A field guide to millenials

Posted By: John Moore · 4/8/2014 5:09:00 PM

I'll admit it, I was listening to another talk radio station last week and I heard the host rant about millenials for about ten minutes. He called them lazy, entitled, directionless, rude and aimless. And he sounded like a cranky old man. Griping about young people is so old Plato did it. Half the time I think it springs from the jealousy of no longer being able to live the life we had in our twenties; remember randomly spending time together with people like the cast of Friends? (admittedly....less good looking people). But listening to a guy who gets paid six figures to sit in a chair and talk, winge about "teaching young people a thing or two about the real world" also irked me.

Today's youth are facing a completely transformed job market. Where their parents and grandparents graduated with relatively little debt and almost always landed well paying and long lasting jobs young people today are graduating with mountains of debt and the best many can hope for are unpaid internships with vague promises of jobs down the line. These aren't the internships we had. Those actually had goals, deadlines, supervision and mentoring. Today major corporations have young people doing jobs that used to belong to people with salaries and benefits. One guy wrote me and said his internship consisted of repetitive tasks, lasted six months and involved reporting to another intern. 

So it was interesting to chat this morning with business and communications expert Merge Gupta-Sunderji about a column she wrote about understanding Millenials for the Globe and Mail. You can read it here. The most startling point she makes is that if we're going to complain about today's young people we have to accept blame for having raised them. We let them watch TV instead of having conversations. We raised them to ignore the people in the room for people they could connect with on the internet. We told them they were the most special snowflakes in the world and that anyone who said otherwise was someone mommy would pick a fight with.

But the problems young people are experiencing today reach beyond how they were raised. We expect them to show loyalty in a corporate culture that increasingly has no loyalties. No-one deserves a job for life but if the attitude of employers is "you should count yourself lucky just to have a job" why does it surprise us that young employees aren't all that interested in working Saturday for free? Especially for managers who enjoy all the benefits we now call millenials "spoiled" for expecting for themselves. Managers had defined benefits plans, new hires get defined contribution. Who's spoiled?

Gupta-Sunderji also makes some interesting points about communicating with young people. It's not out of disrespect that they don't excel at face to face communications. It's just not how they've learned to communicate. 

I know, no matter what I say there will be plenty of people shouting "no-one owes them a living. Get your life together". Just ask yourself, who was there for you when you were starting out?

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  1. Merge Gupta-Sunderji posted on 04/08/2014 11:59 PM
    John, as you well know, you're talking about a subject that's close to my heart! Millennials see the world through a different set of glasses, a different value filter. Not necessarily bad, just different. Their values arise primarily from the influences they had growing up – digital technology, instant access to everything, (usually) families with high disposable incomes, child-focused marketing, "helicopter" parents, the list goes on … Sure they come with faults – Boomers and Gen Xers accuse them of being impatient, self-absorbed, having unreasonable expectations – but to be fair, just as many Boomers are unyielding, uptight, self-centred and cynical. I think it's time to quit bashing Millennials for their faults and value them for their strengths.

    So what are some of those strengths? They're highly collaborative; organizations want teamwork, Millennials excel. They're used to change, they can shift rapidly and adjust to altered circumstances; what organization doesn't see that as a strength? They have no problem questioning the status quo; if we can put our pride aside, couldn’t organizations benefit from this boldness? They're comfortable with technology, ready to be the first in to try things out. If organizations want to keep up with what the market demands, then Millennials may be their best bet in accomplishing that. There is more, but I think you get my point. Let's face it, unless we want to be working until the day we keel over, these are the young people who are going to lead our companies into the brave new future; heck these are the people who are going to be parents to our grandchildren. I think it's mandatory for us to try and understand their perspectives and find ways to bridge the generational gap. (By the way, a desire to create better understanding goes both ways; it's just as important for Millennials to reach out as well.) And it's conversations such as these that move us in the right direction.
  2. GregH_5652 posted on 04/09/2014 11:34 AM
    I work in manufacturing and I've seen a fair number of early-twenties workers come through the plant in my 17 years there. What I've noticed is that they're not necessarily lazy or entitled but they are very selective about what they will work hard at. When given a job they enjoy or find interesting they will work as hard as anyone. But, when the job kind of sucks but really needs to be done, you get push back and whining. This is a generalization of course but I do think it's accurate.
    As far as how they interact with people and their PEDs, I agree, John that we, their parents, are to blame. We allow it. My 20 year old daughter "loves" to watch NFL football with me on Sundays. Her version of watching football consists of looking up from her phone every 20 minutes to see the score.
    I don't envy this generation. I think in some ways we've given them a raw deal. I also think that they need to be realistic about their career expectations before they accumulate $80 thousand in university debt.
  3. Tim posted on 04/09/2014 07:24 PM
    Maybe this explains why I've met so many sociopathic millennials -- no, I'm not exaggerating either -- in the workplace. No courtesy, no loyalty, no class, totally narcissistic, and so toxic that I rarely work with anyone under 35 these days. Fortunately, I have that luxury.
  4. Dawn posted on 04/10/2014 10:20 AM
    The "Old Host" does not really understand young people and offers no real solution to the problem. I wouldn't be loyal to any Corporation that exploits free labour in an effort to maximize profit! Futher I would encourage you people to not working in nursing because they'll be changing the bed pans of curmudgeons...
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