It’s time to stop picking on millenials.
It was a predictable reaction to a moment in my stump presentation. Part of the purpose of the presentation was to address one of the biggest problems that the assembled business owners suggested they were facing: Finding incentives to motivate Millennials.
Eventually, I’d get around to putting the following passage of text from a Newsweek article on the screen:
“There they are, those preening narcissists who have to document every banal moment with their cutting-edge technology.”
Heads would nod in unison throughout the audience. People would sit up straighter in their chairs in anticipation. “He understands my problem. Maybe HE will have the answers.”
Just then, I would click to the next slide. On it was the cover of the corresponding edition of Newsweek. The date? December 30, 1985.
A ripple of self-deprecating laughter would cross the room. The heads again would not in agreement, this time acknowledging the silliness of the stereotypes to which they had succumbed.
This phenomenon is nothing new. At a certain age, every generation comes to the conclusion that it has the monopoly on wisdom. I am a member of the generation referenced in that Newsweek article, the so-called “Generation X.” The generation that preceded “us,” the “Baby Boomers,” had the audacity to label us as “slackers” and the generation of “Me, Me, Me.”
The irony was thick because this is the same group that brought us Woodstock.
I’m sure the now-hallowed “Greatest Generation” looked down its nose at Baby Boomers for their lack of work ethic and moral compasses. Members of THAT generation should be glad that smartphones didn’t exist in the 1950s and 1960s lest the preserved memory of a “Father Knows Best” culture be disturbed by the more plausible reality Don Draper chronicled in “Mad Men.”
So, can we just stop this nonsense? We’re all exposed hypocrites. We hated it when earlier generations assigned labels to our generation as a group and yet we made the same mistakes with Millennials (a word that I reluctantly capitalize, giving it some measure of stature as a proper noun).
We never would tolerate the assignment of labels to any OTHER group: By race, by gender, by sexual orientation, or by age. Laws and Constitutional amendments exist specifically to prevent such types of discrimination.
Yet somehow, when you put brackets around a group of people by GENERATION, our zero-tolerance policy for stereotyping and profiling evaporates.
Let me dispute 7 myths about (the cohort born in the 1980s and early 1990s) based on my observations in working with people of that particular birth era.
- “They’re lazy.” Some work hard; some don’t. My guess is that any legitimate, sociological study on the subject would confirm the theory advanced by the adage: “How many people work here? About half.”
- “They’re tethered to their smartphones.” Who isn’t? When Blackberries first hit the scene in the early 2000s, the early adopters among my co-workers would sit in meetings and stare at their magical screens. They thought the rest of us were too ignorant to know they weren’t paying attention. By the way, they obviously were NOT Millennials.
- “They have fleeting attention spans.” Preposterous on its face if you spend one moment thinking this trait is exclusive to Millennials. I mean, previous generations didn’t have access to Ritalin.
- “They have an entitlement attitude.” Do they like flexible work schedules? Do they expect to be able to work from home? Well, yeah, but technology has enabled such work/lifestyle balance. And who, at any age, doesn’t want such things?
- “They lack loyalty.” Just…no. At least not as a group. Some do; some don’t. I could cite a statistic that Millennials stay with their employers LONGER than previous generations, but I won’t.
- “They’re financially illiterate.” Well, maybe, but who knows yet? What I do know is they’re not yet well-represented in the U.S. Congress and look how that group is doing in this particular area.
- “They dress poorly. They don’t have respect for the workplace.” I’m going to paraphrase an observation made by a co-worker from many years ago that sort of applies here. “There’s an equation at play here. The average age of the workforce remains constant. Your DISTANCE from that age does not.”
Let me conclude by paying some measure of credit to a gentleman who used to work for me. He is the anti-thesis of most of these stereotypes. He is loyal, hard-working, and brought a level of common sense each year to our budgeting process that was lacking in those who were decades his senior. He detests the stereotypes associated with his generation. In fact, it was he that discovered the Newsweek article I cite earlier.
Is this person generally representative of Millennials? No. Because stereotypes and labels are foolish, even if they assign positive attributes to an entire group. But I’d take five more like him…of any age.