The entitled ones

Mar 31, 2016

photo-1448932223592-d1fc686e76eaFor most of my career, I have defended the "new generation," i.e., those just getting out of school and starting their careers. The older people have always complained about the group coming in behind them, saying they don't work as hard or have the commitment level that they had. After all, they walked six miles uphill in snowstorms both ways to school when they were kids. And they all started in the mailroom for $1 an hour and worked their way up. The cycle of bashing your successors continues from generation to generation. My defense has frequently revolved around the idea that every generation DOES do this, and, young people, if given the right environment AND inspiration, will do whatever it takes and work their tails off to do a good job. And for the most part, I think ‎I was right. I think I still AM right – just not AS right as I used to be. The newest generation does include some unbelievably diligent and intelligent workers who are willing to dig in and get the job done. We feel extremely fortunate to have a number of them working for us at Zweig Group and I would put them up against anyone for work ethic and willingness to do whatever has to be done to meet a deadline or fix a problem. That said – I have seen and heard some examples of entitlement from millennials that blew my mind recently. As many of our readers know, I teach entrepreneurship at the undergraduate level at the University of Arkansas. During one class in the last year or so I asked my students what their plans were after college. One young woman who keeps a rather low profile in terms of class participation said she wanted to be a Fortune 500 CEO. I thought, "Great – she's very ambitious." Then I followed up with, "Awesome! What do you want to start out your career doing?" Her response: "I'm willing to start out as a COO." I was so shocked I was nearly speechless! And she wasn't joking. Another example came to me from a local design/build firm. A young, degreed but not registered architect in their employ did some work on a set of plans for a former fellow employee – a project manager – who was fired a few months earlier for working on his own projects on company time. Not only that, the plans were prepared BY the firm a few months earlier but the former PM stole the project away from the firm before he was fired, and the employee knew all about this. In spite of the guy's complete lack of ethics, the young architect refined the plans for the PM while on the company payroll. ‎The only reason the company learned about it was a contractor called them to warn them about potential litigation surrounding the project! When confronted, the young architect said he felt justified in his behavior because his "rent was due" and he "hadn't had a raise" in too many months. He was "owed the money" he made working for a guy who stole from the company. Mind boggling!! Yet another example was brought to me from a large engineering firm in the southeast. When interviewing a young engineering graduate for a potential position in their firm, the cocky fellow stopped the discussion and told them he would "not work one minute more than 40 hours per week and possibly four hours on Saturday," or he "would not work there." Hey, his time was his time, period! Guess what? He was right – he didn't work there! I could go on and on. There's just too little respect for the senior people, too much of an attitude that the company owes someone a living because of their degree or just because, and too little willingness to do the crappy jobs that lead to better jobs. Again – not to put EVERY millennial in this pot – but there are too damned many of them who act like this. Why do they act like this? There are many theories. Here's mine: In a nutshell, life has been too easy on them. They're living in $3,000 a month apartments as university sophomores instead of $100 a month mobile homes. Mom and dad are going in debt to pay for their degrees to the point of not being able to get car back from repo instead of them going in debt with student loans. They drive new Denalis and Tahoes and GT500 Mustangs, not $200, worn-out, six-cylinder Biscaynes. They don't work in school but if they do, it's only in a (relatively) highly-paid internship instead of the local service station or burger joint for $2 an hour. And don't worry about living on Banquet pot pies and three-for-a-buck Swanson "Swiss Steak" dinners, or Kraft Mac N Cheese – go out for sushi on Mom and Dad's credit card, or better yet, get the surf 'N turf at a fine dining establishment. We created these monsters, folks, as the coddling parents and oft-spoiling grandparents of this new generation. And as their employers, we will undoubtedly pay the price for it. But fellow baby-boomers out there – don't despair. And please don't work too hard this week. Life is short. And finally, as always, send your comments and feedback to me at

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s founder and CEO. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1143 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.