Millennials Seeking Workplace Amenities to Make up for Dreary Work?

A new Pew report shows that millennials (ages 18–34) took over from us Generation Xers (ages 35–50) as the largest chunk of the U.S. workforce in the first quarter of 2015. Woe unto anyone hoping to get things done, right, Trail King CEO Bruce Yakley?

Paul Ten Haken, 37-year-old boss at Click Rain, joined that Sioux Falls paper’s weeklong discussion of the millennial work ethic with an essay declaring that millennials want more than money from work:

When I interview employees today, they are asking questions – really great questions – about the character of our company. Does the company give back to the community – not just financially, but does it give employees the chance to serve on the company dime? Does the company offer opportunities to grow as a person rather than an employee, providing seminars on financial literacy, time management, wellness and other “non-work” topics? Does management take the employees out for a beer and some darts at 4 p.m. on a Friday? Yes, that shuts down production for an hour, which directly impacts the bottom line. But what does that hour do for morale and team building — and ultimately, retention? [Paul Ten Haken, “Millennials Anything But Lazy, Entitled,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.05.06].

I look at this list, and I have to wonder: are Ten Haken’s millennial applicants applying for a job, a social club, or a self-help group? Job seekers, how many of you are seeking work you really want to do, and how many of you are seeking a workplace with lots of non-work activities to ease the pain of work that doesn’t really fire your soul?

Ten Haken insists that seminars and company-supported international service trips make for better people and better workers:

Investing in employees is much more than what shows up on their paycheck every two weeks. In the highly competitive employment market in South Dakota, it’s critical for employers in all verticals to begin shifting their culture to one of inclusion, service and family in order to retain the new workforce that desires to put community and home life ahead of the making profits for the man [Ten Haken, 2015.05.06].

Let me expose my generation gap: employers, pay me well, give me decent hours, don’t be jerks, and you’ve got me. I’ll be able to take care of my family and participate in my community just fine, without your guidance. I can balance my checkbook, manage my time, and eat well and exercise without your spending valuable company resources on seminars. And please, please, please, don’t feel obliged to take me, your employee, your subordinate, out for beer and darts. If you’re really shutting down the shop an hour early, I’ve got lots of things I can do in that hour with my wife, my daughter, my bike, my blog, and my power tools that will boost my morale than any activity you and HR can come up with.

Besides, as StarMark Cabinetry president John Swedeen suggests, we might all feel better if we just show up at work and get things done:

“Paul’s white-collar jobs? It would be great for us … to have a beer with the employees at 4, too. Let’s go out like they do at Google, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. But that’s not reality for us,” Swedeen said. “I have customers that I have to ship cabinets out to” [Steve Young, “Can S.D. Manufacturers Count on Millennials?” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.05.11].

Work should enrich us. That enrichment should come from the work itself, from the things we make, the services we provide. Doing worthwhile work (teaching, coaching, writing) boosts my morale and builds my team spirit with the people who help me do that work. Doing meaningless, drudgerous, cog-like work (sales, marketing) drains my soul, and piling a bunch of non-work activities onto my schedule won’t change  the fact that from 9 to 5 (or 9 to 4 and beer-and-darts days), I’m doing work that doesn’t make the world or myself better.

Millennials, Gen-X, everybody in the workforce, what do you really want from your work?

42 Responses to Millennials Seeking Workplace Amenities to Make up for Dreary Work?

  1. I’m more in your camp when it comes to the employer/employee relationship. I remember applying for a job at RadioShack when I was just out of college (before seminary). They had us go through this 2-day seminar as part of the application process and my gut reaction was, “All I want is a job. I already have a religion.”

    But I know where Ten Haken is coming from. I can do that kind of work pretty much anywhere there’s an internet connection and the whole point of the work is to facilitate networks and networking – social media, etc. are primary tools. It is quite natural that Ten Haken is finding applicants in his field looking at those aspects of a company. He’s competing with places like Google and Facebook and Apple for quality employees. And if Ten Haken is able to inspire that kind of camaraderie and commitment, he can also knock off at 4 and not really lose productivity because his people will be back at it from home over the weekend.

    Swedeen, however, needs people to be at the shop if they’re going to make cabinets. They can’t work from home and unless they’re paid overtime, they’re not coming in on the weekend. Yes, employees want to know they are valued as human beings and not just as cogs in this manufacturing machine – all good employers know this, and it’s nothing new with millenials. But the form that takes in a manufacturing plant will be very different than it is at Apple or Click-Rain.

  2. larry kurtz

    Of course PNR would rather see white kids holding down jobs that would otherwise go to H2-A or H2-B immigrant workers except that most positions in South Dakota are barely worth holding down. Put an East River millennial to work for a subsidized Arnold Brothers enterprise in some CAFO near Castlewood then stand back and watch KLAN hold a photo op.

  3. Roger Elgersma

    So the talk is that the two youngest parts of the workforce are lazy. Except worker productivity is at an all time high. Opps.
    There is also a wise part to wanting to know the company culture. If a company gives you bad vibes they may also be giving their customers bad vibes as well. To many companies going broke and getting bought out. Might as well find a good one in the first place. That way you do not have to switch jobs so often.

  4. Nick Nemec

    Maybe I’m just an old fart baby boomer, but I still contend that employers unable to find workers need to open up the checkbook and “show me the money”, that is if all other things are equal. If all other things aren’t equal, because of things like asshole bosses, and dreary dangerous work conditions (Bruce Yakley? Trail King?) then it’ll take even more money to keep employees, if you can keep them at all.

  5. larry kurtz

    The question remains: who other than some sovereign citizen fleeing cultural diversity really wants to live a state at risk for implosion?

  6. Roger Elgersma

    My whole life I have heard that young people are lazy because a few are. For some it is just an attitude.

  7. Nick Nemec

    Mandatory forced merriment with the boss and co-workers? Do I get paid for this awkward togetherness? How long before some poor stiff has a few too many and takes a swing at the boss or the jerk at the next work station?

  8. Nick Nemec

    For 10,000 years young people have been lazy, just ask their elders, one of these generations maybe we’ll get some decent young people who can live up to and impress the oldsters.

  9. Deb Geelsdottir

    White collar businesses are really pushing these aspects of work environments and either it’s really a difference maker, or the CEOs of Target, Best Buy and Medtronic are liars. Things like softball teams, or even an entire softball league in Target’s case, include warehouse employees, as well as office drones. As the job market becomes even more competitive, these extras grow in importance.

    All these things are on top of a decent wage. In SD my guess is that the extras aren’t that critical while wages are so pathetic. I wonder if some of the biggest businesses in SF and RC might find this information important even though it might not mean much to most South Dakotans.

  10. Nick Nemec

    Workers in many South Dakota businesses don’t have time for a Saturday afternoon softball league because they are too busy working their second job to make ends meet.

  11. Deb Geelsdottir

    I strongly disagree with you Nick. I think a huge majority of young people are decent. (Or was that sarcasm?)

    I think the thing we’re missing is that they grew up in a very different environment than us Boomers, and perhaps the following generation did. We were told to go outside and play. Millennials grew up with electronic saturation, school and summer teams for everything, scheduled play dates, lessons after school, and parents in close attendance.

    How can we expect them to be like us? It’s not fair. Many millennials work their way through high school, before even getting to college with its huge bills. They often work more than one job at a time.

    This is not a generation we should sell short. They’re just beginning their adulthood, and I have high hopes for them.

  12. Deb Geelsdottir

    Remember Nick, I said, “All these things are on top of a decent wage.”
    And the softball plays weeknights at 6:00. I know because I’ve upped their games for the city of Mpls. I also ump for St. Paul.

  13. Nick Nemec

    Deb, I neglected to put the winky emoticon at the end of my post.

    I’m not sure about Minneapolis, but here in low wage South Dakota the gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants where many young people have to work a second job to make ends meet stay open on Saturday night.

  14. Donald Pay

    It all depends on the business, what folks are doing in the business and how competitive the labor market is. It makes perfect sense to me, at least for some companies, to have some amenities. If you’re in a physical job all day, you probably don’t need a gym of some kind, or other activities associated with your job. If you’re in an office setting, such amenities keep you fit, healthy and sane. They may even get the company a break on health insurance.

    I have to say that having “mandatory fun,” as one employer here talks about their “employee club,” is not something that appeals to me. I love my co-workers, but after a day of work, I don’t care to socialize with them. The young’uns do a lot of socializing, however. Good for them.

    And many of the younger employees and some of us old codgers pick up the slack for the employees with families, who have to have time off for a sick kid or to go to a school activity. We all have to have various needs met a various times in our lives. We should look down our noses at anyone for what they may seek from a job.

  15. Nick Nemec

    And after a long day weekday working in the poorly ventilated salt mine that is Trail King please forgive the SD worker who wants to shower, eat supper, drink a beer, and fall asleep on the couch watching TV. That is if he doesn’t have to put in a few hours at the gas station till.

    Minnesota workers are lucky your state hasn’t eliminated unions to the extent SD has.

  16. I’m not sure if it even matters if any of us think these demands/preferences/desires are legitimate or attractive to us or not. People are constantly complaining about our dwindling workforce and shifting demographics in this state — what are we going to do about it? We’ll bend over backwards to bring a business in but then complain that the people needed to run it want too much. Isn’t that supply and demand, too? I got a little peeved at some Yankton businessmen several weeks ago who, on the one hand, complained about not having the workforce to fill their manufacturing jobs and not two minutes later, were heckling some college students who expressed a desire to make a living wage (they were also mad that young people didn’t read job ads in the paper). For many of our communities, reversing demographic collapse is a matter of survival. The current navel gazing about how we feel about millennials seems like a waste of time and beside the point. (But for the record, I think they have fine work ethic.)

  17. Deb Geelsdottir

    That’s true, Nick. One of the many benefits of liberalism.

  18. It is simple, like Nick said, “show me the money”, works everywhere but South Dakota. That’s why people are everywhere but south Dakota.

  19. Jeff Barth

    In the book The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky there is a chapter titled “The Grand Inquisitor”. Therein is a discussion of a “man’s” choice between bread and freedom.

    “In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say
    to us, “Make us your slaves, but feed us.” Dostoyevsky

    But once we have bread we want more.

    For the secret of man’s being is not only to live
    but to have something to live for. Dostoyevsky

    First we must have bread then we need something to live for.

  20. Richard Schriever (PhD - Organizational Psychology)

    Okay – in all reality – this IS a topic that is right up my professional alley. That whole generational variances thing – hog wash when it comes to “what do people want” out of work.

    What people want is to have a level of CONTROL over their work lives. Sometimes referred to as EMPOWERMENT. If there is a generational variances, it maybe around a willingness to RISK making the effort to realize that desire.

  21. Roger Cornelius

    I don’t know about elsewhere, but in Rapid City Millennials and the younger generation both face many obstacles.

    Many of the businesses that once employed youngsters now employ adults that needs a second job to make the rent or mortgage.

    Young people are still being paid ridiculously low wages and have ridiculously hours. Walmat and other businesses consider full time employment as 35 hours or less. In my day a 40 hour week was full time work.
    If the owner has overtime work they have that 5 hour cushion so the rate per hour does not change.
    Places like Subway and other eateries will send their workers home if they are not busy.
    As far as the fellowship between employer/employee, office parties are a dying thing and have been for sometime.

  22. Richard Schriever (PhD - Organizational Psychology)

    It bears repeatedly pointing out that innumerable studies have shown that $$$$$ is perhaps the POOREST motivator there is when it comes to work-place (and other) performance incentives. Of course there are always a few exceptions (outliers, odd-balls) – typically they become the CEOs like the Trail-King boss; unable to understand that others have other motives (lack of empathy).

    And actually, the Click Rain boss has the same problem – it’s just that he personally is motivated by things like seminars and community service.

    Makes one wonder – have these folks ever ASKED their employees or potential employees what they want? Are their employees’ opinions even anything that they would consider valuable?

  23. The beginning of that excerpt had an interesting thought:

    “When I interview employees today, they are asking questions – really great questions – about the character of our company.”

    Then it veered into things that don’t have much to do with character. If you’re looking for a company with character, that company’s “giving back” should be inherent in the work it does, it seems to me, and not something that has to be tacked on outside of that work.

    It reminds me of this quote attributed to Martin Luther: “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

    Agreed, Cory, that work itself should enrich us. (Though don’t knock sales and marketing out of hand–whether it’s soul-deadening depends on whether you believe in what you’re selling and marketing, it seems to me.)

  24. Heidi, I would love to see an honest survey of the percentage of folks in sales and marketing who really believe in what they are selling.

    Heeding Donald, I will try not to look down at specific individuals for the work or workplaces they seek. I will say that when I have had sojourns in the sales and marketing world, I have come home feeling my soul made worse. In those situations, when quitting time comes, I want to run all the further away from the coworkers who would remind me of the awfulness of my work day.

  25. If you look at “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”, most workers struggle to get past the first two levels. The “wages don’t matter” for the most part, applies to people who already make a decent income.

  26. Long time lurker here. For the record, I am not a millennial. I’m actually a member of Gen X. There is one thing that some members of my generation and the millennials have in common: our parents were Baby Boomers.

    I just wrote a research paper for my college English class on this topic. Focusing specifically on playing darts after work is missing the point. There’s also another point that people in general are missing.

    This is about employee engagement. Mr. Ten Haken chooses to engage his employees by calling it a day at 4 pm on Fridays and playing darts as a group. Other employers may choose to engage their workers by actually listening to them and valuing their input. There is no one specific “right” way to have an engaged workforce. Engaged employees are more productive. Engaged employees will talk positively about their employer, especially to their friends. Conversely, actively disengaged employees are absent more, don’t care about quality, and generally talk negatively about their employers. I found, in my research for my paper, that, according to research done by Gallup on this topic, employee disengagement costs the US $440 billion (with a b) per year.

    One topic I have not heard in this entire discussion (here or in the Argus articles), is that the attitudes of the millenials towards work are shaped by their experiences of having work-a-holic baby boomer parents. Because they feel they lost out on time with their parents growing up, they don’t want their work to consume their lives. Generally, they feel their parents valued money over them. They have also seen how you’re not guaranteed a job with the same company from the time you graduate from school to the day you retire, because that’s how our economy works now.

  27. Richard Schriever (PhD - Organizational Psychology)

    “Wages don’t motivate” is a different concept to “wages don’t matter”.

    Marketing (the real deal, not some Job titling labeling trick) is about consumer research and product development – not “sales”. It’s sort of like asking your employees what they need and designing the job around that, vs. designing a job and shoe-horning whoever walks through the door into that design. In a sense, one could say that Trail King is doing a poor job of marketing (brining into the marketplace) a job (product offering) that appeals to their employees (customers for employment).

  28. mike from iowa

    Now there’s some lazy things known to man,but ain’t too much lazier than a US Congressvarmint (or Senator)nwhen there’s no one around.

    Attributes to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

  29. In my experience, for many younger workers, the job is “just a job.” Thinking about the types of employment being discussed, what is there to hook them at these jobs? What is it about this job that transcends a means to put some money in their pocket to pay for their needs? Add in a general mistrust of the corporate mentality and you have employees that know that they create the profits for their companies and if that if another company can offer more, there is no real allegiance to any employer – they are all the same.

    Maybe this is the back edge to the destruction of unions – along with that came the destruction of the buy-in to the corporate structure through employee participation.

  30. Heidi Marttila-Losure

    One could argue that your wife’s new gig is a “sales and marketing” position, Cory–and I’m assuming she finds it fulfilling because she believes in the product.

    Now, belief in the product doesn’t necessarily equal sales skills–I totally believe in what we’re doing with Dakotafire, but I tried to sell ads for it and was horrible. Then I hired someone who loves the sales conversation and is great at it. She’s great in part because she really believes in it. And I can tell she’s having fun. To each his or her own.

    Sorry to head off into a tangent, but it’s an interesting one, I think.

  31. Open communication – being able to voice your opinion without negative consequences, and RESPECT are of the utmost importance to me than being on the company softball team. Then there is flextime that is a biggie, especially for working moms. Managers that treat their employees with RESPECT have a much healthier company. Until managers get to this understanding there will continue to be unhappy employees walking off their jobs like the pitiful Trail King company.

    Kathy is correct, with today’s Gen Xers and Millenials it’s not just about the money. Money may be the top incentive but it’s not the only incentive. How many of the Trail King employees would have stayed if they had had humane caring managers, perhaps an air condition unit to stop them from getting sick from the welding fumes? Yakley is so far beyond understanding this because he is what you call a sociopath, which is what most CEOs are today. Sociopaths are not necessarily bad people (though some are), they just don’t have empathy and emotions. If I had worked at Trail King, I would have quickly asked for investment in some air conditioning units. That is just me, as I have learned you have to assertively ask for better working conditions. Maybe I’ve learned it from being in MN, I don’t know, but SD employees that work at Trail King and other pitiful work places – please change your working environment for the better! You deserve it!

  32. Shane Gerlach

    This is the commentary I provided for the big Sioux Falls paper and thought I’d share here as well.

    (I’m 46 years old and graduate in December with an addiction counseling degree)

    I am in school with millennials and here is my first hand observation and this is a discussion I have had with professors and they all agree.

    The group that I attend classes with (20-24 year old) are highly intelligent, they can provide spot on text book analysis. They have a problem with application. As one of my professors stated “They not only have a hard time thinking outside of the box, they want to be told what colors to use while inside the box.” He and two other professors apply that to the emphasis placed on the learn to test environment currently in vogue in our schools.
    When working side by side with Millennials I have not noticed a drop in work ethic, but rather a change in their attitudes towards work. Where for many of us our parents took a job as a career (for many of my generation as well), what I have noticed is that the millennials look at a job as simply a job. Almost a necessary part of their life but not the end all. I see many that go to school and then don’t end up working even in their degree specialty. They instead explore notions, ideas, work places and then move on until they find what fits with them.

    The world is smaller. Where in previous generations it may have seemed insurmountable to establish connections for jobs away from “home” that is no longer true. You can interview via the net easily. Their lifestyle is digitally based. Many are looking for a work space that fits that lifestyle.

    We see adaptations to that in successful business, we see adjustments to the prevailing thoughts and norms of the generation. I’m not saying that Trail King isn’t successful. I have a cousin that has worked there since high school graduation in 1986 and has been rewarded greatly with promotions and reaped benefits financially. That being said he worked his ass off to get there and again is part of the generation where a job=a career.

    This Forbes article shows us that “job hopping” is the new norm for the millennial generation.

    Their pursuit if happiness, as stated in the article, is a greater need for them than is their desire for stability. Why should that be punished or frowned upon?

    Look at the numbers provided in this article.

    The trend didn’t start with the Millennial generation, they are just the easy current scapegoat.

    Think about this…if you grow up and constantly hear a parent complain about “having to work”, struggling to pay the bills, dissatisfaction about the work environment, saw the disdain of the routine of 20-40 plus years on the job…how would that effect you? This also contributes to the “job hopping” of the Millennials.

    Sorry this is so long; but the sociology minor comes out in me. Trail King is a job provider, a successful company and will continue to be so, but to blame the movement of jobs solely on a generation and generalizing that said generation is lazy and lacks work ethics fails to take into account facts, data and human nature.

    Great topic. Great discussion.

    One last link talking about how lazy Generation X is (citing a 1993 Newsweek article), and before them the lost generation.

    Saying the newest generation is lazy or entitled isn’t new…our reaction should be.

    We need to focus on how to retain, beyond wages and expectations.

    The world is changing we can change with it or fight a continual losing battle.

  33. Deb Geelsdottir

    Shane said, “They instead explore notions, ideas, work places and then move on until they find what fits with them.”

    This is what I’ve observed too. In my opinion, based on my interactions with millennials, they are as good as any other generation, but not identical to any particular predecessor generation. I like them.

  34. Shane Gerlach

    Deb-I like them much. So much that I am not only going to school with them but will go on to work with those among them with problems as an addiction counselor.

    No generation has the market cornered on laziness, work ethic, financial problems, bemoaned musical tastes or wanderlust. The problems have existed for generations, sadly so has the over reaction.

  35. Heidi—someone who enjoys selling ads? Well, thank goodness there are people like that to keep the economy humming. You and I can’t do it and don’t want to do it. I’m a little nervous, though, about having a dinner conversation with your ad person. I wonder if we got into business talk if I’d find myself nodding and smiling awkwardly while inside wondering, “Good grief! How does this person stand such a life?”

  36. (By the way, Heidi, my wife might bop you in the nose—or at least give you skunk eye—if she catches you calling her job “sales and marketing.” :-) )

  37. Richard, fascinating expert testimony. I take it you’re saying that research says that intergenerational differences in motivation and overall psychology are no larger than intragenerational differences? Do our mores change while human psychology stays relatively constant?

  38. Kathy and O both note that the current generation of workers have figured out how the economy and the corporate mindset work and have adjusted accordingly. I just wish the freedom workers now feel in switching companies for the slightest reason (and we’re not imagining things: people do willingly switch jobs now more often than a generation or two ago, right?) would make up for the negative impacts labor in general suffers from the weakening of unions that O mentions.

    (I’m working toward that monster comment from Shane….)

  39. Shane, I’ve heard of that “tell me the box!” thinking. That’s teaching to the standardized tests at work!

    “A job is just a job”—I understand that thinking. Like every other generation, millennials apparently recognize they have to pay the bills. They recognize that the changing economy means they can’t expect any job to last forever. They thus stay nimble as workers and look for other forms of engagement (especially digital engagement, Shane?) to anchor their sense of self-worth and community.

    So to what extent do these nimble job-hopping millennials (and the GenXers who got that ball rolling, according to Shane’s link on job-change stats) drive bosses to try like Ten Haken to find new non-work ways to engage their employees, and to what extent does such behavior drive bosses to work all the harder to outsource and automate their functions so they don’t have to deal with all the turnover, training costs, and beer-and-darts costs?

  40. Paul Ten Haken

    I enjoyed all the comments and dialogue here. A fascinating topic with no right or wrong answers. All organizations have to do what they feel is best to retain their workforce. For our company, what we are doing is working tremendously with just two employees leaving for other opportunities in the last seven years (we have a staff of 30). Thanks for facilitating an important discussion.

  41. No right or wrong answers?! Why do conservatives resort to moral relativism every time they are wrong? ;-)

    Thank you, Paul, for dropping by! I think we’d all enjoy beverages and darts with you for further discussion. Workforce recruitment does fascinate readers here. I will roll with the “no right or wrong” in so far as employers are free to hire, treat, and compensate their workers mostly as they see fit. Employers do have to get some things right: they have to engage employees in meaningful work; they have to treat employees with respect; and ultimately they have to maintain levels of productivity and competitiveness sufficient to make payroll and keep the assembly line humming.

    1% annual employee turnover suggests Ten Haken is doing something very right. Ten Haken’s methods of getting it right differ from other bosses’ methods due to Ten Haken’s field of work, temperament, and other factors, but the principles are the same across industries and personalities, right?