Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers? It’s all meaningless!

Originally published at www.linkedin.com.

Every day I log onto LinkedIn there’s another “expert” writing about how “millennials” demand something in the workplace, they behave in a certain way, they’re going to change the world, they’re going to ruin the world. I'm starting to think they’re some kind of alien that has invaded our world and are taken over. Some are written by “millennials”, some by “non-millennials”. I was born pretty much between Generation X and Y, depending on start dates I don’t actually think I technically belong to either. Which I'm happy about.

These “millennials” are just people, and like people before them, their views on the world, behaviours, beliefs are influenced by the current state of the world. All young people go through a phase where they want to change the status quo. It happened after WW2, in the 60s, 70s, and pretty much every decade since.

Studying people and coming up with common traits purely based on when they were born is no different than dividing people up based on race, gender, nationality, religious beliefs is discrimination. And so is ageism. So instead of focussing on what these mythical creatures, want or believe in, start treating them as individuals, just like all age groups. Replace the word “millennial” with an individual race, gender or nationality and then decide if you’d feel comfortable posting your article.

I've known people young and old who want to change things for the better. Others prefer the safety of keeping things the same way. Some people want flexible working, for the purpose of spending more time with family, on their own personal projects, or travelling or various other reasons. In fact on 30th June 2014 the UK introduced a law making it a right for employees to request flexible working.

A lot of the traits that are attributed to “millennials” are a result of the behaviours of those before them, and they then react accordingly. Some examples:

  • Employees used to have long term loyalty towards their employers. This has changed a lot in recent decades mostly because employers stopped showing loyalty to their employees. If you want loyal employees, be loyal towards them. Don’t just expect loyalty if you’re not willing to give it.
  • People have seen the affect of overworking leading to a break down in families and an overall level of unhappiness. People of all ages want this to stop. Former CEO Bryan Dyson of Coca Cola once said:
Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them — work, family, health, friends and spirit — and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls — family, health, friends and spirit — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.
  • People are preferring a workplace with a strong culture and team, over one where they’re stuck in cubicles, doing their job and going home. It is more enjoyable and more is achieved via teamwork than individualism. This is nothing new, it’s happened for millennia.
  • As people get older, what they want out of life changes. When you’re younger, you’re in a better position to take risks. There has always been this idea that young people “think they know it all”, but this is one of the attributes that helps young people take risks and make change. All generations have been described like this from older generations. They have new ideas, because they’re young it doesn't mean they should be ignored.
  • Security becomes more important as people have children and mortgages. It’s nothing to do with generations, but about a time in their life, and having dependants.

So instead of grouping people into made-up ageist generations, treat them as individuals and listen to what they want in life and if you can help them achieve that, they will in turn generally be more respectful and loyal. This isn't just about older people advising young people, but it goes both ways. There’s a lot everyone can learn from each other. And that is why the world is changing. The most successful people learn from others mistakes.

The world is changing rapidly and it has nothing to do with generations, but as society as a whole. Some of the changes include:

  • People realise there is more to life than work work work, and money money money, so they can spend spend spend because of how miserable overworking makes them feel.
  • Work can be fun, and at the same time successful.
  • It doesn't need to be a dog eat dog world, in fact with online social networking and word of mouth marketing, you have to treat people well or it soon comes back to bite you.

So please, stop grouping people into ageist categories as it only makes you look like a simple minded fool who doesn't actually understand what is happening in the world today. Treat people as individuals, listen more than you speak, and work with people rather than against them.

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