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by Phil Stott | June 06, 2017


Millennial male with feet up on desk in office

Whisper it, but we may finally have arrived at the point where the word "millennial" is fading as a term thrown out by exasperated Boomer managers who just can't figure out how to get along with their younger colleagues.

In fact, if recent remarks by Morgan Stanley vice chairman and managing director Carla Harris are anything to go by, those Boomer managers may have actually started to realize that millennials are, in fact, the future of their businesses—and that many of the qualities shared by members of the generation may in fact turn out to be net positives. For proof, consider what Harris says about millennial attitudes to parental leave:  

"Millennials are going to turbo boost what we have been trying to do for the last 20 years."

Did you catch that? That's an admission that companies have been trying to set more progressive policies around parental leave for two decades. But, as I noted recently, those kinds of shifts tend not to happen in the course of a single generation: ideas take time to gain a foothold and spread, and the millennial generation looks set to become the tipping point where a lot of the boundaries to implementing those ideas get toppled without fear of recrimination:

"If you talk to millennial men, they want paternity leave, and more of them are starting to take it," says Harris in the video from the WSJ (full video is below). "I just talked to two in another part of the world, and they said 'you know, when my first child was born three years ago, I took two days, but you know what, I'm going to take three weeks.' And I thought, 'you know what, that's progress, right?'"

"I'm very optimistic about the workplace changes that you will see, and it won't just be because the women are exercising their voices, I think it will be because professional men will also be exercising their voices, so I'm very excited about this generation of professionals."


It's important to note that Harris isn't just in this for the social progress—you don't make it to the rarefied air she breathes in one of the world's best-known financial institutions by failing to focus on the bottom line. In fact, the longer the video progresses, the more obvious that becomes: at heart, this is about attracting and retaining talent.

At one point, Harris notes that she believes that the stereotype about millennials "jumping jobs" is flawed—"the word that I would ascribe to [millennials] is loyal," she says, "And that's not a word you hear in corporate America."

But that loyalty comes with a catch: it's a two–way street. Millennials, says Harris, are "Loyal if it's clear that you're making an investment in them: So you're teaching them; you're giving them skills; you're exposing them to the right networks; you're giving them the right kinds of opportunities; you're giving them lots of feedback; and you're also being transparent."

Imagine that: if you create the kind of environment where people can see a future for themselves that they like, they'll stick around to let that future happen. The only surprising thing about that insight is that Harris had to explain it to her audience at all—that is, until you hear the final thing she says:

"If you're a Boomer, you grew up in an environment where someone said 'put your head down, work really hard, and if you don't get fired you know you're doing okay.' That was how we learned to deal. But [millennials] have grown up in a completely transparent environment, and a very engaged environment, so you can't expect to manage them the same way we were managed. And right now, the Boomers are in charge and have the power, and we make the mistake […] of managing the way that we were managed, and that won't work for them."

The solution? "You have to manage actively," says Harris. Which means that recruiters and managers need to be able to create "a value proposition that's intriguing, and [millennials] might want to hang around, and at least you have a fighting chance."

Again: whisper it, but this kind of conversation—and the shift in organizational mindset that people like Harris are describing—are proof that the culture at many of our larger corporations is going to continue evolving to meet the preferences of the millennial generation. And it's about time.