Why it's Your Fault Millennials Lack Soft Skills
I’ve been reading a couple of books by Bruce Tulgan, a management expert who has cracked the millennial code. Bridging the Soft Skills Gap is an eye-opener that has changed my opinion about Generations Y and Z. He also wrote Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, another great resource to help unlock millennial potential.
I’ve been hard on millennials, and many of you have called me out on my position. Sure, some millennials are lost causes, you’ve conceded, but not all are spoiled and entitled … especially not your precious little blessings.
My problem is that like most old farts, I’ve forgotten that I, too, once knew everything and lacked the experience and perspective to realize the world doesn't revolve around me. Some would argue I haven't outgrown those traits.
But let's be honest: Millennials are a piece of cake compared to young baby boomers and their radical ideas. Long-haired men? Women in pants? Draft dodging? Turning on, tuning in and dropping out? It sounds quaint now, but it's not difficult to imagine how terrifying it must have been to a generation of parents that suffered inconceivable wartime horrors and only wanted a nice, normal life for their children.
Perhaps they tried too hard to create a real-life Mayfield and triggered the radicalism of the 60s.
Tulgan blames helicopter Gen X parents for Gen Y and Z's poor soft skills. As much pride as I have in my generation, I agree.
Like everything in life, latchkey parenting had its benefits and unintended consequences. On the one hand, I don't recall anyone telling me I couldn't choose a profession because I was a girl. But free-range parenting also produced a nobody-loves-me mindset for many of my peers. A friend once observed that nobody validated Gen Xers’ feelings. So now as parents, we’ve validated all of the millennials’ feelings, to the point of overkill.
Little emperor syndrome is one of the primary reasons millennials lack soft skills. Adults have catered to their needs their entire lives. Nobody locked them out of the house and forced them to entertain themselves, a move that would land parents in jail these days, but also built imagination, curiosity and trial-by-error decision making skills. Instead, millennials were overscheduled, overstimulated and then medicated.
Why should the workplace be any different? Don't all adults cater to their needs? Remember, young people lack worldly perspective. The world is only what you know.
Millennials were also presented with myriad choices and treated like consumers of life experience. Likewise, they consider themselves consumers of the workplace. Ask not what you can do for your employer, ask what your employer can do for you. All this focus on making the workplace more appealing to millennials only reinforces that attitude.
Additionally, society has changed. Globalization, technology, institutional insecurity, information overload and human diversity produced the ultimate nonconformers in an age of nonconformism, Tulgan wrote. Millennials have been taught that all styles are equally valid, cultural relativism taken a step too far.
Mutual exclusivity makes it nearly impossible for a group to work together to achieve a common goal. Tulgan boiled it down to this: You simply cannot have a functional workplace where everybody makes his or her own rules of conduct.
That inability to work together to achieve a common goal also unlocks the mystery of why millennials aren't interested in joining your credit union, even though the credit union philosophy seems like a natural fit for indigo children.
Consider also that the proliferation of information available on the Internet has killed intellectual curiosity and critical thinking. The answer to everything – even the wrong answer – has always been readily available at millennials’ fingertips. Why ponder anything? In today's information environment, learning curves are instant.
The result is a generation that lacks professionalism and critical thinking and exhibits followership.
So what can employers do about it? You can't hire around it, even though there are ways to vet millennial applicants to find those that do posses soft skills. The problem is, there simply aren't enough of those gems to go around.
Tulgan details ways to incorporate soft skills training into the onboarding process and beyond. He also warns that this investment will result in a net loss for your organization if you don't also create a work environment that retains a generation that lacks institutional loyalty.
I’ll share some of his recommendations, which include step-by-step lesson plans, next week.