The 'M' Word: Why I Don't Hire Millennials

Written by
Martha Hiefield

Mar 29, 2016

Mar 29, 2016 • Author: Martha Hiefield

How Agencies Can Focus on Hiring the Best Individuals, Not Just Millennials

As chief talent officer of a global digital agency, I don't hire millennials.

I mean, they've been blamed for everything from the future death of cereal to retail stores being open on Thanksgiving. Newscycles and pop culture have lambasted them again and again for being the most self-entitled and problematic generation to ever enter the workforce. And they're drinking all the wine.

So what's a talent officer to do?

Because there is one undeniable truth when it comes to millennials: By 2025, they will make up over 75% of the global workforce.

The more open letters I see, the more I find myself resisting the millennial label -- one that prioritizes clicks over people and where stereotypes rule the day.

It's time to move toward a more productive conversation.

So like I said, I don't hire millennials.

I hire individuals.

Here's my take on how to get past the noise:

Focus on what's positive

A lot of articles out there describe millennials as "not like us" and therefore something to fear or condescend to. Considering the size and diversity of the millennial generation, this feels lazy and irresponsible. Especially when stereotypes are rooted in negativity.

The millennials I've hired in our business are badass, and they mirror the attributes of anyone who succeeds in digital (no matter their age): adaptiveness, a high metabolism for change and trends, and a willingness to take risks and tinker with new technology. They also aren't afraid to lead -- caring greatly about the values and impact of our work.

I'll give you an example.

In 2013, I was approached by a group of younger employees who were interested in sharing our agency's knowledge with local nonprofits (people they saw as lacking big marketing budgets and often wearing too many hats). It was a great idea, and I let them run with it. The event series was called Learn with Possible, and they led it from concept to execution. The series was a huge success and one of my pride points of that year. That office continues to lead these events, with our CEO pushing to roll them out in other locations.

Listen and respond

While I do read reports about generational trends, my main focus is always on what's happening within our own agency and industry. I spend part of my day talking to employees from every section and level of our business, and I absorb and react to responses we get from our employee satisfaction surveys and exit interviews.

After all, why prioritize stories about the world's employees over direct feedback from your own talent?

One trend I've noticed in our own agency, which mirrors outside findings, is a desire for more leadership roles and influence -- the ability to shape the overall business. As someone who believes that you don't need a title to lead, I'm all for this, and we're always looking for ways to make more of these links.

Our Seattle office is currently piloting a new program that encourages non-executive employees to have input on the direction of that office. Employees are hand-picked by management and rotate through every six months, giving more people the opportunity to weigh in on everything from client development and business planning to culture, talent and retention. The goal is to more quickly connect ambition -- and ideas -- with opportunity.

Be flexible

One trend that I believe is here to stay is a more flexible workplace. And that can be a really great thing, no matter your generation.

Like a lot of other industries, digital work ebbs and flows to extremes. Flex time is important to keep people healthy and happy, especially after they've burned hot on a project. Our agency has always hired smart people whom we trust and respect. Letting employees work from home or alter their hours based on their workflow is one way that we demonstrate this.

The most important thing is to set clear expectations, so that if problems do arise, you can address them quickly and move on.

Stay confident

Every generation has something to offer. The need for clear thinking, good creative ideas and strong people skills remains constant, especially when technology is at its most disruptive.

So even if you're of an older generation, don't underestimate your own experience.

Meet others with openness and respect, and they're more likely to do the same. Believing in your own value, unique skills, voice and knowledge -- while remaining humble and open to what you don't know -- is a powerful way to stay relevant for generations to come.

The article The 'M' Word: Why I Don't Hire Millennials first appeared on Ad Age.