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Christopher Gurrie

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Leave the Millennials Alone!

Posted: 10/09/2012 5:34 pm

It happened again! Flipping through various news outlets for my daily dose of pessimism about the state of the world's affairs, I came across yet another business social piece that began something like this:

"As the millennials enter the workforce, more companies are trying to accommodate their demands for faster promotions, greater responsibilities, and more flexible work schedules -- much to the annoyance of older co-workers who feel they have spent years paying their dues to rise through the ranks."

If I had a dollar for every recent similar article I've read that began in this manner, I would have enough cash for a down payment on a pair of Beats brand headphones (so very millennial). Having recently finished a dissertation with the primary data collection source being millennials, I can safely assume the expert role on the articles I have read and the passé nature of the topic of millennials entering the work force. I will explain why this argument is passé here and politely ask those in the business world to leave the millennials alone!

Let's start with the obvious. In no way, shape, or form are millennials "beginning to enter the workforce." In fact, Howe and Strauss, who brought much attention to the millennial generation with their book Millennials Rising in 2003, cite that millennials are those people born in 1981 or later. Most of the common literature on this same subject uses very similar years for the millennial generation. This said, let's do a little math. Taking people born in 1981-1983, and using the current year 2012-2013, we can safely say that those people are now 30, 31, or 32 years old. Now, making a second general assumption that some of these 30-somethings got jobs at 22 or 23 years old when that was the expected thing to do in the early 2000s, it would mean that they have been in the workforce for 10 years, and negate the idea that they are newly employed. With 10 years of experience in corporate America, law, teaching, retail, military, or various other professions, these folks are probably directors, managers, partners, investors, or other middle-career, mid-level positions. This little deductive math problem doesn't even begin to take in the mid-20-somethings and their work experience and the recession they faced.

Next, let's look at the idea that because the millennials are "entering" the workforce it is because of them that schedules are changing, and common business practices derived from the industrial revolutions of yesteryear are beginning to shift. This may be partially so, but we have to acknowledge that this is not a new concept -- that workers want respect, flexible hours, the ability to be promoted, and so on.

In fact, this concept of desiring more autonomy at work and the American ideal of the dreaded work day with its rules, norms, cubicles, awkward polyester dress clothes, and such is so not new that it has been the muse for any number of American cultural events. Without the dread for the way American business is run we would not have such masterpieces as the movie Office Space, the TV show 9-5, Mr. Burns on the Simpsons, the hit series The Office, and any number of movies, sitcoms, and shows supported by the idea that bosses suck, workday hours blow, and like Billy Idol we are simply working for the weekend. This is not new, people! Americans have been wrought with an awful work-life balance since forever and one will constantly hear boomers mumble things like, "wouldn't it be nice to travel like the Europeans," or "one day I'm going to work for myself" and so on. Well, instead of sitting around wishing to see the Alps one day -- perhaps it is the millennials who are doing something about it.

This latter part may be something the authors of millennial articles are right about -- that since millennials are breathing fresh air into American business practices things at work may actually be changing. Not because millennials have demands that are new to the workforce (like not wanting to work at a dreary office when God made Skype, or missing a child's talent show at 3 p.m.), no these are not new demands. However, it may be because of two things. For one, there are more millennials than any other aggregated generational group. En masse, they are a force to be reckoned with -- they understand that doing it "the way it has always been done" is stupid, and you don't get Google, Apple, or Facebook by doing things the way they have always been done.

The second explanation of why millennials may be shifting the norms at the workplace relies on my first premise in this post and that is: that millennials are in positions to make change in organizations because they're not new around here. They are now the supervisors, managers, and change-agents in their late 20s and early 30s whom are doing something about the long overdue change in working conditions in American businesses. Understanding that times are changing and workplace habits need to change too, it just might be the millennials in charge that are making recommendations to the boomers (X'ers) above them, and implementing changes for everyone with and below them, regardless of their age.

Walking into a new gig and demanding to be promoted quickly with no experience is definitely silly, and I acknowledge this. However, don't think for one second that this same feeling did not happen 30 years ago -- how many of us have secretly whispered to our friends and family that we can do a better job than our bosses. Period. The difference between the past generations and the millennials is that millennials are more vocal about their goals, more outward about wanting to be valued, and more willing to move on if you are not offering what someone else will -- and all of this with no consequence. That's the difference between millennials and everyone else. We also have to ask the question, where did they get such brazen ideals and values that they can simply switch jobs when they're not promoted or valued? Um, anyone? I'm looking at you boomers and X'ers -- you raised these kids to "be all they can be" and "that everyone counts." So then, why are we so surprised that we got what we created?

So, please leave the millennials alone when talking about their new-fangled desires and characteristics, and their new "entry" to the workforce. They have been here for a while and have similar goals and desires as American workers have always had. Instead, let's focus our energy on how they are helping change the face of American business. In fact, I would even go further to suggest that the writers of millennial articles stop using the term "millennial" when describing 22-year-olds who are, indeed, actually entering the workforce. Perhaps call them Generation Next, or Gen iY. This piece of clarity may help all of use involved in the workplace and may help shift the credit to improving work conditions to the millennials who have been here for 10 years and the boomers who are listening to them.

 
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