I study and research #futureofwork which involves understanding the differences and the similarities between the generations. The workforce is made up of three of them now for the most part: baby boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. It is not too long before Gen Z joins us.
You probably see many articles about Millennials as I do. I have written a few myself too. The unfortunate part is that they are blamed and judged too much. Sometimes by just the general public, but also by experts who are studying the workplace.
The most common theme I see is “they are spoiled and entitled”. I am sure there are some who are like that, but those people exist in all generations. Are we fair when we say that? Especially as the generations who raised them? What did we do differently when we raised our children? We did not want them to act based on fear. We wanted them to be individuals who can ask and share their opinions. Why? Because some of us were raised by parents, who believed children need to be told what to do without the explanation of why behind it. The parents needed to be the authority and stay strong at all times. You would not want to share your weaknesses with your children since that will jeopardize your authority figure. We cannot blame that generation either. That was the belief at the time; that was the best way to do parenting. That mentality existed in the workplace too: it was believed that employees needed to be told what to do even as adults and they could not be trusted making their own decisions for the most part.
Thanks to advancements in science, we learned a lot about human behavior in the last two decades. We know more about human psychology and how we are wired. That leads us to behave differently. So my generation (Gen X) for the most part gave their children more space, more freedom (sometimes too much- I am not talking about letting children run and scream in restaurants with their moms running after them to feed. That is not freedom.) Parents wanted their children to respect them, not fear them. We apologize to our children if we make mistakes. We want to show them this is being human. It is OK to screw up and it is OK not to have all the answers. We cared more about the connections we have with our children than being an authority. So if that is spoiling, yes we did it. Let’s take the blame then.
When I hear comments like “this new generation does not obey anything” or “they are disrespectful” or “they don’t have shame”, we need to define what those words mean. If they dare to speak up when they see something wrong or need to defend themselves, without getting rude, that is self-respect. They need to stand up for what they see is right. I sometimes get startled with what they say but I know it is about me; because I was too shy or too self-doubtful when I was at their age. By the way we were not only respectful; we were mostly afraid of being punished or not being loved. That is why we obeyed more. It was more fear based. This generation grow up with more unconditional love. They did not need to get the top grades to see their parents’ smile or get their approval. They were more accepted being who they are. The main reason being, the change in the definition of “success”.
Gen X followed their parents’ formula: work really hard, go to best schools, join the best company, get promoted, make decent money and work there happily ever after until you retire. That was the definition of “success”. Well, there are so many interruptions to this formula now:
1. It is getting harder and harder to get into good schools no matter how high your grades are
2. Only half of Gen X will be able to retire with one or two jobs in their career; that concept of working for the same company all your life is over
3. We all live longer, so we need to think about 40-50 year careers now
4. People care more about having a balanced life; they want more than just a “job”
5. Even though so many Gen X followed the formula, had a great education, worked very hard they still got laid off, usually more than once. They lost their money, their houses and mostly their hope. The formula did not work. We live in very different times. What worked for a previous generation did not work for the next one.
Well, Millennials were watching this as they were growing up. They saw the big recession in 2008 and beyond. Do you think they will want to follow this old formula? Can they really believe being loyal to their companies will pay off? Their parents missed their most important games, their plays for these jobs; they did not get to be with them as much; worked hard and still got shattered with disappointment. Then can we blame Millennials for not being loyal? They know they will be laid off the minute the company does not need them. (By the way, I follow amazing companies that are the best kind, where there is a lot of trust that works both ways. I am talking about the majority of organizations here.)
Then we worry too much because there is too much technology, too much screen time. I understand why. I would want my child to be active and be outside instead of switching from the phone screen to PlayStation 4 then to TV. However, we cannot deny this is part of this world now. I used to say “no” to my son to buy some games; then he would play with them when he was visiting his friends. I am not saying we should put children in front of screens starting at 1 and keep them there; we need limits but let’s not worry so much about the new world that is emerging in front of them. I read articles how games can increase eye and hand coordination. Or how they can get to work for this technology when they get older. We also don’t let them on the streets because we know it is not safe. These are the times they are living in. We cannot ignore it. Our times were different than our parents’ and we used to hate when they gave examples from their youthful years explaining how it was better then. Let’s not do the same to them.
We also talk about them at events, meetings while they are sitting and listening. We do not even ask what they think and if they agree with the characteristics we come up about their generation.
Let’s try to understand their new world instead. The younger generation see a world that is unsafe wherever they live. They are exposed to so many bad news. It is easy to lose hope when they look at the lack of compassion around the world. They keep on seeing articles telling there will be massive unemployment because of new technologies. So imagine you are in your most hopeful years and you see all this unfolding right in front of your eyes. That is not easy either.
On the flip side, the technology in their hands made them global citizens. They are watching the world, not only their local news. They are more aware and more tolerant. Unless they live in closed, very conservative environments being brainwashed, they are less racist. They look at everyone like equals. They travel a lot more and understand different cultures. They care about diversity, our planet and many other good causes. They want to do good; buy from companies that do good; work for companies with a purpose or start a new one expressing their values. I love them because they are pushing change in the workplace that was so needed. They care about the real stuff in life and they are bringing those values everywhere they go, including work.
We cannot judge any generation taking them out of context and their time and find them wrong with what we know today. I sometimes see people judging their bosses or parents with what we learned in the last decade. They did not have access to this information we have. This is valid for the younger ones too. This is the time they are living and this is an exceptionally different one than before with the fastest pace of technological advancements changing their lives almost on a daily basis. Let’s watch their amazing capacity to learn, innovate; trust them with their minds and vision. It is no coincidence there are amazing young people who have achieved so much before they turn 30. Let’s admire them to ask for a more purposeful and balanced life, making sure they allocate time to things that matter to them now not when they retire.