I Heart Millennials

July 23, 2015

WHAT??? With everything I’ve read lately, that sounds almost like sacrilege. How can I love millennials when they are selfish, entitled and lazy? How can they be good, when they are demanding things at their young age that I would never have dreamed of demanding? They want, want, want… all the while they are threatening to leave – to go somewhere where their demands are not so unreasonable. (For those that don’t know what millennials are, see the Urban Dictionary definition here.)

What do they want that is so terrible?

Development? Hmmmm, that doesn’t sound so bad, even at my advanced age. They want to learn and grow and not be stagnant. They want to collect and gather meaningful experiences out of which they can reap valuable lessons – both in business and in life. I have to admit – I get that. I want to keep learning too, and I look for the lesson in everything. And I certainly get bored if I’m doing the same thing again and again.

Flexibility? They want to work remotely? Do more than one thing at a time? Work like they do everything else – when they want to, not according to the strict 9-5 hours that the baby boomers are so used to? Well, let’s admit it, that doesn’t sound too bad either, does it? I wanted that when I was their age, and I want it now.

To be listened to? Granted, in many situations their experience is limited, so why would anyone listen to them? BECAUSE THEY ARE GENERALLY SMART and see things differently than we do. Because of when they grew up, they join the workforce with a different sense of things – a different vibe of the world. Their eyes see differently than ours do.

So, here’s the thing. I don’t think they are any different than I was at their age. I wanted all of those things, and I still do. They have access to so much more information than we ever did.

The world is so much smaller, we are so much more connected.

We can Skype and Face Time and see each other while we talk on the phone. And because we work so much more globally now, this phenomenon occurs at all times of the day and night.
We can work from virtually anywhere – home, Starbucks, even our car. There is no place that doesn’t have WI-Fi, and we have all the codes. We are on 24/7 and we’re actually fine with that.
Development is experience-based, and can be virtual, and if it does take place in the classroom, the classroom can be in Japan, and we can be learning in New Jersey.
The fact is, when I was their age none of this was possible. My first job was in New York City at the Citicorp Center on 53rd Street and Park Avenue. I worked on the 57th floor. When I printed something at my desk I had to take the elevator to the 40th floor, cross over the elevator bank and then take a different elevator two floors up to 42 in order to pick up what I printed. There was literally a farm of printers. Because Citi was so progressive, I had a MAC – it wasn’t a laptop, but I was lucky because the typical alternative was an IBM computer that didn’t even have Windows. When I was their age, sharing information was difficult and slow, and technology didn’t support many of the things that millennials want today – they were completely out of reach (even unimaginable then).

So, in the world they grew up in, where we can learn constantly and engage with each other in real time any time, I ask this:

Is what millennials want unreasonable? Why do we need training programs and articles and webinars for how to manage millennials?
I surround myself with millennials at work and at home. I own a gym in addition to being a leader in a corporate job. Most of the people on both of my teams would be described as millennials. I love working with them. They are smart, and see the world differently than I do. If they don’t know something, they Google it. I do that too, but it’s a learned behavior, where for them it’s as natural as brushing their teeth when they get up in the morning. They instinctively look for and easily find information they need; because they’re information natives they’re also discerning about the information they choose to believe. Their sense of connection is completely different than mine – it’s larger and more fluid. As a result, they are exposed to hundreds of thousands of more ideas and expressions than I am. I tap in to that – I learn from it. I respect it and I relish it. I Heart it.millenials textBut don’t take my word for it – they’re everywhere.

Go find a few. In fact, make a deal with yourself – before you write them off completely do some exploration. Find three or four men or women who are currently in the workforce and are between 22-30 years old. Invite them for coffee and then interview them. Ask them questions to better understand how they think. If you can’t think of your own questions, I came up with a few for you:

What are you passionate about, and how do you plan to tie that to your work?
Describe the person who you will someday describe as the best boss you ever had?
What are the three most important issues you are dealing with right now?
How do you learn new things?
What insights did you have? What did you learn? My guess is that while not all millennials are the same, (we are talking about an entire generation here), you will realize at least some of them are a lot like you were at their age. And, maybe they need some help navigating our world as much as we need help navigating theirs. You’ve taken the first step now – there is no place to go but forward.