Millennials: we’re everywhere, and the workplace has started to notice. If you haven’t been to a webinar about how to deal with us or read an article outlining our predilections and whims, no doubt you will soon. Rumors are flying about our priorities and our motivations, and I’m wondering: has anyone actually talked to millennials about all this, or have we just been “studied”?
A few weeks ago, I was at the Washington State Nonprofit Conference listening to the much-lauded keynote speaker, Jabez LeBret, give a talk about millennials. After an hour of over-generalizations about my generation — that made me blush with shame at the very thought of being born in the 1980s — I left astonished at some of his sweeping conclusions about millennials:
1. Millennials wear jeans, Chaco sandals, and Gore-tex rain jackets to work every day (he even found an unsuspecting millennial in the crowd wearing this outfit and brought him up onstage to illustrate his point).
2. The best way to motivate millennials is food.
3. Armed with nothing but a bachelor’s degree and hubris, millennials will come into your workplace and try to change things because we think we “know better.”
4. Millennials use a company or a job as a means to our personal end instead of looking out for the company as a whole.
I thought about throwing my lunch at Jabez, but vowed to write a blog post refuting his claims instead. In order to avoid falling into the trap of speaking about an entire generation, I wanted to counter his points with my own experiences, but trust me: I am not the only misrepresented millennial with an opposing viewpoint or two.
1. I wear business casual clothing to work, because 1) it’s professional, 2) it’s expected of me, and 3) because my colleagues and clients do the same. Sure, I wish I could wear jeans to work every day, but then again you probably do too. I promise to dress professionally if you promise not to make fun of my jeans and Chacos when I wear them on casual Friday. (Our Marketing Director, who is a Gen Xer, says she cannot promise this.)
2. The idea that food is the best way to motivate me is insulting (and I really, really like food). You want me to go to your meeting or networking event? No bribery necessary: just ask me nicely. For the record, what motivates me is probably the same thing that motivates you: the promise of learning something, growing professionally, and meeting like-minded people.
3. The idea that I know enough to turn your systems on their heads is ludicrous: while I do plan to change the world eventually, I humbly realize I’ve got a lot to learn, and the only way to do that is with eyes wide open. Expect great things from me and my generation, but only after I’ve learned everything you have to teach me, so I can then put my own spin on expectations.
4. The millennials I know don’t do something unless they honestly care about it. If we aren’t concerned your company or its mission, why are we interning for free for months (and sometimes years) on end? If we’ve gone through the trouble of tracking you down and convincing you (in the toughest economy in nearly a century, no less) that you should give us a job, you better believe we care about what you’re working on.
Sure, there are millennials who fit Jabez’s stereotypes. But there’s also a group of seriously hardworking young professionals out there who are misrepresented in these over-generalizations, and on behalf of us all, I’m shouting, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!” (See, we can even make a good “Network” reference now and then—how’s that for bridging the generational gap?)
If you’d like to know more about us, just ask. Send me an email at email@example.com, and I’ll be more than happy to share my experiences in the workplace with you, and hopefully broaden your perspective on millennials beyond what you’re reading or hearing about.
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About the Author
Blair translates her off-air talents as a theatrical stage manager into project management at Collins, where she helps keep her clients and co-workers focused on the finish line.