“Millennial” should not be not a bad word

Inclusion is about connecting to individuals, not stereotypes.

During a recent inclusion workshop, a younger colleague, let’s call her Alicia, spoke up and said that she hated being called a Millennial. She said the word “Millennial” is now used as an insult that has come to mean ‘lazy and entitled and out of touch with professional norms’. Alicia is a bright and capable woman who justifiably objected to being bashed based on her year of birth.

Millennials are the generation born between 1981 and 1997 who are now a strong presence in the US workforce. In a Brookings Report article, Morley Winograd and Michael Hais stated that Millennials will comprise more than one of three adult Americans by 2020 and 75 percent of the workforce by 2025 (How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America, 2014). Did you catch that number? They will be 75 percent of the workforce in about 8 years! Some of those Millennials are already 36 years old, so they are not brand new to working. Some of them are parents and homeowners, hold key leadership positions at work and get involved in their communities.

Generation-bashing has been a favorite pastime for decades and in some cases, even for centuries. In 450 BC, a quote commonly ascribed to Socrates stated, “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” Similarly, many current news articles seem to frame Millennials as a major threat to the modern workplace due to bad manners and disrespect.

My experience is that generational groupings are more harmful than useful when evaluating people. Every generation has its fair share of superstars, hard workers, slackers, oddballs, con artists, good and bad citizens, entitled whiners, unmotivated moochers and so on. The Millennials are no different — there are plenty of good people and plenty of not-so-good people — yet current coverage seems to be painting them all as entitled, spoiled and demanding.

One factor that seems truly different for Millennials is that they grew up with technology at their fingertips — with tablets, smartphones, and computers. For them, “Google” has always been the name of a company and a verb. In contrast, as a GenXer, I did not even have a cell phone or email address until after I graduated from college. That easy access to technology changes the way Millennials navigate the world, find answers, connect to other people and expect to do work. Some of the changes are for the better and some might not be.

As the older Millennials have done, the younger Millennials will continue to learn the norms and expectations of the typical workplace. Some will thrive; others will struggle until they find the right career or the right company. Workplaces will also start to adapt to this generation and the ones coming behind it. These changes are likely to be around flexibility, openness, accepting diversity and creating healthy workplaces. Those trends will benefit all of us — regardless of generation. And, before you know it, Millennials will be complaining about the upstarts in the next generation…

So, give Alicia and the other Millennials a break, before you judge them based on age. Treat them as unique people and let them show you who they are — whether that is a superstar, hard worker, slacker, oddball or something else. You might be pleasantly surprised!


Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on May 3, 2017.