What Aziz Ansari Can Teach Us About Working With and Managing Millennials
The Millennial Challenge
I was with a client last week and sitting around the conference table were senior leaders throughout the organization and the conversation turned towards managing Millennials. Their frustration was quickly made manifest: why don’t Millennials “get it” and as I listened to the conversation as it moved around the room I realized that the “it” that they wished Millennials would get could be summed up as sacrifice.
So why aren’t Millennials more willing to make a sacrifice of time, effort, energy, or commitment?
I have had the honor of working with Millennials as an affiliate professor since 2008, and have come to appreciate their strengths and weaknesses as a generation. I think every manager of Millennials should watch Netflix’s Master of None created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang to get a sense of what it’s like to actually be a Millennial… here are a few themes explored in the show:
1. Expectations Are High — In one of my favorite episodes of the season, “Indians on TV” Danielle Brooks (Orange Is The New Black) plays Dev’s (Aziz Ansari) agent and is fighting for his role on a new sitcom that might lead to Friends level money. “Do you want to see David Schwimmer’s house?” she asks and the implication is that even (arguably) the worst cast member on Friends has made a lot of money. He’s competing against David Schwimmer. Millennials are constantly being compared/contrasted against previous success and there’s tremendous pressure to reach a high level of success quickly and early.
2. Fun It Turns Out is Actually Fun — In the episode titled “Parents” there’s a genius line delivered by Dev’s father Ramesh (Shoukath Ansari) “You realize fun is a new thing right? Fun is a luxury only your generation really has!” And it really gets to the heart of the Millennial challenge: we have a generation that has lived high up Maslow’s Hierarchy and has had a lot of time, space, ability to have fun and play. Turns out that fun itself is way more fun than work. Think about this… 22 years of fun from K-Graduation and then off to work in your organization. That’s the mother of all letdowns. Most Millennials in their mid 20’s are in a grieving process for what they just left behind.
3. Success Often Comes at the Expense of Others — The great thing about Master of None is throughout this first season it shows Dev’s unwillingness to exploit others and his willingness to call exploitation out when he sees it. In both “Indians on TV” and “Ladies and Gentlemen” Dev is outspoken about his unwillingness to participate in systems that harm others. I think this is true for most Millennials. They don’t want to participate in exploitative systems. I think leaders need to do a much better job of connecting their organization to greater human values. I think Millennials would stick around a lot longer if that path were made clear. If it’s not clear, your organization may be “legacy capitalism” and will have an increasingly hard time attracting and retaining talent.
4. Love without Partnership or We’re All Leaning In — The Millennials are the first generation to experience full power-equivalency between men and women. It’s wonderful and it presents new challenges. Everyone is “leaning-in” and family, home, and committed relationships take a back seat to career aspirations. I coach my students to be clear and upfront with each other about how important career is to them personally. There are a lot of men (and women) who are willing to be the stay at home dad or mom, but it MUST be a conscious decision and talked about upfront. The episodes “Mornings” and “Finale” show how tough it is to be a young professional… as Dev navigates his relationship and career with Rachel. The reality is that at any moment the person you love and want to build a life with may be offered the “chance of a lifetime” in another city. I have a lot of empathy for Millennials in this regard and so should you. It’s tough to do it all alone and yet that’s the reality… nobody is willing to be the “cheerleader” on the side and make sure the sheets are clean and good food is on the table at night.
5. The American Dream is Fuzzy — What exactly are Millennials working for? Is it money, prestige, pride, safety, security? I think a majority of Millennials, for the better, are working from higher up Maslow’s Hierarchy. Survival is not at stake and so self-actualization and larger dreams are in play. One thing I loved about my previous employer, Intrado, was how they supported young people in their dreams… if you worked hard, you had an opportunity to go on a writing retreat in Sonoma or a photography trip to Africa. Organizations that build in these kinds of incentives will do a better job attracting and retaining high quality talent. Dev at the end of the season quits his job and pursues culinary school in Italy. Smart organizations can help not make it an “either or” for young professionals… work hard and pursue your bigger life dreams.
6. YOLO — Nobody wants to die in a cubical, figuratively or literally.