As a Generation Xer, I’m very, very proud of my generation; just ask me. Spend a day or two with me, and you’ll end up getting an earful about how awesome my generation is and why! However, I’m not a massive fan of boomers. Call it the typical generation annex, call it jealousy, or call it impatience (I’m looking forward to having control). Either way, I’m not going to miss them in the workforce.
On the other hand, you have the incoming millennials. Every day I pinch myself that I’m getting a chance to work with them. Sure, you could say I’ve been working with them for ten years since the oldest is turning 36 this year. But, in my opinion, the early group of millennials (those born from 1980 to 1989) are a gap generation. I’m talking about the tail end of the millennials, the ones born from 1990 to 2000. I love these people! I can also tell you, I’m tired of the bad rap they are getting from boomers and Xers.
Here’s why I think they’re fantastic and don’t deserve the bad reputation they’re getting.
The biggest and most important reason we need to cut them some slack is this: We taught them to be precisely the way they are. We did this. We can fight it now that we’re living with it, but we did this. Let me give you some classic examples.
One of the first complaints I hear in the workplace about millennials is: “They think they should make $100k and have a corner office straight out of college!” Now, stop and think about that. Where did they learn to ask for that? I think I might have an idea. How many times have you heard Generation X or boomer professionals tell kids they have to fight for what they want? “You have to get in there and ask for it,” they’ll say. Or, “I wish I would have asked for more.” The millennials have listened to us complain for years, and guess what? They aren’t making the same mistakes. They are asking for, even demanding, what they want to start. We taught them to do that by always complaining that we hadn’t!
As an employer, this doesn’t bother me. On the contrary, I love it, and I recommend we see this trait not as a bad thing, but as an opportunity to have a conversation. Millennials will come to your office and have a real discussion about what they want. The reality is, they won’t get it until they earn it, but at least we have a dialogue about expectations. There are so many Xers and boomers who sit in their offices and stew about not getting what they deserve. The millennial, on the other hand, will come and ask for what they want. I appreciate that. Hey, they might not like the answer, but at least you had the conversation. If they stay, great. They know the way things work. If they go, great. You weeded out one that wouldn’t work either way and did it early.
Another complaint I hear over and over is that millennials aren’t hard workers: “Millennials will only work 8 hours a day or less,” and “Millennials won’t work the weekends.” It is so evident that we taught them this. I don’t even know why we complain about it. Look at every TV show, movie, book, or song produced over the past 30 years. There’s a constant refrain that people work too many hours, or that people regret not seeing their kids. Now, pair that with millennials watching their parents working themselves to death to chase the American dream. It’s no wonder they refuse to work more than 8 hours. Instead of complaining, get every minute of work out of them you can. Guide and mentor them. You might not like to admit it, but they are ten times more efficient than us. If you enable them and turn them loose, they can do more work in 8 hours than you can do in 12. Deal with it.
Another classic complaint (about a tendency that we taught them) goes, “These millennials live at home until the age of 30+ and are slow to start their careers.” For a minute, take away the fact that they came into one very messed up work environment and a slow economy, and think about what we taught them. All along, we’ve said, “Boy, I wish I would have taken some time before I started working full time.” Or, “You should get as much education as you can; I sure wish I would have gotten my Master’s.” Or, “Enjoy your twenties as much as you can. You never get that time back!” Look at all these ideas we put in their heads! We told them to move back in with their moms and take a decade off. Remember, they did NOT grow up with the Greatest Generation or early boomers telling them to get to work. They grew up with late boomers and Xers telling them to take it easy and enjoy their youth, mostly because the boomers so regret losing their early adult years to work.
Here’s my point: For almost every negative you can give me on the millennials, I can give you a considerable mirror to look in because we created this attitude. To quote Mike and the Mechanics, “Every generation / Blames the one before / And all of their frustrations / Come beating on your door.” In this case, the millennials have every reason to blame us for modeling precisely the things we mock.
When all is said and done, I think the blaming and complaining we do about millennials needs to end for two reasons. They are awesome. And they have nothing to be ashamed of. Do you know what the millennial’s greatest sin is? Listening to the generations that came before and endeavoring not to make the same mistakes. They could be the first generation that has listened. We should be applauding them for it, not running down a generation that is subconsciously doing all they can to learn from our errors.
I say to all my millennial friends, embrace all that is good about your generation. Once you have done that, take a minute to look back at the generations that came before you and laugh. Because guess what? They wish they could be you.