Friends, family, people of the internet…we need to talk. I have a difficult message for some of you, but it’s something that I think you need to hear. I know you think you’re helping, or at least not hurting anyone, but I disagree and I am officially putting my foot down. I cannot and will not listen to you whine about millennials anymore. That’s it. I proclaim the air, land, and water in my immediate vicinity to be a ‘no millennial bashing’ zone, and any violators will be dealt with harshly from here on out.
I’m sorry it’s come to this. Really, I am. But you left me no choice. 2016 has been a particularly rough year in millennial-bashing so far. A small sample of the things I have heard or read from various sources among you in the last month:
“If you hire a 20-something good luck, they don’t know how to work.”
“…a New York Times food column on cereal reported that 40 percent of millennials said cereal is an inconvenient food because it requires cleanup after eating.”
“The work-ethic decline is real,” said Jean Twenge, the author of “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before”
“Entitled, that’s what I think they are.”
“…(former) Yelp employee Talia Jane Ben-Ora became momentarily famous as the poster-child for all things wrong with the entitlement mindset of young adults in today’s America.”
First I should say that I don’t believe that these generalizations are very accurate or useful, but let’s put that aside to address the larger issue since they’re widely perceived to be true, which is what led me to this breaking point. The last straw was that I decided a few weeks ago to start challenging some of the people who casually toss around these assertions as though they are fact. Since virtually all of these viewpoints seem to be grounded in a feeling that millennials are not like ‘us’, and somehow ought to know how to do or be something different, instead of arguing about their validity I asked people if they would consider mentoring a person to help them develop the viewpoint, skills, or qualities that the speaker seemed to feel they were lacking.
People did not particularly enjoy this line of questioning.
A condensed synopsis of the responses I heard:
- “They are not interested in being mentored”
- “I wouldn’t even know where to get started”
- “I don’t have time for that”
- “They already think they know everything”
- “I’m too busy”
- “Why should I; they should figure it out on their own like I did”
Does reading that make you as sad as it does me? Do we not all have a child, sibling, niece, nephew, neighbour, or friend that falls into this big, faceless group we apply the ‘millennials’ label to who isn’t anything like the lazy, entitled millennial stereotype? Maybe it’s your 20-something cousin Timmy who works weekends while at university. Maybe it’s that new girl in Accounting who seems really engaged, or your own child who is working on establishing a solid career path. Think about that person. Does it seem fair that their interviewers, boss, or colleagues might assume that they probably don’t know how to work hard, but whatever…it’s not like it’s their job to provide them with advice about how to manage these perceptions and navigate their organization’s culture.
I’m guessing you wouldn’t want that for your cousin, friend, or child…I’m guessing that you would hope that their co-workers and managers would give them the benefit of the doubt and maybe even give them some advice or guidance. I’m guessing that you see where I’m going with this.
I’m not saying that there aren’t ‘entitled millennials’ in our workplaces; maybe there are some. I’m saying that assuming everyone in this age group is a hopeless lay-about is both inaccurate and (irony alert!) lazy! Of course we can complain that people younger than us seem not to understand the ways of work (probably based on a few anecdotal examples), but even if it were true complaining about it doesn’t change anything. Alternatively, we could take a crack at understanding what’s driving the behaviour that we’re interpreting as lazy/entitled/’fill-in-stereotype here’, and if warranted offer some mentorship, guidance, or advice based on our own experience. Maybe we’ll get shut down…but maybe we won’t.
Don’t have time for that? Sorry, but if you have time to complain (and it really seems like a lot of people do) then you almost certainly have time to mentor. I’m not suggesting that we spend hours daily formally training someone. I’m talking about being receptive to opportunities to share what you know with those who might benefit. Whether at work, at home (I sure hope that you’re giving cousin Timmy some good advice), or through some of the programs or platforms available in your city, industry, or profession.
Still think it sounds like too much time, effort, and risk? The genius micro-mentorship platform Ten Thousand Coffees allows you to create a profile and screen one-hour coffee meeting requests from less experienced members interested in meeting for coffee and learning from you. One hour, people!!!
If you are a person who feels that some of the stereotypes I’ve mentioned are true, I’d like to challenge you to try on a different lens when observing others in the workplace; a lens that assumes most people are doing the best they can with what they know; a lens that doesn’t iook for proof of the entitlement narrative in your interactions with others.
Instead of writing off an entire generation, perhaps you might consider viewing challenging interactions as an opportunity to influence our organizations’ next generation of professionals and leaders. I think that with a little fieldwork you’ll find, as I have, that ‘millennials’ are an enormously diverse group who defy the labels and stereotypes applied to them (as any gigantic demographic cohort does). And contrary to some perceptions, many of them are open to and eager for mentorship, as long as it’s offered in the right spirit.
Ultimately, we have a choice – do our part to work better, together…or continue to complain that a vast swath of our colleagues, neighbours, and fellow citizens should be different from we assume they are, while refusing to question those assumptions or do anything about it. If you elect to pursue the latter option, I’m very sorry, but I do not want to hear about it.
Postscript: I wanted to take another few sentences to reiterate my plug for Ten Thousand Coffees, which I’ve found to be such a great platform to meet engaged, eager professionals who are looking to receive or exchange advice and knowledge. If you want to know more, please check out their website and consider creating a profile.
Jane Watson is a senior HR practitioner in downtown Toronto. She is seriously committed to mentorship, having served as Chair of the HRPA Toronto Chapter’s Mentorship program, a repeat mentor at ACCES Employment’s speed mentoring events, and an enthusiastic Ten Thousand Coffees member. She also blogs about HR, work, and organizations (less frequently than she should) at Talent Vanguard.