Straight Answers to Real Questions
Question: I’ve just taken over as VP Finance of a Mississauga based, TSX listed, software developer. Generally speaking, I like the staff that I’ve inherited; they’re young, energetic, smart as can be and generally fun to work with. My issue is that at 5:30pm around here, you could shoot a cannon anywhere in the finance & accounting department and not hit anyone.
I talked to my controller about this and she basically said: “Welcome to the wonderful world of software.” According to my controller, the high tech industry and especially software development companies, are overwhelmingly populated by millennials. And apparently, millennials place a very high premium on lifestyle. At the end of the day, when the whistle blows (metaphorically speaking), it’s time to down tools and go off to yoga class, play Ultimate Frisbee or just generally chillax with their peers.
Call me old-fashioned, but to my mind, work’s not over when the whistle blows, work’s over when the work’s done. And if that entails staying past yabba-dabba-doo time, well, that’s just too bad. Do I have to adapt to this particular “leave at five o’clock” paradigm in order to avoid excessive turn-over or can I do something to change the culture around here.
Answer: First of all, let’s be careful with the term millennials. The millennial generation comprises anyone born between 1982 and 2004. Which is painting with a pretty broad brush in my opinion. I reject the notion that any cohort can be ascribed a particular set of values. I certainly wouldn’t characterize everyone I know between the ages of 13 and 35 as a homogenous enough group to put a defining label on.
Back in the sixties and early seventies, a large cohort of us baby boomers was given the label “The Woodstock Generation”. We were supposed to be different from previous generations, more self-actualized and free from the bourgeois values and abject materialism and that enthralled their parents’ generation.
Of course, most of us were just fine with our parent’s bourgeois values and we’ve subsequently morphed into the materialistic, comfort loving generation currently at the helm of most Canadian businesses (not that I’m throwing stones here, I’m as materialistically inclined as the next baby-boomer).
Baby boomers and millennials have a lot in common. They’re both are uniquely privileged, having for the most part grown up in the relative wealth and comfort of the middle class. And eventually, most people come to the conclusion that while idealism is all well and good, once you leave the parental units’ nest, you’re going to want some if not all of the material trappings that you grew up surrounded by.
The paradigm that prevails among the “millennials” in your shop may be grounded in the premise that bright, young, qualified people are somehow in short supply. They’re not. In fact, if you know where to look for them, the business landscape is positively teeming with qualified young professionals who would love the chance to work for you. And if that entails staying late every night because there’s something special going on, that’s fine with them as well.
So I’d say feel free to make any and all changes you think are necessary to change the culture in your shop. I think you’ll find that you’ll have very little turn-over and I expect that the people who do leave will be the people that are cheerleading the myth that you need to handle millennials with kid gloves. Just remember that millennials have a very big thing in common with us baby boomers: they like to eat too.