Don’t Judge Millennials, Learn From Them
If you are not part of the millennial generation, chances are you’ve been hating on them in some way or another. The millennials (age 18–32) seem to be the target of everyone’s disdain and condescension, whether deserved or not. I find that we Gen Xers are particularly critical of them. Why that is, I’m not entirely sure. I bet that it has a lot to do with the fact that we are passing along the unfortunate continuum of inter-generational arrogance. Not so long ago, we found ourselves the target of relentless criticism from baby boomers (age 50–68) and now it’s our turn to pay it forward. It’s almost like some silly fraternity hazing tradition that gets passed on year to year. But considering that millennials will compose 45% (yes, 45%!) of the 2015 workforce, I think we can do better than to complain incessantly about them. In fact, if we can set aside our arrogance momentarily and listen to them, we’ll find that they have a lot to teach us:
They are more mobile than you — Yes, they unremittingly check their phones at work, but does that make them bad workers? Or perhaps that simply means that they will be the ones who will be driving the mobile innovation of the future. Think SnapChat, Dropbox, Zady, Tinder and on and on. There are literally thousands of new businesses being created because a millennial entrepreneur needed a mobile solution. Let me be clear: they were born to be mobile-first. And that is good for business. (By the way, what about your own annoying mobile habits? Chances are you’re guilty of gawking at your mobile phone at the dinner table while your kid is telling you all about their day in art class. Amirite? So let’s get off our high horse).
They are your employees of today and tomorrow — As managers, if half of our workforce was composed of endurance athletes, we wouldn’t whine about it. We’d accommodate our employees schedules accordingly. And we’d probably find some way of taking advantage of their natural resilience and determination. So why not take the same perspective with the massive millennial workforce? Imagine what they could do for our organization if we harnessed their tremendous creative ability. At the very least, we’d have better mobile solutions to solve our own business problems.
They will be your boss some day (if you are lucky) — Odds are that they are more digitally inclined than you and I can ever hope to be. I consider myself to have excellent computer skills. Yet, millennials would look at me as an un-hireable dinosaur of the previous generation who lacks the knowledge and ability to be of much value to their start up. If you think you are employable at a millennial-driven entrepreneur shop, put yourself in the shoes of the founders of Kano and contemplate long and hard about their likelihood to hire 38 year old geezers like me. In the future, we should consider ourselves lucky if they hire us.
They won’t buy from you if they are more innovative than you — see points 1–3 above. These are the B2C buyers today (and B2B buyers tomorrow). What makes us think they will keep buying our solutions if they out-innovate us on a daily basis?
They are more global — millennials were born on a much smaller planet than the rest of us. They have a more global perspective and they tend to be more well-traveled than previous generations. Due to technology, they have digital friends in dozens of countries spanning multiple continents. And they interact with them regularly. Face it, they think more globally than we do. They don’t deride others for being from the developing world — they learn from them. Could this possibly help us sell more of our services and products overseas? Hm….
They are more diverse — millennials are the most ethnically and culturally diverse generation in history. Hang-ups of the older generations (race, gay marriage, etc.) are simply not an issue for them. In fact, they are confused about why these are issues at all. And good luck trying to recruit future talent if millennials come to see your human resources policies as not inclusive.
They are less materialistic — It wasn’t the millennials who brought about the Great Recession, it was boomer and Gen Xers. So while we pride ourselves on all of our accumulated experience and knowledge, we should ask ourselves why we lacked the ability to see the recession coming.
They are more willing to learn — speaking of accumulated knowledge, a majority of millennial grads (57%) feel that college did not entirely prepare them for work. Instead of complaining about that, consider that it’s a great opportunity for you to develop yourself as a career professional. You have gained knowledge, experience and wisdom so why not share it? By mentoring a millennial employee, s/he will help you to grow professionally as well!
I hope that I’ve convinced you that if we are willing to listen to millennials, we will find that they have much to teach us. It is true that it is an imperfect generation. But so is ours. Boomers continue to retire in massive numbers and are consistently replaced with an ever-growing share of millennial-age workers. We should take advantage of both their novel skills and abilities, as well as focus on their development needs. So let us make an effort to stop deriding millennials as lazy narcissists or dependent ingrates. Once we look past our own arrogance, we will discover a generation full of energy, creative ability, innovation, empathy and new perspective. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that?
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