Millennials

Want to Understand Millennials? It's Simpler Than You Think.

Want to Understand Millennials? It's Simpler Than You Think.
Image credit: Paul Sahre
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This story appears in the August 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

If you’ve been a part of the workforce for more than 15 years, you’ve probably heard some of the following complaints: 

    •Millennials are disloyal!

    •Millennials won’t work long hours!

    •Millennials feel entitled!

    •And they’re narcissistic!

And if you were standing anywhere near me on a subway platform during the morning commute, there’s a chance I was the one saying those things. I have rolled my eyes at millennials who have had five jobs before the age of 28. I have wondered why anyone that young cares about work/life balance. (When I was 23, my idea of a healthy work/life balance meant I didn’t fall over while walking to my desk due to lack of sleep and the 20 or 30 cigarettes I smoked the night before). And, yes, I have been dismayed by millennials’ nonstop social media action at work.

But I’ve recently started questioning this attitude (OK, my attitude). Perhaps it was how impressed I’ve been with the young workers I’ve shared an office with. Or, it’s being old enough now to realize that narcissism does not have an age limit. So I took a look at the data, and the data had an attitude about me, too. It said I’ve been a raging idiot. 

Sure, millennials switch jobs more than any other generation, and more than half say they’re looking for a new job -- but their median income, adjusted for inflation, is about $2,000 less than the boomer generation made in 1980, with less stable avenues up. And recent court decisions have said that “paying dues” in the form of working long hours is illegal. And according to CNBC’s recent All-America Economic Survey, 18 percent of millennials regard work/life balance as most important in an employer, whereas 19 percent of the general public do. 

The above facts suggest that most negative assumptions about millennials are wrong. But unfair bias by older workers has happened ever since people started working in large offices together. As Google’s head of human resources, Lazslo Bock, recently told The New York Times: “What we’ve seen is that every single generation enters the workforce and feels like they’re a unique generation, and the generation that’s one or two ahead of them looks back and says, ‘Who are these weird, strange kids coming into the workforce with their attitudes of entitlement and not wanting to fit in?’ It’s a cycle that’s been repeated every 10 to 15 years for the past 50 years.”

More research uncovered the following bits of historical office dialogue: 

Entry-level worker: Yeah, I’ll be right there. But lemme Instagram this starfruit. 

Older worker: You’re kidding, right? 

-- Whole Foods, 2016

Entry-level worker: Am I just gonna be, like, tabulating all day?

Older worker: Seriously?

-- IBM, 1964

Entry-level worker: Is it salt-P-E-T-E-R
or P-E-T-R-E?

Older worker: [Just stares]  

-- East India Company, 1674

Anyway. Here’s how to “deal” with millennials:

1. Stop with “millennials.”  

2. There you go.

In fact, disregard all generational differences, says Christian Brucculeri, CEO of Snaps, a mobile platform that creates branded content. “The same basic principles apply to the millennial generation as to any other age group,” he says. “Some people are inspired, excited, hardworking, humble and curious. Some are entitled, unfocused and political. Not everyone is great!”

Chris Paradysz, co-CEO and cofounder of PMX, a digital marketing agency with clients like Wrangler and Steve Madden, agrees: “The millennial generation is stunningly similar to every other generation I’ve led and managed in the past 25 years.”

Though, of course, time has changed one thing. David Reid, CEO and cofounder of EaseCentral, an HR and benefits platform, says the only difference between the new kids and the, um, older ones is the primary medium through which they get their information. For millennials, it’s the mobile internet -- which makes millennials, he says, “much more socially diverse and overall more informed about social issues.”  

We don’t need to “understand” millennials. We need to understand that the youngest generation is the least experienced but the most idealistic. Know why? Because they’re the youngest generation, and that’s what youngest generations do.

Can that be irritating? Of course. 

Is irritation a symptom of old age? Indeed.  

Do I still think work/life balance is a pipe dream for unserious people? I do. 

Is someone on my lawn? I’ll go check.      

Edition: December 2016

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