They've been called everything from lazy to prima donnas. They stand accused of being narcissistic, needing excessive handholding and having an unrealistic sense of entitlement.
They're the millennial generation - those born after 1980 -- and they are beginning to enter leadership roles in the workforce. Millennials have a lot to offer, and their generation is poised to revolutionize the workforce. If your business doesn't take time now to understand this generation's motivations and strengths, you risk losing out on a major competitive edge.
Nearly half of the U.S. workforce (46 percent) will be made up of millennials by the year 2020, according to research from the University of North Carolina. Rather than waste time deriding the perceived shortcomings of this younger generation, businesses should be working to better understand the motivations and strengths of these up-and-coming leaders and figure out how best take advantage of those skills.
Millennials Aren't Solely Motivated by Money
This generation grew up watching their parents work their fingers to the bone, prioritizing their work lives over family and social concerns, only to see accumulated wealth and investments vanish in times of recession, says Lindsey Pollak, a millennial workplace expert and author of a New York Times best-seller "Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders."
[Related: 5 Millennials Myths Busted ]
Pollak, who partners with companies like The Hartford, has developed a national educational campaign to help Millennials understand their benefits and protect their potential.
"Millennials say that culture, company mission and values are important to them, and I believe that is true. Where I most see this come up is when millennials talk about wanting to work for a company that will support and develop them as a whole person -- their career, their personal life, their health and their values. Millennials tell me that they want to feel proud to be associated with their employer, on social media and elsewhere," Pollak says.
While compensation is a factor in millennials' job satisfaction, they are less likely to tolerate unpleasant working conditions than previous generations, according to research from Bentley University's Center for Women and Business.
The best way for companies to address this discrepancy, says Pollak, is to regularly provide opportunities for employees to tell leadership what they want, and to listen to your employees and let them know their opinions and preferences are taken into consideration.
Millennials Want to Lead
Millennials confident in their ability to contribute to the growth and success of their employer from day one, says Pollak. Research from The Hartford's 2014 Millennial Leadership Survey reveals that 83 percent of the 785 respondents felt they were leaders among their family and friends, and 73 percent of those surveyed aspired to lead in the workplace over the next five years.
"As a generation, they have a high level of confidence and a very strong desire to contribute, right away, on the job. They don't like the notion that to get ahead, to be a leader, a worker must first 'pay their dues;' they are well aware that they have these incredible technology and critical thinking skill sets from day one, and they want to put those to work," says Pollak.
Millennials Crave Continuing Education, Training and Growth
Millennials also are honest about their shortcomings, says Pollak. As much as they have confidence in their technology and leadership skills overall, they know they need training, coaching and mentoring to be able to apply those skills to the workplace, according to Pollak.
"They really have a lot to share, but it has to be give-and-take. Millennials are more than willing to put their skills to work for their workplaces, but they really crave mentoring, coaching and continuing education and training to help them better develop their communication skills, workplace etiquette and other 'soft' skills," Pollak says.
If an organization is willing to provide these types of continuing education and training resources, the reward will be an incredibly loyal, productive and engaged employee, according to The Hartford Research.
Millennials Want to Collaborate
Despite their reputation as loners whose main concern is their smartphone, millennials are huge proponents of collaboration, says Pollak. While they may not love to work in groups, they excel at collaborating with peers to achieve a common goal.
"Millennials grew up with collaborative technology: Skype, Google Docs, Wikis. They don't like working in groups, but they do like contributing to a shared project or goal and they gain great satisfaction from seeing how their individual contributions affected the sum of a project," Pollak says.