Workplace Millennial 5: Strangely enough, all workers want things

Millennials are getting it in the neck again. Apparently we're to blame for the impending collapse of the entire British National Health Service.

What's really going on here?

OK, so it's the Daily Mail so the story involves neither balance nor accurate reporting. Once you get past the utterly astonishing, stupid and wholly misleading headline, ignore the article and read the report it is referring to you'll still see a version of the same fallacy that many managers of companies buy into:

Millennials want weird things that are impossible to account for and unreasonable.

How's that? Well, the report is concerned about how we can staff the NHS over the next decade. We're not going to have enough people / people-hours, it seems. The report highlights the following as something that will be a challenge:

"Different generations want different things in their working lives." (p.8)

...which is not exactly news, or controversial, or surprising, or new. Nor is the idea that the NHS "must have an employment offer that remains attractive in this changing environment" (p.14) to attract and retain staff.

But the problem comes when we get into the focus on:

"Millennials often want non-linear careers and the see flexible working with career breaks as a right." (p.8)

Let's ignore the entirely unfounded claim that millennials treat this as "a right" (seriously, I've never come across a single person who thinks that is "a right" in any meaningful sense) and charitably assume that the author means we have a strong preference for this type of work.

Still the question remains: Why is that more of a problem than anything else?

"Problematic" preferences

If your problem is having enough people / enough people-hours, and recruitment and retention is your solution, it seems, an at best prejudicial and at worst misleading focus.

This is clear from the report itself. Three factors are listed as problematic: insufficient growth in supply, more retirements and increased demand for staff (p.44).

Given that millennial flexible work preferences are just one aspect of "insufficient growth in supply", maybe focusing on that is a distraction?

How about the problem of older generations considering retirement at 65 years old a right? Since retirement is one of the three, standalone problems, perhaps that preference should be the focus?

Maintaining that preference looks, given the scale of the problems the report highlights, totally unsustainable. Yet, what do you know, that isn't highlighted at all. All you get is a throwaway reference to some current efforts to incentivise GPs to work (flexibly!) past their usual retirement age (p.59). It certainly isn't featured prominently in the Chief Executive's introduction, like the millennial comment.

Just stick to the key observation that we need to adapt to any preferences that present a challenge, without the generational warfare.

Millennial-bashing is not clever

Let's be clear. Expecting to retire at 65 is a reasonable preference. That's not the problem. The problem is that, once again, supposedly expert people addressing serious challenges have got distracted by the "millennials are unreasonably weird" fallacy.

It means they're considerably less likely to get the right answer. It also means they are contributing to the totally irrational cultural trend for bashing millennials. Neither is helpful. One of them is also a failure to do a proper job. How about we fix both at once next time: stay off the millennial-bashing.

Adam Papaphilippopoulos; Partner, Reluctantly Brave; Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts