockets of ugly misogyny are being exposed in the business world, and correcting them often means firing employees. Don't be on the wrong side of this sea-change.
9. Lack of respect for authority
As I already mentioned, millennials are more likely to think of jobs as temporary stopping points rather than lifelong careers. This can make them seem arrogant.
"They're cocky," Leonard Kim, managing partner at Influence Tree, told me. "Some millennials think they know what they're doing and go all in with the projects that they work with, refusing to take instruction. They think that their way is the only way that works."
Unsurprisingly, bosses and senior employees can take issue with that kind of behavior. If you disrespect team members and employees, they won't be sorry to see you go.
10. Lack of accountability
"Excuses kill more millennial careers than all the social-media distractions and overshares combined," said Aaron Orendorff, founder of blogging company iconiContent.
"When something goes wrong -- even if you're not completely at fault -- own it. Ask what you can learn. Take the criticism and say thank you."
Cheryl Snapp Conner, founder of SnappConner PR and Content University, told me about her occasional frustrations with millennial employees.
"I know of two employees who had their positions protected during the recent recession, even when the owner had to forego her own salary. But, instead of feeling gratitude, both felt they were owed something as a reward for not quitting."
It doesn't matter how talented you are. If you're an insensitive jerk who puts your needs ahead of everyone else's, you might get fired.
The bottom line
Millennials are people.
Yes, technology and parenting have changed. Yes, they face a different employment landscape than older generations. But, neither of those facts mean that millennials are inherently better or worse employees than any other demographic.
Avoid these 11 characteristics and you can be one of the millions of happy, talented millennials who enjoy excellent job security.
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