JOEL Pavelski, 27, is not the first person who has lied to his boss to scam some time off work.
But inventing a friend’s funeral, when in fact he was building a tree house, then blogging and tweeting about it to be sure everyone at the office noticed? That feels new.
Such was a recent management challenge at Mic, a New York website that is vying to become a leading news source created by and for millennials.
Its recent headlines include “Don’t Ban Muslims, Ban Hoverboards” and “When Men Draw Vaginas”.
Chris Altchek, Mic’s 28-year-old chief executive, says: “There’s 80 million millennials; we focus on the 40 (who) went to college.”
But he is still working out how to manage many of the traits associated with his fellow millennials such as a sense of entitlement, a tendency to overshare on social media and frankness verging on insubordination.
Mic’s staff of 106 looks a lot like its target demographic: trim 20-somethings, with beards on the men and cute outfits on the women, who end every sentence with an exclamation mark and use the word “literally” a lot.
Their crowded newsroom on Hudson Street has an aggressively playful vibe, like a middle-school fraternity house. Some ride hoverboards into the kitchen for the free snacks. Others wield Nerf dart guns or use a megaphone for ad hoc announcements. Dino, a white Maltese terrier owned by the lead designer, snuffles between desks.
Altchek is proud of the freewheeling office culture. “It helps us to have everyone speak out and best ideas rise to the top,” he said. “What that can feel like or sound like is rudeness. But I’d rather have a lot of people speaking their minds than a very controlled environment.”
But running an office made up exclusively of millennials, it turns out, is not without its challenges. His philosophy was tested when Pavelski, Mic’s director of programming, requested a week off, ostensibly to attend a wake in home town in Wisconsin. “I went to talk to Joel and said, ‘So sorry about your loss, take as much time as you need,’” says Altchek.
Then, several days later, he noticed Pavelski tweet a link to Medium, a popular blog for cathartic, personal essays. In a post titled, How to Lose Your Mind and Build a Tree house, Pavelski wrote about feeling burnt out at work and wanting to rebuild a childhood tree house as therapy. The first line read, “I said that I was leaving town for a funeral, but I lied.”
“I was sort of taken aback,” Althchek said. “It’s not acceptable to be lied to.”
In a disciplinary meeting the next day, Pavelski’s supervisor acknowledged that he had been working gruelling hours, so he was given another chance.
Still, Altchek wanted to send a message. “Our feedback to him was, ‘This is not a three-strike policy, it’s a two-strike policy,’” he said.
Pavelski is still on his first strike. But even in an office that is tolerant of youthful boundary pushing, some millennial behaviour can cross the line.
Altchek recalled a companywide meeting last year that coincided with Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha. An Anglo-Pakistani employee asked why management had announced a flexible time off policy for the Jewish holiday, but not for its Muslim counterpart.
“So I told her, ‘Great point, being inclusive and respectful of all religious affiliations is incredibly important to Mic,’” Altchek remembers.
Afterwards, in front of a smaller group, he was approached by a younger, entry-level employee who said that there were two words missing from his reply. “I was a bit confused and said, ‘Okay, what were those?’” he says. “And she said: ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t hear an apology.’”
Altchek did not think such a comment belonged in a workplace, especially his.
“I was a little taken aback by the tone, but I told her I would address it and make sure the person who asked the question wasn’t offended by the answer,” he said. “You have to control your temper. It was in front of a bunch of people, which was probably better, because I was forced to be calm.”
The employee is no longer with the company. Altchek says that she was let go for “performance-related issues”.
A sense of entitlement is not the only stereotype attached to millennials in the workplace.
“Entitled, lazy, narcissistic and addicted to social media,” according to CNBC. “They don’t need trophies but they want reinforcement,” Forbes wrote. “Many millennials want to make the world a better place, and the future of work lies in inspiring them,” Fast Company has proclaimed.
Older managers confused by why millennials like to Snapchat with co-workers, or do not want to pay their dues with grunt work, had better get used to it.
Last year, millennials edged out Generation X as the largest share of the labour force, according to the Pew Research Center. What’s more is that millennials have also surpassed baby boomers.
Joan Kuhl, 36, who founded Why Millennials Matter, a consulting firm that advises employers like Goldman Sachs on hiring and retaining recent college graduates, says that what is needed is more familiarity.
“We tend to publicise these outrageous acts of defiance versus emphasising the majority that I run into and work with, who are very mission-focused and value-based,” she says.
She educates her clients on the quirks of millennials and why a 21-year-old sees nothing wrong with oversharing.
Millennials are pushed to create a “strong personal brand” to land a job, says Kuhl. So, asking them to tone it down once they are employed sends “a lot of mixed messages”.
This article first appeared in the New York Times.