About every four months or so I read some article about how “Millennials,” i.e. Gen-Y, are bunch of whining children that feel entitled to good jobs, high pay, and other things. Most recently it was an article I read on Digiday.com titled “WTF Millennials: Managing Agencies Newest Generation.”

I always become extremely frustrated when I read these articles. (Especially ones with titles that infer we’re some sort of wild animal that needs to be wrangled in.)

Perhaps part of my frustration comes naturally just because I’m considered a Millennial. But as someone who is constantly trying to practice being objective and trying to see things from other view points, I still believe the constant barrage of prejudice Millennials receive is unfair. And in many cases, damaging.

Personal experiences as well as long thoughts in the shower have lead me to the following thoughts.

The negative continues to hold more weight than the positive.

In the article there are quotes from 6 executives who have had bad experiences with a Millennial. In multiple cases it’s a story about a single Millennial that they’ve encountered. I have zero doubt, these stories are true.

But when did a single story become indicative of a whole generation? Like the girl who’s dad said she wasn’t getting paid enough, so she went and told her boss what her dad thought. Why does that immediately mean Millennials are babied? Yes, that girl is babied. But a whole generation?  Stories like this are shared far more than stories of a Millennials working hard and trying to constantly improve themselves. (They do exist, and in numbers greater than these articles suggest.)

Immediately the young person who achieves and works hard is an anomaly. What is it that makes the single bad story represent the Millennials more so than the good ones?

The Digiday article article had 6 execs with bad experiences. For the nearly 93 million millenials in the US, that seems kind of a small selection to make assumptions from.

Yes, some said they didn’t think it was all Millennials. But, I don’t believe a small disclaimer that these Execs used to rid themselves from being seen as stereotyping works all too well. At least not for me.

Articles like the one in Digiday hold almost zero scientific weight on how Millennials, as a whole, actually work, yet these articles are read by thousands of people who may possibly form their opinions based on them. If you want to be more scientifically informed, then you can start here.

Where’s the fire?

I interviewed at a very small ad agency for a junior creative position after I returned from spending a year teaching English in Thailand. This was before I went to graduate school, but I had a half-decent book of work I had made. A few real clients, but mostly work from my undergrad education. I drove 4-hours to that interview. And four hours back.

I got a telephone call about a week later saying how much they really loved my vibe and personality, and that they may have something in the future, but ultimately someone else had some more experience. Which I can understand.

But two months later their COO (who asked me to come interview, though I did not interview with her) wrote a blog post titled “Where’s the fire?” She essentially complained that the young people don’t have that drive anymore to work hard. That there was no want to dive in and just go at it. And that young people have a strong sense of entitlement and expect careers and success to be served on a platter.

(This agency also has 40hr/week unpaid internships. Non-negotiable. But that’s a topic and rant for another day.)

Yet I had been sitting in their office three weeks prior saying I’d practically do anything. I taught in a foreign country for goodness sake without knowing a lick of the language or ever having taught in a classroom, but I went for it anyway, head first.

And I am by no means one-of-a-kind. There are millions of Millennials looking for jobs who would do the same.

I understand the need to hire people with specific skill sets to do a job. But whatever happened to the people teaching? If an employer sees the potential and drive in someone, they should know that in the long run they might be the better hire.

If the agency or business hires Millennials who don’t have a good attitudes or work hard, then it’s not a problem with Millennials. It’s a problem with the hiring process.

Kids these days.

I’d like to meet an older generation that has never said this about a younger generation. I bet the saying that “Young people have strong sense of entitlement” has been occurring for a long time. Generational differences and the increase of so-called entitlement is not some new phenomena.

Even more interesting is something Forbes writer Meghan Casserly points out in her article “Millennials and Baby Boomers: At Odds or Peas in a Pod?

Casserly asks who is actually responsible for the way Millennials have turned out. Well a good part of it comes from their parents (i.e. Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers). The very same generations complaining about Millennials are ones who raised them.

But again, to point fingers and say the majority of Millennials are content and unmotivated is unfair for those young people who weren’t raised that way.

My parents gave me everything I needed to be a successful student and grow up comfortably. I am way more fortunate in that regard than a lot of people. But when I went to college I talked to my parents on the phone once a month maybe and it wasn’t for money.

When I needed an internship, my dad gave me an email address and that’s it. He wouldn’t ask colleagues if they had a position for me or anything like that. He taught me that it always would look better if I tried to get things on my own.

I paid for half my undergraduate degree and am paying for all of my graduate degree, mostly with student loans. (A big reason a non-paying internship is a non-starter for many talented young people.)

That’s just how it worked in my family.

There are people I know who haven’t paid a cent for their education. But I wouldn’t say they necessarily work any less harder than someone with six figures in student debt.

Side note: Agency Exec 4 in the Digiday articles is the closest to admit that perhaps using a cliche like “Kids these days”  is not a good idea. But then goes on to tell silly story about young person requesting dual monitors, without even saying what her job is. Perhaps her role requires the monitors because it is vastly different than his role, but because he doesn’t fully understand the role he doesn’t understand the justification. Who knows.

Maybe I’m just tired of being put in a bucket.

I spent a whole year sending out emails to potential employers while barely making interest payments on my student loans by freelancing. I finally came to the realization that if I were to land a job, then it would be more out of luck than hard work, because there just weren’t enough jobs for people with minimal experience. And I went on interviews for some pretty crappy jobs. There’s no way to even “Pay Dues” if you don’t have a job.

That’s when I decided to go to graduate school and was accepted into one of the best programs in the country. To improve my work and give employers the assurance that I can work hard.

Agency Exec 6 in the Digiday article writes: “The overconfidence, zero accountability and zero remorse is 100 percent millennial. They don’t get the concept of learning.” (My emphasis on ‘they’.)

No, he (the employee) doesn’t get the concept of learning. Stop making sweeping generalizations based on a few bad encounters. If I did that for every cup of bad coffee I’ve had in my lifetime, then I’d be telling everyone to never drink coffee.

The Next Generation

While the issue is complicated and books could be written about it (I’m surprised you even read this far), here’s a small set of things I propose.

1. No more articles based on a few bad experiences that are meant to stir up controversy (like me ranting) and unfairly create stereotypes. It’s not only unfair,  it’s just bad journalism.

2. When hiring Millennials, employers should set expectations and make sure both parties understand each other. Don’t assume generational values or expectations are automatically understood or transferred upon hiring. That’s for both parties. Millennials are just as responsible for understanding older generations.

3. If employers are constantly having problems, then they need to revisit how they hire and train. There are lot of hardworking and qualified young people out there who are dying for jobs. Personality, work ethic, and willingness to learn should be taken into account just as much as skill set.

4. The word entitlement is thrown around far too much to describe 30% of the US population. Then again Mitt Romney said 45% of Americans wanted handouts, so I suppose maybe he was talking mostly about us.

5. There is nothing wrong with people wanting to feel valued in their job. Millennials often have far less life experience than older generations, so it’s harder for them to know if what they’re doing is having any kind of impact. Employers should give them re-assurance (not coddling) if you want to retain their talent.

6. Stop talking about paying dues and equating it to getting coffee. If you want to blame me for getting mad for being relegated to coffee duty when I was hired for my skills and insights, so be it. Yeah those instances may occur once in awhile, and I would never think I was “better” than it, but if that’s the daily M.O., then I can assure you I don’t want to work there. It goes back to that whole being valued thing.

Hopefully it’s still ok to be entitled to your opinions.


Comments are closed.