In Praise of Millennials

You’re probably just jealous. No, I’m serious. They come in here, all hot shot and unruffled. They clock out at five and they can reduce the size of a PDF “no problem” and it took you like 20 minutes to figure it out. Quit knocking them. Learn how to manage them.

I am technically a millennial, but only by a year. I didn’t have a cell phone until after college and the resurgence of 90’s fashion and Gwen/Gavin being in the news feels familiar to me. I used to balk when people suggested I might be a millennial. Nothing was handed to me! I’m not entitled! I have some grey hair! C’mon!

But the more I started working with people younger than me, and managing them, the more I grew to like millennials. And the more I hoped that people would lump me in with them. Ironically, the stuff I love about working with millennials are also the things that most people complain about.

They stick with the 9 to 5.

Someone my age once pulled me aside at work to say, “have you noticed that all the young people leave early?” In this case, “early” meant closing time. It was as if someone rang a silent bell at the end of the day — they all diligently shut down and packed up at 5:00. Even if there was more work to do.

As a person who spent her twenties toiling away in an office until 8 or 9 in the evening for the sake of martyrdom, I could be a little taken aback. Why don’t they ever stay late like I did? Where was their sense of sacrifice?

Maybe the better question is: Was anything ever in serious danger of failing if I didn’t stay late when I was in my 20's? Did I ever do my best work late in the office? And was it a sustainable practice that helped me bring my best self the next day? The answer, of course, is no.

There is always more work to do. And when we stay late, we start a silent competition to see who can send an email at 11pm or 4am. And what results? Long all-team conference calls with HR about finding work/life balance, usually.

Millennials have lives. Young people seem to have places to go after work (and it’s not to a bar with colleagues to talk about work.) They go home to their families and pets. They go to meet ups. They have side hustles. They work on other apps, products, and nonprofit gigs. They take online courses. They have friends.

Note to Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers: just because you toiled away for countless years doing 12 hours a day behind desk sacrificing time with friends and family does not mean that you need to impose such sacrifice on the next generation. Instead, try learning from them. Knock off at 4:45 and go take a pottery class.

They prioritize their personal growth and happiness above most other things.

According to the research, millennials care more about the cause they are working for, their general happiness, their title, and their opportunities for learning, growth, and development than they do about money and promotions. This, of course, drives older employers crazy. Striving to keep young talent, companies buy snacks, install slides, and create titles that have the words “hero” and “ninja” in them. Finally, a generation came along that really prioritizes the good stuff … and we respond by treating them like unsophisticated children and rewarding them with toys and food.

Note to Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers: invest in your people. Pay for their online courses, give them coaches, ask them how they are doing. Make sure they feel like they are growing. Chocolate covered pretzels won’t hurt, but they aren’t the answer. Their growth mindset also means that they have no time for your lack of one. So, please stop saying things like “I’m just not a computer person” and “(Google/Trello/Slack/Basecamp) is useless, can we just go back to email?” Shut up already. They probably taught themselves to code last night. The least you could do is send a link instead of attaching a document, daddy-o.

They have a high bar for their time.

They don’t want to sit in meetings that waste their time. They don’t want to use an app that’s poorly designed. They grew up with efficient Starbucks lines, Amazon Prime, and beautifully-designed Apple products. Their bar is higher than inaudible conference calls, terrible software for tracking expenses, and most company retreats.

And shouldn’t we all have a high bar for our time? Don’t mistake their lack of enthusiasm in your meeting as an actual lack of interest — they may just be holding you to a higher bar for management, facilitation, word choice, and brevity.

I was recently in a coffee shop where two professional young women sipping iced coffee sat blankly while listening to their headphones. One had a crossword puzzle and the other whispered, “Ugh, you were so smart to bring something to do during this conference call.” This is how we are managing our young people! No wonder they are fed up. In my experience, when millennials work in an efficient environment, they thrive and become more efficient themselves.

Note to Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers: Embrace this disruption in your flow. What can you do better? What meetings are you still holding out of habit? What systems can you re-think? How can you manage for productivity?

There are countless people out there raging against millennials — claiming that they lack a dedication to work, that they are addicted to praise and perks, that they “clock in” only for the time expected of them on paper. Economists are pissed that millennials aren’t buying cars or houses, and that they prefer the sharing economy to the one everyone else typically uses.

Boomers, did you seriously just raise a new generation of humans and then complain about how they didn’t turn out like you?

Millennials bring an innovation and a focus on what matters, which is a much needed and refreshing jolt to our workplaces and our economy.

And I’m proud to count myself among them, if only by a year.

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