I was having brunch with a couple of former classmates over the weekend and the conversation turned to Millennials. My classmates are mid-career and are now being asked to manage or oversee the work of their younger coworkers. And rather predictably, they were pretty displeased with the performance of their colleagues, lamenting, “Why are these Millennials so terrible?”
We stopped ourselves before the conversation became too vile. For one: I pointed out that everyone at the table, by definition of age, was technically a Millennial. Except for me. I am a proud Generation X. I always feel that that needs to be pointed out. And two: we wondered if we were just being too harsh on a group of people who are just now making the transition to the professional world. I think there is some truth to this second one– that young people are just now learning the ropes, as we all have had to as we became working professionals– and maybe we should cut them some slack.
While I think there is a lot of truth to the latter, I have to say that I have struggled with some of the young people that I have recently encountered. Where they automatically get some slack for being newbies to the working world, they also exhibit some attitudes and behaviors that make the rest of us shake our heads.
I thought about how to position this post: should I be snarky? Instructive? Empathetic? And I think what I will just do is describe of the behaviors and attitudes (as gleaned via conversation) and give my two cents about why this will be a handicap if not adjusted over time. I should note that none of this is indicative of all Millennials and in many cases is described in an exaggerated manner. But it’s food for thought, perhaps, if you recognize any of the traits within yourself.
One of my friends works at a telecomm company and recently had to interact with a new grad colleague. She would give him a project, check in with him and find that he had rushed through it and done a bad job. This would happen time and time again. My friend–someone who I would consider a super high achiever having attended a notoriously competitive NY city-based high school and then a major Boston metro-based university– remarked that she would never think to perform so poorly. I countered that I noticed this in a young colleague at work. She told me about her aspirations in the working world (and they were high) but time and again I would see her coming in at 10 am and leaving at 4. She would also frequently be laying fetal position in Love Sacs placed throughout the office.
So what I’m not saying: I’m not saying that Millennials are held to expectations of high performance from the get-go. Listen: we all fuck up when we start working. I did, he did, she did, we all did. Your first few years of work are just an insane panoply of fuck-ups and embarrassments that build skills, knowledge and character. But it’s strange to hear people with big dreams and then witness them not putting in the effort to grow and do a good job. I’m not sure if it’s that they don’t know yet or if the ease of an Internet-dependent life from the time of birth has made them expect an ease in life (like– has a Millennial ever had to track down a piece of rare text on microfilm in a university library basement library? ‘Cause I have), but it just seems like Millennials expect everything to be easy and rewards to be effortless. It’s not. You have to work for it. And when you do it wrong, you put in efforts to do it right.
2) Questionable choices
I watched a young colleague strut in one day wearing shorts. Like denim shorts. Like short denim shorts. Like short denim shorts you would wear to a picnic. To work. Now I’ll admit: I’ve worn shorts to work before. But with wedges. And they were chino. But ok, I get it: sartorial confidence. It’s fine.
But whether it’s selfies or pics to facebook of drunken debauchery or tanktops and flipflops worn to the office, Millennials do things that make the rest of us go, “Whaaa?”
At my last company, a group of coworkers (“the partiers”) would routinely come in to the office hungover. Listen: we’ve all done it. I get it. I’ll admit (anonymously) that in my past life, I have come in to work stoned. I’m sorry– I know you expected better of me. So it happens. But it’s weird to see it happen… and then happen… and then happen… Because when you keep doing it, it doesn’t seem like you knew it was a mistake. It seems like it’s a questionable choice that you are flaunting.
So I guess ultimately what I’m saying is: we all make questionable choices as young people. I’m certainly guilty of it and to a certain degree, you have a grace period by the end of which, you should have your shit together. This grace period seems very long for Millennials. As in, they are not picking up on context clues and these bad choices seem to be going on longer and on fuller display than I remember being acceptable back in my day.
3) Unearned confidence
So I don’t actually know that this point is super legitimate. But I guess I am surprised at how much Millennials seem so confident in what their lives will be– there doesn’t seem to be that feeling of uncertainty that I remember from my youth. And yet, when they pitch their ideas and plans, they seem… well, they seem really bullshit, if I am to be totally honest.
So this was me: I graduated from college and I had no idea what I was doing. I tried this, and I considered that, and sometimes I changed my mind. And if you were to ask me back then what I thought I was doing, in real time, I probably would have admitted, “I am trying this, and I’m considering that, and I keep changing my mind.” I know a lot of my contemporaries were on a much straighter path but I remember conversations with them and they seemed very humble about what later turned out to be super impressive lives. And in my case, I asked people a lot of questions and I used this knowledge to inform my later choices.
But I talk to Millennials, and they’re like, “Yeah, I’m going to do this and then that and then this will happen.” They say it like it will happen with the snap of a finger. And sometimes the rationale is so very off and yet, despite pushback, they insist, no no, they are going to do it this way. I was talking to a young person who was barely out of college and sort of in her first job (as a contractor). She told me that if things didn’t work out jobwise, she was going to take the GMAT and go to business school. I usually don’t tell people outright that I went to bschool (b/c why would I– it sounds kind of obnoxious) but in this case, I did mention to her, yeah I did that. I wasn’t expecting her to react but I did expect her to ask me questions. Instead, she went back to what she planned to do related to graduate school. I probably sound kind of pompous saying that I felt slighted when she didn’t ask me questions so I’ll retell the story using a parallel:
Millennial: I plan to pan for gold and strike it rich.
Me: Oh I panned for gold on Gold Mountain. I struck it rich.
Millennial: Ok. Well I plan to pan for gold on another mountain, a mountain that you haven’t confirmed totally has gold, and I plan to strike it rich.
Like, I did that thing you are aspiring to. Why wouldn’t you ask me for tips? Why would you think that you have to re-invent the wheel of something I just told you I did? She went on to talk about her plans. Her plan was ridiculous. I just kept eating my sandwich.
I know I sound bitter about something that is none of my business. But I feel like with the evolution of the internet, our networks are bigger, our access to information is better, we can make better, stronger decisions. And yet we’ve kind of come round full circle to ignorance being bliss. A very I-don’t-care-that-you-did-the-thing-I-plan-to-do-because-my-thing-is-totally-different. I mean, I suppose everyone learns things in their own time, but shit– when someone is giving you a shortcut to potential success, I really don’t understand why you wouldn’t at least consider it.
Oh, you silly Millennials.