The ‘personality flaws’ of millennials can just as easily be seen as desirable attributes – ones that can help your company achieve prosperity and success.
7 min read
I've spent a fair amount of my career training millennials on a variety of work-related topics. I also work with millennials every day, as the founder and former CEO of the world's largest training company. And I have two millennial sons, ages 24 and 25, who come with an entire assortment of millennial friends, many of whom still descend upon me with great regularity, for a bed, a home cooked meal or a little free career advice.
I guess you could say that I'm virtually surrounded by millennials. And sadly, whether it's in my classes, my office or my living room, I keep hearing the same lament: My millennial associates are experiencing an eerie sort of sanctioned workplace prejudice, where they're the accepted brunt of surreptitious break room jokes, departmentally shared email cartoons and overtly sarcastic comments ("Hey, did your mom pack your lunch today?") — none of which makes for an atmosphere conducive to cooperation and productivity. So, in defense of those I've come to respect and adore, I'm taking a stand: To all you baby boomers and Gen Xers who just won't quit throwing shade at millennials, it's time that we back off and get over ourselves. I've coined the term "millennial-bashing" to describe this phenomenon, and I believe it's a sociological pandemic worthy of examination.
I must first acknowledge that there's nothing new under the sun, and generational putdowns are almost cliché. The silent generation (born 1926-1946, per Pew Research Center) whined about the lavish spending habits of baby boomers (1947-1964), who carped about the laziness of Gen Xers (1965 to 1980), who now gripe about the self-absorbed, egotistical temperaments of millennials (1981-2000).
So, why do we readily embrace millennial-bashing, even though it's clearly an accepted form of ageism? Here's my theory: Millennials are the first full generation to suffer the slings and arrows foisted upon them via social media. Just Google "millennials" and what will you find? Almost countless memes and YouTube videos deriding millennials for anything and everything, from poor work ethics to short attention spans to mega-entitlement issues. No wonder millennials feel like they're being subjected to an unjust amount of criticism today.
However, like it or not, millennials are here to stay — with a vengeance. Pew Research Center's findings show that millennials are now 35 percent of the workforce (surpassing Xers and boomers) and will combine with post-millennials to become 75 percent of the workforce by 2030. And because of our attitudinal prejudices, we're doing ourselves a disservice by failing to welcome this younger generation into the fold.
So, what are the most common complaints about millennials?
1. "Millennials are attached to their phones."
It's as rare as a Bigfoot sighting to find a millennial without a phone today. But, let's face facts: It's rare to find anyone without a phone. Take a look at Xers, boomers — even the silent generation have their flip phones. Mobile devices are a ubiquitous reality of modern life, and certainly not unique to one particular generation.
Millennials are the first full generation of digital natives, and the first generation to fall in love with iPhones. A recent study found 91 percent of millennials say they have a healthy relationship with technology, while 57 percent of boomers say tech has "ruined relationships."
Why this is good for business: Seventy-three percent of millennials believe their relationship with technology in general, and with their phones in particular, has fostered a better work-life balance. Their love of tech contributes to the building of better efficiencies at work, and the building of better relationships outside of work. Furthermore, while millennials aren't big on phone calls or face-to-face meetings, they communicate much more often than previous generations — by text, IM or Slack. And honestly, isn't being "kept in the loop" what all managers want from their employees?
2. "Millennials job-hop too much."
A recent study by qualtrics and Accel+ surveyed more than 7,000 millennials and found that in the past five years, millennials have had an average of 2.29 jobs, which means they've changed jobs every 26 months. Furthermore, millennials are three times more likely than boomers to switch jobs for geographic relocation.
But, before we dismiss millennials as a flighty bunch, a closer examination of this same research shows that millennials overwhelmingly want to see value in their work — and will change jobs in order to experience personal fulfillment. They work to make a difference — not to simply punch a clock.
Why this is good for business: If your organization has a solid, ethical, embraceable vision for the future, millennials can be just as loyal as any other generation. Millennials who have found their niche will work tirelessly to realize your company's vision. And couple vision with an environment that allows for a reasonable work-life balance, and millennials will be loyal beyond expectation.
3. "Millennials have no respect for older generations."
Does this sound familiar?:
"The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love [talking] in place of exercise."
While this quote could be taken directly from Joel Stein's infamous Time magazine piece dissing millennials, it's attributed to Greek philosopher, Socrates, who was ironically sentenced to death in 399 BC for corrupting the youth of his day. Older generations have been complaining about younger generations quite literally since recorded history.
But, here's the deal. Millennials respect actions rather than job titles, which rankles boomers and Xers who were raised to automatically respect a VP or CEO simply because he or she most likely "put in the time" to land the title. Millennials don't care about the past. They care about now and the future. For millennials, if a VP has a clear vision of where the company is going, engages genuinely with his or her staff, and invests in them personally and professionally, that VP will surely gain the respect of his or her millennial constituency.
Why this is good for business: Millennials, just like every other generation, want respect for their knowledge, talents and abilities — and they're prepared to give it back, as well.
Today's smart businesses implement the reverse mentoring system made popular by former GE Chairman Jack Welch. Reverse mentoring basically partners a younger worker with a seasoned manager or executive, and the results are self-evident: Knowledge gaps on both sides are closed, and the "us versus them" mentality evaporates. Older execs learn about technology, new trends, social media and what their current customer base (that would be millennials) wants. Millennials learn business savvy and industry practices from their experienced counterparts — a win-win on both sides.
Isn't it time for us to ease up on our millennial colleagues? Millennial-bashing is a treacherous, de facto form of age-related prejudice, and we need to realize that our criticisms are hackneyed, discriminatory and harmful to the work environment. Instead, let's learn to appreciate and celebrate the myriad assets that millennials bring to the table: conscientiousness, creativity, incredible tech savvy, openness to change, brainpower, enthusiasm and spirit.
Besides, the post-millennials (2001 or later) are just a few years away from entering the workforce and driving us all crazy, so be sure and have your newly minted, snarkiest putdowns at the ready.
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