May 18, 2007 -- When it comes to talking about work and the latest generation of employees, 57-year-old employer Elliott Masie does not mince his words. He said today's young workers act as if they are "entitled" and are "somewhat spoiled."
Masie, a member of the baby boomer generation, heads his own company. Every day he faces the challenge of managing much younger workers; members of the millennial generation -- those born after 1981.
"We recently had to tell a young woman employee that this was not an underwear optional workplace," he told ABCNEWS.com. "This generation needs to be deeply coached about wardrobe, and a lot of them are used to getting up at 10 or 11 a.m. Forget about them showing up to work at 8 or 9 a.m."
Masie knows more than most about the new generation of workers. He manages an international think tank that specializes in learning, technology and workplace productivity. The Masie Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., employs what the company calls "extremely tech-savvy" young people.
Masie has studied as well as employed so called "millennials."
"They grew up with an 'everyone gets a trophy' sense of entitlement," he said. "They are members of a generation that thinks it should get a trophy just for waking up in the morning."
Such entitlement can reveal itself in strange ways.
"I had a human resources manager call me about a worker who received her performance review only to have her mother call up and complain that 'she's better than that,'" he recalled. "The HR manager was shocked and asked the mother why she was calling about her daughter. The mother responded, 'Because I've done so throughout my daughter's life.'"
"They are what their parents wanted to create," said Masie.
From Traditionalists to Millennials
The traditionalists -- workers born before 1946 who respect authority, place duty before pleasure, delay gratification and avoid challenging the system.
The baby boomers -- workers born between 1946 and 1964 who live to work, are willing to go into debt betting on the future, and will in many cases work after traditional retirement.
The Generation Xers -- workers born between 1965 and 1980 who work to live, not live to work, want versatility and are skeptical and cynical.
The millennials -- workers born between 1981 and 1994 who question everything, are family oriented, demand clear and consistent expectations, live in the moment and earn money for immediate consumption.
Melanie Holmes, Manpower's vice president of corporate affairs, told ABC News that it's "dangerous to generalize about a generation of workers. There is no right or wrong generation, no bad or good generation." If workers are really, really good then age makes no difference. If they are not good, then others may attribute that to their younger age."
Over-parenting may be a leading cause behind today's "entitled workers," but there is also technology. "They have grown up as digital natives," said Masie. "What our generation might see as added value, they see as everything. They are the Google generation and believe they can type their way to everything."
The danger, according to Masie, is the failure to arrive at the truth through multiple sources and experience. "Learning, development and context," he said are the victims.
"You have to dive deep for the truth. It's not just what you can pull off the Internet. But this generation hasn't had to dive for anything. That's due to technology and their parents," he said. "Their parents are not comfortable with their kids having less than everything. They experience no struggle and no realization of consequences."
Holmes also takes note of the role of technology and said she is sometimes frustrated with texting, which is popular with her younger employees. "I don't understand instant messaging. My generation learned to type. Today there are little kids sending text messages," she said. "It's a whole communications thing that can leave older workers out and that can lead to conflict."
Different values drive different work force behavior, which can sometimes translate into conflict between younger workers and older supervisors.
"The millennials are more collaborative and require a different form of managing," said Masie. "There are more self-starters in this generation; they are clearly different than their bosses. The average worker under the age of 25 doesn't expect to remain at a company for more than three years. They expect a sequence of jobs over their lifetime."
Managing short-term employees who have different values and expectations sometimes requires managers to practice more than a little bit of patience.
"They bring their life to work with too many cell phones, too much texting and too many iPods," said Masie. "At first it drove me nuts, but I've learned to accept it because the ultimate question is do they do their jobs. These are the adjustments bosses have to make."
Dick Ludeke, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance, agreed that the millennial generation of workers is unlike any that has preceded them. "Our younger employees do want different things than our older employees, and we're looking at our reward packages, including quality 401K plans for them," he told ABCNEWS.com.
But Gordon Bethune, the former CEO of Continental, thinks the change in workplace attitudes is to be expected. "Certainly today there is a sense that you have a right to a job, whereas when I was a kid a job was something that you were fortunate to have," he said. "But every generation feels that the generation ahead of them has it easier. And after your parents and your parents parents had jobs, why wouldn't you think you have a right to one? It's normal."
Discipline and Work Ethics
"I don't always give them what they want," said Masie. "Actions have consequences. I tell my employees you will be managed to perform. I don't believe in all the touchy-feely 'you're a wonderful person' stuff. Instead, my role is to ask them how can I and other bosses help them to help us to get where we're going as a company."
Manpower's Holmes agreed and said her company is about to impose a new dress code. "We have a problem with women dressing as 'hootchie mommas.' It's difficult to deal with this, but we're moving into new headquarters and we'll be upgrading our dress code."
Several bosses interviewed for this story said they understood why so many younger workers are not as committed to their employers as previous generations were. "They aren't thinking about giving a company 20 years," said one boss who preferred to remain anonymous. "They have seen what's happened to their parents who in some cases have lost their jobs to cost cutting, outsourcing and age discrimination."
As a result, statistics reveal fewer young people are going to graduate school these days. "Why study in depth for years when technology could render a specific job skill irrelevant," said Masie.
Corporate Loyalty: A Thing of the Past
Studies have shown that "millennials" are loyal to themselves not the companies that employ them.
"They have seen too many layoffs to be loyal," said Holmes. "That actually can be a good thing, as more workers need to take personal responsibility."
But it also translates into a problem for companies that need to plan for the future.
Bye, Bye Baby Boomers
"We're aware that baby boomers won't be working for much longer," said State Farm's Ludeke. "We need to attract new workers. What our younger employees want right now is flexibility, to be able to work 'virtually' in a friendly work environment and be able to wear casual clothing.We are constantly re-evaluating our offering to make sure we remain competitive."
Holmes agrees. "Nearly half of the work force will be eligible for retirement within the next 10 years. That's huge," she said. "Companies need to start taking generational diversity more seriously than they have. For those that ignore it, they're simply hiding their heads."
Nadine Rubin of ABC News contributed to this story.