Millennials are telling you why your company stinks but you’re not listening: A Q&A with Simon Sinek

Leadership expert and author Simon Sinek has become something of a Millennial Whisperer. With an outrageously popular TED talk and a willingness to advocate for the world’s biggest living generation, Sinek has advised millennials and the companies they work for on how to bring their approaches together.

We came across a Business Insider video where talked about how when millennials start a job early on in their careers and if it doesn’t turn out to be their “dream job” in a few months, they are often quick to move on to another one in the pursuit of a position they love— even though it may be too early to tell. Sinek says to use the opportunity as a learning experience and to keep working at this throughout their careers, even when they think they’ve made it to their ideal workplace.

We wanted to know more, so we reached out to Sinek, who elaborated on his philosophy to Ladders. What really stands out: He is putting out a call to companies to make more of an effort to take their millennial employees more seriously, because what millennials want is also what makes a great workplace.

Sinek’s latest book, Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team, is out on September 5.

Here’s our discussion.

Ladders: You spoke to Business Insider about how a typical millennial characteristic at work is impatience. Could you elaborate on that?

Simon Sinek: Leaders of companies must appreciate that many millennials may have lower self-esteem than they let on. They are impatient to get all the things they want . . . including overcoming some of their challenges. And, like so many of us, many suffer from an addiction to their phones and social media which contributes to their struggle to form deep meaningful relationships.

It’s a generation that has grown up in a world of instant gratification and it becomes normalized. So the belief that you can get what you want, when you want it, is now applied to other things like their careers.

What I love about this generation, is that they are very clear and loud about their desire to make an impact and want to work for companies that have a sense of purpose, cause, or belief—a WHY. They very much want to find a company where they feel they are aligned to something bigger than themselves.  The problem is that millennials’ attitude is right, but they’re treating it like a scavenger hunt.  And that’s not how it works.

Finding it [a good company] takes time, you have to work hard to find a career you love.  It is just like building a relationship, it takes time and when you find that right person you know it, because it feels right. But conversely, companies need to focus on building cultures where people are priority, over profit.  You find that very well-led companies, companies that put people first, actually don’t have a millennial problem. So, if young leaders found what they are looking for, a place where they feel like they can belong, they will stay. So I think Millennials have a sense of patience they need to practice, and companies need to focus on improving the quality of their cultures.

Q: What other mistakes are millennials making at work, and how can they avoid them?

A: Many millennials think that because they grew up with all these technologies they are better at multitasking, and they often use multiple devices at the same time. Many millennials consider this behavior a way of increasing their productivity and expect that others should nd it acceptable. Multitasking, it turns out, does not make us faster or more efficient. It actually slows us down. Keep cell phones and devices out of sight when you need to focus.

Q: What strengths do millennials bring to the office?

A: Growing up in a world of instant gratification has its liabilities. It also offers a huge advantage. Millennials are comfortable with change and quicker to pivot than older generations. I am amazed by how many of them are so comfortable with the thought of quitting their jobs to freelance, join a start-up, or start a company themselves.

Companies should take advantage of these unique characteristics. If there is a project or opportunity that requires lots of quick turns, snap decisions, even risks—throw millennials at it.

Q: How can companies work to retain millennials?

A: Too many companies are not prioritizing the growth, the needs, and the confidence of their people. This is exaggerating the effects of how this young generation grew up, which is why they’re going from job to job to job, looking for a Company to take care of them. And no one’s doing that. Companies need to prioritize their people.

When a company is able to define and articulate their cause, purpose or believe, if gives their employees something to latch on to, so that they feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. We all want to work for a company with a clear sense of WHY and have our work be worth more than the money we are paid to do it.

I think the value add, the thing that millennials, and quite frankly everybody, will be looking for in the future of business is for companies that truly do a good job of building community. Of building an environment where the people really take care each other and love each other because that’s the environment in which they want to work. Instead of complaining that millennials aren’t showing up or aren’t engaged, leaders should use them as a barometer to gauge the kind of culture their company is building.

Whether they like it or not, leaders of companies do have to make some changes to the way they operate to accommodate some of the unique qualities of their youngest workers.

Q: What are some effective ways older workers can engage with younger ones in the office? 

A: Practice empathy. The millennial generation has some unique personality characteristics that seem to confound their employers. Whether or not this is the same or to a higher degree than previous generations, I cannot say. Regardless, wherever I go, no matter the organization size or industry, managers are looking for guidance on how to lead their millennials.

I think employers need to practice empathy. Leaders of companies must remember to take their people as they are and respect that their unique experiences growing up impact how they approach the world. This is not something we must consider or practice only for millennials; we should be practicing empathy with everyone with whom we work.

Real, live human interaction is how we feel a part of something, develop trust and have the capacity to feel for others.

Because an excess of technology can negatively affect how some millennials connect, it’s up to us to bridge the gap. Lead by example by connecting in more human ways.