What a week it’s been here in New Zealand and Australia for millennials. We’ve waded knee-deep into the murky waters of professional self-identification as part of a wild, unruly younger generation in the workforce. And, as I see it, most of us are stronger for it.
I need to be completely open and honest here right up front: I just squeak in to the millennials category. Just. And, like many folks my age, I’ve at times felt shame in admitting my true self as part of this new, heathen generation of professionals who are coming in to the workforce not only with an education but also with strong a sense of self worth.
I often hide my millennial status. Especially on LinkedIn or in any professional forum online or offline where even the mention of being a millennial is met with a hiss and a dismissive gesture. I’ve often avoided millennial conversations at work in the past. And, I’ve called myself a Xennial more times than I’m proud of to try to somehow be less millennial than I am.
As Bob Dylan once crooned (yes, I’m damn well quoting a 1964 Dylan masterpiece here):
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get outta’ the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’…
Right here, right now, and henceforth I am a proud member of the millennial generation. Not as young as I once was, I am currently servicing a mortgage, working full-time, raising a child and beautifully embarking on my second marriage. By all accounts, you’d think I was (GASP! HORROR!) old. And, I kinda am. But that’s neither here nor there... because, a millennial I am.
The news this week here down under has been seeped in millennial-bashing by older generations of hard-nosed corporate die-hards and TV armchair warriors who fear the internet and social media, but love a good trolling session disguised as aged pontificating in the comment section of local newspapers and community Facebook pages.
As much as I hate to admit it, it sure stung this week when a human being (high in a muffin management position, and with the ear of the media) decided to tar all humans of a certain age range with a brush of selfishness, entitlement, and unworthiness... all because no one is beating down her door anymore asking for free internships or unpaid work experience.
Yep, the general manager of Muffin Break in Australia had a right good public boo-hoo about millennials. If my eyes could’ve rolled out of my head, they might have.
Finger pointing at millennials is equal parts cringeworthy and foolhardy. It also makes me anxious and giddy. Through foot-stomping attempts by elders to intellectualise an inherent disdain for us new aged generation of rabble-rousers, I’ve come to see as clearly as day that strong-arming youth is the last way to entice us to bake muffins for free. We were raised better than that.
Oh, the hellish world that we now occupy. A world in which your job title doesn’t make you correct or better than anyone else. A world in which the democratisation of information has helped us all pull together to do better and be better by each other.
The irony of where conversations against this way of thinking have been undertaken isn’t lost on me, either. That someone can badmouth an entire generation of people, and is now facing backlash on social media just makes me giggle. Oh, the hellish world that we now occupy. A world in which your job title doesn’t make you correct or better than anyone else. A world in which the democratisation of information has helped us all pull together to do better and be better by each other.
Oh my soul, this lady is so lost. She’s isn’t alone, either. All you need to do is hop online and search ‘millennials’ and you’ll be served up millions of mentions that brand us as kids who grew up on participation medals – afraid to win, though not willing to lose.
Older generations have always feared/questioned/looked on in disbelief at the changing tides of younger generations, this isn’t new. This is inherently human.
What is new though is that we younger folks (ahem, millennials and beyond) are armed with a whole lot of information that previous generations haven’t been armed with. We’ve watched our grandparents and our parents. We’ve learned from them. We know what we want to be. And, what we’re willing to put up with to get there.
We know our rights.
We know what we think is right.
And, we have the right to choose.
Who we are is not what our position descriptions denote. We are not words written on paper by someone else. Nope. Not us. We’re a generation built of expectations of creating a better world. We’re dreamers, hard workers, and open hearted labourers. But, we ARE NOT a free for all.
I know a lot about millennials, and here are a few things I know for certain:
- We know better.
In her rant to the media, Muffin Break’s GM reckoned that entitled millennials have been given an “inflated” sense of self-importance due to all of these new fangled apps that connect them to the interwebs. Apparently young people who talk to other young people get ideas. Unfiltered ideas. Powerful ideas. Geeky ideas. All of these ideas aren’t eventuating into work ethic though, are they? These young whippersnappers with all of their new-fangled ideas are no longer beating down her door or forging a path to her front counter begging for unpaid work experience to advance their careers. “There’s just nobody walking in my door asking for an internship, work experience or unpaid work, nobody” she lamented. Publicly. Team, she said this to the media.
My first response? Well, after picking my jaw up off of the floor, I laughed. Surely she’s somehow, accidentally been eating one of those funny muffins and she’s not thinking clearly. My second thought, after realising that marijuana doesn’t cause the kind of daftness she’s spouting was “Good golly y’all, never in all of my millennial years would I consider working for free at making muffins (or selling cars, or paper pushing, or coffee making, or anything really).” I’ve always had to pay the rent, put food on the table, raise my family. Cold hard cash is needed for that. The antiquated idea working your way up a ladder still needs to equate to a living wage. Ladders don’t pay the rent if climbing up each rung puts you further down the breadline.
We know better now, too. We also know that underpaying people (which Muffin Break has apparently been known to do in the past) or not paying them at all is illegal. Ahem, illegal. We’re not selfish for wanting to be paid for our time and our toil – no matter how important or inane. Our non-millennial parents taught us better. Society taught us better and wrote policies to protect us from this kind of thinking. We want to work hard. We’re crazy about the mahi. And for it, we ask to be paid appropriately. That’s the exchange… not all for nothing. Thanks to those who came before us, we know this for certain.
- Exploitation is on display.
Exploitation and exasperation, this is exactly what this GM and her cohorts who shake their fists at the youth of today are advocating. Folks who used to intern for free were usually either able to be supported by their parents (the lucky ones) or were so desperate that they saw no other way than exploitation to get a foot in the door. Data tells us that “a lot of people are willing to put up with exploitation because they’re desperate and fearful and really need a job.” Data also tells us that, on average, unpaid internships leave most young people $6,000 out of pocket. Let me just remind us all, too, that most internships aren’t for the big time. We’re not talking internships that lead to high-stakes here, those are usually reserved for a very upper-class and very privileged few anyhow. We’re talking about muffins here, folks. Baked goods and tasty treats en masse.
The mindsets of leaders who promote old school views of just-feel-lucky-to-be-chosen-and-do-what-you’re-told-kid are exasperating at best for an older millennial like myself. I’ve never, not once, considered working for a business or corporation for free. Why? It’s take/take on behalf of said corporate without any give. Value needs to be exchanged in one way or another. Believe me, I worked for almost nothing when I was of intern age. Let me be more clear: I worked my ass off for a tiny pay packet that I collected monthly. My pay barely covered gas in my car and rent, but gosh I was proud of the money in the bank. Why? Because I earned that, damnit. I worked long hours. I made friends with colleagues. My job became a source of pride. And the pay, though crazy low (even for the time), sufficed. Could I have done the job without pay? Nope. Never in a hundred years.
If maligning a generational workforce based on apathy around the killing off a value exchange between employee & employer is a thing now, then I’m going to ensure I wave my millennial flag daily. Not paying people for work is exploitation. Having to continually repeat this is exasperating.
- The 'snowflake' generation doesn't actually want to steal your job.
There seems to be this weird belief in older generations that all millennials believe we’ll be CEO in five years.
Really though, who says all or any of us want to be CEO anymore? The climb just doesn’t seem worth it if you end up living in fear of the changing whim of stakeholders, shareholders, or anyone holding your mental health hostage. We’ve seen work burn our parents out. We’ve seen the climb take over lives. And, we’ve learned. Kinda. We’ve also, even in our youth, burned out too. We don’t need to define ourselves by our position descriptions anymore. We are not words on paper devised by imperfect middle managers who, even with the best of intentions, still see us as numbers on an org chart. We’re alive in a time where the democratisation of information, news, and creativity is inbuilt into the fiber of our beings. We want to work hard. We want to make the world a better place. And, we want to be able to live on a decent wage.
The benefit of youth is the ability to dream without bounds. We are the people who lap up content from people like Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, Hannah Hart, and Glennon Doyle. We look up to people who believe in the future and in the good we can do to heal a planet that a more corporate world misused prior to us. We are self-starters and we dive deep into learning through novels, podcasts, deep-reports, popular culture, community projects, and documentaries that we’re planning on writing. We know better than to chase dollars over experiences. All in all, we know better than to hurt others for the sake of the bottomline. We know we get ONE GODDAMN LIFE, and to live it fully, we need to work for the greater good. Are we selfish? Ahem, we’re human. So sometimes, yeah. But, we’re also not going to be duped into scrubbing muffin tins for anyone for less that what our time is worth. Unlike the icing on a lemon glazed treat, our generation of snowflakes aren’t melting anytime soon.
My take on millennials is simple. We’re just like all the other generations that came before us – but we’re connected to more. Tethered to it, seemingly. The pressures generations before us faced, we face now. But differently. We’re still trying to find relevance in the world. We’re rushing headlong into a world in which we now need to reverse the effects of global warming. We know we need to do more, better.
We also know what our hearts desire. Doing business with millennials (ahem, with any woke or waking humans) isn’t hard.
All you need to do is:
Put people before percentages.
Put heartcounts before headcounts.
When this happens, most people (not just millennials or Gen Z, etc) will show you loyalty like you’ve never seen before. When we believe in a mission, in an action, in something better – you’ll see the hard yards we’re willing and able and capable of shine through. Inked in positive outcomes for your bottomline. Actions speak louder than words (remember that one?) we believe in this.
Care about us, care about our dreams and aspirations, too. When we care, we’ll ride to the end of the universe in a broken down starship to grow a business. When we don’t? We move on. Fair enough, too, right?
Snowflakes? Yeah, nah.
More like caring humans who want to do well by family, friends, society, business, nation, and the planet.
This was originally published on Roma's blog.
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