Just when I thought I’d read everything about Millennials (employees born after 1980), along comes Claire Lacroix-Bouchardie from Mercer New York. She wrote a white paper about how flighty Millennials in the workforce bear a striking resemblance to honey bees that are abandoning their colonies in record numbers and striking out on their own. Among the highlights of her comparison:
Honey bees have traditionally been an image for the model employee – the quiet and disciplined worker who we come across less and less.
Apparently, this is true in the honey bee colonies as well. According to Lacroix-Bouchardie, the world’s honey bees are experiencing colony collapse disorder, a mass disappearance of worker bees from their beehives. The first symptom of this, which beekeepers can detect, is the plunging ratio of worker bees to baby bees, leaving the colony’s workforce insufficient to maintain its brood.
The same thing is currently occurring across labor markets, as Baby Boomer retirement starts en masse and companies cannot hold on to their younger workers. And even the ones they manage to retain do not have the skills and savvy to replace seasoned Boomers. The world’s companies are quickly getting into a situation in which the brain drain is so significant that they can’t sustain themselves.
Honey bees that don’t live in a colony set up shop by themselves and build their own nests. Keener on freedom and independence, they resemble Millennials in the workplace who are eager to be self-employed and responsible for their own destinies.
In addition to showing great skills of dynamism, creativity and adaptability, says Lacroix-Bouchardie, wild bees produce as much honey – and better honey – than bees within a colony. Likewise, Millennials bring a lot of dynamism and creativity to the global labor market, and just like wild bees, their contributions to the organization are as strong – if not stronger – than older generations. They want to be leaders, and they have loads of innovative ideas. Just because they don’t conform to the stereotypical worker bee mentality doesn’t mean they aren’t doing a great job at pulling their weight.
Lacroix-Bouchardie suggests that managers refrain from trying to “domesticate” Millennial wildness too much if they want their organizations to stay competitive and in growth mode. I agree that this is essential, for the solution is neither to tame young professionals into submission, nor allow them to channel all their efforts into their own businesses instead of ours.
To some degree, as long as they are productive and efficient, Millennial employees should be allowed to be who they are. We must shift our approach to help them find meaning in their work with us and develop professionally so they are ready to lead our companies – in a way that’s palatable to them. We must mentor them and let them mentor us. Make no mistake, Millennials are our future. Unless organizations are willing to evolve with this new generation of employees, they risk extinction.