Stop Blaming Millennials

I am very surprised that hardly a day goes by that I don’t still hear the word Millennial used as a pejorative. The redundant jokes and blaming this generation for all that ales us today has become a bit boring. It appears that a very large part of our society feels perfectly fine with playing the role of the victim. The interesting thing is, we are not victims, we are in fact the unintentional architects.

It’s 2019. Millennials are now between the ages of 23-38. I know and have worked with many of these individuals. And Just like each preceding generation there are some unique characteristics they possess. If you ask most people, they will define those characteristics as: entitled, lazy, disloyal & self-absorbed. Why? What has created this perception? Could it be their overwhelming need for recognition? Maybe. Could it be their inability to remain on a job for more than 6 months or even 6 days? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s the amazing display of protest and dislike for all we feel they should embrace. Yes, I’m sure these behaviors as seen on the surface have fueled many perspectives. Cause? Some say poor parenting. Sure, perhaps parents got a bit over-protective. But show me a generation who didn’t want to provide their children with all they were deprived of. Show me a generation who didn’t want to shield their children from all the ugliness they were exposed to. But the actions of the parents were by no means the fault of the children. Yet we are perfectly comfortable placing blame on the millennials. I believe that questionable parenting is but a mere morsel regarding cause. The lion share of cause belongs to the technology this generation was born into. The very technology that we, the older generations created. Again, not their fault.

The technology we have seen over the past 30 years has catapulted our society in a direction that in my opinion, is not in our best interest. Everything today is about speed and ease. Do it quicker, faster, smarter and with less effort. Sounds good right? Well, unfortunately it has created the inability for most to exercise patience. We want more and we want it now. Need to know something, Goggle it. Want to buy something, ship it overnight – for free. We have lost our ability to invest time. Relationships fail quicker. People leave companies quicker. If you’re a commuter, God help you. The roads are infected with angry, impatient and distracted drivers.

Enter Social Media. If there were ever an Oxymoron, this is it. When used in moderation, this vast network of sites and devices can be entertaining and even help connect us with people that otherwise may have been out of our lives. However, moderation is not the norm today. People are developing neuro-connections to their devices. We are losing the ability to truly communicate. We are slowly eroding the human touch. Teen depression and suicide are at an all-time high. While I could go on and on about the need to exercise caution with all this technology, I will save that conversation for another time. The point I am looking to make here is that we need to stop blaming Millennials. We need to accept some responsibility. We must seek to understand them. We also have a responsibility to coach them.

What we see as entitlement is more likely a desire to be entrepreneurial. Technology has created a vast amount of opportunities for autonomy. We must look at the workplace differently. Can a person accomplish just as much working remotely as they can at the Workplace? Perhaps. What about flexible hours? Or are we simply going to do it the way we “always have.” I was once heard a senior level director tell a newly hired employee “We don’t work from home” I had to laugh. I couldn’t remember a day when I didn’t respond to an email, do research or prepare for a presentation from home. What he really meant was, “we don’t pay you to work from home.” Maybe they should have.

What appears to be disloyal may be a need for purpose. When people join a company today, they are looking for more than just a job. They want to belong to something greater than just a paycheck. A cause. A purpose. A belief. It is important for companies to identify with what they believe. This must expand beyond the 3 standard value propositions of price, service and quality. Today, employees want to know what you truly stand for and they want to be part of it. But if you don’t know what you believe, how do you hire people who believe what you believe? If you hire them and offer nothing but a job and a paycheck, they will stick around until something better comes along. When they are part of something greater however, this creates a sense of belonging. When employees feel they belong, trust and loyalty emerge.

What appears as self-absorbed may be a need for self-expression. Create opportunities for employees to share their ideas. When a person is newly hired, they typically go through a training process. They may even have a mentor. Consider a reverse mentorship. Here is what I mean: Once the training is done, have the new employee share their perspective on how things are done. They may see things differently and bring fresh innovative ideas that could very well improve the operation. I’ll quote Steve Jobs: “We don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do. We hire smart people to tell us what to do.”

Lastly, as leaders we have an obligation to create balance. While the new technology can be useful and fun, we must ensure the human touch does not erode. Before meetings, I would have all attendees check their phones outside the board room. Kind of reminded me of the days of Wyatt Earp – check your guns at the bar fellers. The idea was to create an environment that encouraged face-to-face conversation. It always amazes me that when people are gathered waiting for a meeting to start or a bus to arrive, they bury themselves in their devices rather than getting to know the person to their left or right.

What is happening today is not the fault of the Millennials. Nor is it exclusive to Millennials. It’s time to stop acting like victims and start realizing that this is the new modern world. We created it and we must be prepared to manage it.

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