My last post about how to manage Millennials garnered quite the response. I received several emails and direct messages about it. While some of the messages were positive, overwhelmingly, the response was negative. And by negative, I mean NE-GA-TIVE. I thought that maybe the response I received was abnormal, so I reached out to friends and family and surprisingly I got the exact same response. The comments ranged from "they aren't smart," to "they're too coddled." The other comments I received... are not fit for print.
This got me to ask the question, 'why?'. Why is there so much disdain toward Millennials? What did they do? Who did they offend? It's worthy to note that even some Millennials don't want to identify themselves as "one of those." So, I set out to do some research on why the Millennial brand has been tarnished. The answers might surprise you.
What Happened To My Spotlight?
Why is there so much hate for Millennials? I submit that the hatred comes from a recognizable place. This is a place we have all visited, for various purposes, at least once in our lifetime. In this place, the streets, houses and cars are painted green. Why green? Because the name of this place is envy.
I think it's fair to say that Generation X and Baby Boomers have consumed the attention of advertisers, entertainment companies and businesses for well over 30 years. Their grip on our culture is undeniable - everyone wanted to know what they thought about business, life, success and relationships. Their struggle for civil rights and women's rights have been the subject of movies and books, and have guided our political discourse. For all intents and purposes, the world revolved around them. That is until it didn't. Articles that traditionally talked about their wants and needs spoke more about how "we" were going to pay for them on Social Security and what burden they were on our economy. As it relates to Generation X, they have been the forgotten generation. When was the last time you heard about a study on Generation X and what they thought about X (pun intended)? You haven't, and you very likely won't. The center of the universe has changed. By the numbers, Millennials are larger than the Baby Boomers and will have a significant impact on business management techniques and industry for years to come. After a lifetime of affection, it's hard to play second fiddle. It's like the popular kid in high school who was the definition of cool until they went to college and weren't cool anymore. Ok, that may be a little harsh, but it does signify what the problem is - attention envy is key to understanding the Millennial hatred. This is the root from which all other issues flow.
They Are Entitled!
There is a notion out there that Millennials are fundamentally not as tough and are more entitled than any generation before it. To buttress their argument, sports is commonly invoked as a way to illustrate this. You might have heard people say things like, "look at how soft football is now" or "can you believe how all the kids get trophies now?" It seems as though the point here is to either shame Millennials into more concussions, or to equate trophy-giving with toughness. Let me be clear, I do understand how communal trophy-giving is not a good thing and promotes a sort of distorted reality that is not productive; however, when discussing Millennials, critics use this to hammer home their abhorrence to the generation.
Conveniently left out of this discussion are all of the sacrifices that were made and provided to the Baby Boomers and Generation X. One need only look at the economic climate that was present during their rise in the workplace. It's fair to say that from 1945-1980, the United States experienced unprecedented growth as a nation. In Michael French's book U.S. Economic History Since 1945, he noted that U.S. industrial production was 45% of world output in 1948 and its national incomes and productivity, especially in manufacturing, far out-stripped other economies. Furthermore, he noted that between the years of 1945 and 1969, levels of productivity in the United States were the international exemplar. This means that of any generation, Baby Boomers and Generation X had the most "coddling" in terms of financial stability. Theirs was a time when people in all sectors of the economy worked, and could provide for their families despite a lack of diversity or acceptance of different cultures. So, the notion that Millennials are not tough enough and have been coddled (implying that their predecessors had an opposite experience coming up) simply is not true. The notion that they have not experienced "real life" simply is not true.
Millennial critics hang their hats on the premise that this generation has not paid their dues. They find one person goofing off and proceed to cast a wide net on an entire generation. But what about the fact that Millennials are the most educated generation in the history of this country? That should count for something, especially since education is central to success and is generally considered a good thing. For some reason, this fact is never mentioned among all of the fervor. Let me be clear, I don't doubt that there are some Millennials who feel entitled, but it does not account for a majority of the group.
Ignoring a Mirror?
In my opinion, Millennials are closer to the Greatest Generation than one might think. I'm sure we can all agree that that generation was far from entitled. Let me explain. The Great Recession, September 11 and the Iraq War are seminal moments in the lives of Millennials. This is akin to The Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and World War II. Many in the Greatest Generation saw their parents lose their jobs, homes and struggle to make ends meet. Many Millennials saw their parents lose homes, jobs and struggle to make ends meet. Millennials saw their country attacked for the first time since 1941 and they saw two protracted wars.
The events Millennials have experienced in their lives and the effects of those events don't lead to entitlement - they lead to a sense of responsibility and service. The time of hating Millennials needs to stop. It serves no one. The conversation should be reframed to be more productive, seeking to understand and include a new generation into our culture and into the workplace.