HR Administration

The Last Word: Millennials Italiano

By Ronald Alsop

Nov. 4, 2011

“It’s always ‘What can the company give me?’ not ‘What can I give the company?’ ”

“Some of them think they can walk on water, but I haven’t yet seen any walk on water.”

“They haven’t even arrived at their new job and already they want to know where they’ll go next.”

Sound familiar? Those were a few of the caustic comments I heard during a recent round-table discussion of the millennial generation.

What may surprise you is that the recruiters and human resources managers sharing their frustrations weren’t Americans. The animated conversation took place last month at a college recruiting conference at a seaside hotel in Venice, Italy.

It seems milllennials Italiano aren’t so different from millennials Americano. When I wrote my book The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace a few years ago, there were signs that across the globe millennials share many of the same traits.

Now, having made several millennial presentations in Europe and Latin America, I am firmly convinced that this generation is more alike than different, no matter what the nationality. So for better or worse, multinational companies are likely to encounter many of the same attributes and attitudes wherever they recruit university students.

Technology’s global reach helps to explain many of the similarities. Millennials from New York to New Delhi are the first generation to have grown up with instant technology. Accustomed to Google searches and text messages, they have come to expect everything right now. If a job doesn’t quite work out as planned, they become frustrated, quit and go off in search of greener pastures.

“They don’t have the right humility,” said Federica Gianotti, a recruiting specialist for Iveco, an Italian truck, bus and diesel engine manufacturer. Millennials want to make strategic decisions “right away, then they want to do more exciting strategy. They never want to wait.”

Some Italian HR professionals find that the promise of career development helps make millennials more patient. “We need to explain when they can be promoted, and we sometimes tell white lies” about their bright future with the company, said Emanuela Speranza, an HR manager at Angelini, an Italian maker of pharmaceuticals and personal-care products. “It makes them happy. We hope it happens but it may not.”

The generation’s desire to do meaningful work and make the world a better place also seems to be fairly universal. In today’s information age, millennials have a greater awareness than earlier generations of global problems, such as climate change, poverty and AIDS.

When I polled the conference attendees about their perceptions of millennials, they most often mentioned young people’s need for work-life balance and for constant feedback and guidance. In fact, employers at the conference seemed a bit overwhelmed by millennials’ insatiable need for instant gratification.

Millennials expect so much partly because their helicopter parents have lavished them with praise for even the smallest accomplishment. Although I have to explain the term helicopter parents (they hover over their children) to non-Americans, most international audiences can easily relate to such doting mamas and papas.

Speranza said she blames Italian parents for millennials’ weak problem-solving skills. “We have to provide special training in problem-solving,” she said, “because parents have always been the problem-solvers.”

But the recruiters at the conference haven’t seen—at least not yet—intrusive parents showing up in the workplace. They marveled at my stories of pushy American parents who try to sit in on job interviews or call their children’s managers complaining about less than perfect performance reviews.

As for generational conflict on the job, nearly half of the audience said in my poll that it’s a growing concern. Another 17 percent called it already “disruptive” or “a serious problem.”

The Italian recruiters gave millennials high marks for valuing their personal lives and seeking time for family and friends. But they said senior managers in Italy still frown on leaving the office before 6 p.m. “It’s starting to change with more women managers,” Speranza said. “Important meetings used to start at 5 or 6 o’clock. It was unbelievable. Now, they start at 9 a.m. or 2 p.m.” If millennials have their way, those meetings will soon become virtual gatherings they can attend from anywhere, at any time.

Workforce Management, November 2011, p. 42Subscribe Now!

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