The “Problem” with Millennials
If you’ve been on the internet any time in the last 10-15 years, you’ve seen plenty of coverage on millennials. Articles written by wizened elders accuse the younger generation of being lazy, entitled, unambitious, bad with money, and too uptight to take a joke. Business news has covered in detail the industries millennials have destroyed, like fast-casual dining and napkins. All of these accusations are wrong.
Let’s start by defining some terms. Millennials are people born in the years 1981 and 1996. That may seem a little old. That’s because they are! The oldest members of the cohort are pushing 40, and the youngest are 25. It’s likely that most millennials have been in the workforce for at least a decade. In that time, they’ve proven themselves to be decent, reliable, and intelligent employees. Here is the twist: They always were.
Complaints about millennials have been covered so widely that it’s easy to forget that every generation has made the same complaints about the generation that followed. Remember your parents telling you about getting to school? They would stare into the distance and say that in their day, they knew to respect their elders, work hard, and stay away from jazz. The sentiment that young folks are rude and lazy is so common, the students of Greek philosophers received the same ire from their masters. It turns out that old-timers will think teenagers are slightly annoying, irresponsible, body-spray addicts and will likely think it until the rapture or the extinction of mankind.
The Kids are Grown Up and Ready to Work
The good news is that millennials aren’t teens anymore. They’re college graduates with a native understanding of the web, social media, and technology. America has changed significantly since the ‘90s, and the younger generations have grown up with access to vast oceans of information. Many young people may even eschew formal education in favor of self-taught learning. Search for a DIY project on YouTube, and you’ll find countless millennial hobbyists explaining the process in detail, some of them like they’re theoretical physicists with an emphasis on laying concrete.
An astute business owner knows to embrace the unique insights and talents of their employees, and the youth in our midst are no exception. When I was a young man starting my career, I used the internet to advertise our supplies and managed to increase our profits by tens of thousands of dollars just by posting on Craigslist. Today I see dozens of blue-collar contractors and business owners posting videos of themselves on TikTok and receiving thousands of views, comments, and new clients. Embracing new technologies and new avenues for marketing will keep your business thriving.
Now that millennials are becoming established in the workplace, it’s time we agree to break the cycle and appreciate the talents of the next generation—Generation Z—from the beginning. While this generation is still in its teenage years, that means it’s time to cultivate young workers, not drive them into other industries. Young people want to be taken seriously and will generally rise to the expectations given to them. Now that doesn’t mean the 17-year-old flunky should be given a manager job right away, but we can certainly take time to explain the job, explain decisions we make, and bring them up to snuff. While some companies pride themselves on hazing and laying abuse on newbies, all that really makes is burnt-out employees and high turnover for new hires. If you want a highly competent manager five or ten years from now, mentor and build up the young bucks of today.
How Do We Build Up a Young Employee?
Gallup studies tell us that the best way to nurture talent within the company is to offer substantive opportunities, which include promotions and the financial incentives that come with them. Nobody wants to work in a dead-end job where they don’t feel valued, including Millennials and Gen Z. Hiring from within allows business owners to build a company from the bottom up, which will result in better quality employees and better work in the long run. Books like Built to Last: Habits of Visionary Companies outline the way companies become industry leaders by fostering an environment in which employees grow with the company rather than get used by it.
Another way to keep employees engaged is by encouraging feedback and criticism. Part of treating young employees seriously is actively listening to the shortcomings they identify and their thoughts on fixing them. Young people want the chance to collaborate and contribute meaningfully to their team, so let them. A good idea can boost profits, while a bad idea can be a learning opportunity when you explain why their suggestion won’t be implemented. Maintaining this kind of dialogue will keep employees invested in their roles and excited to contribute more in the future.
Different generations each come with a perspective created by the world they’ve grown up in and the experiences that shaped them. While older employees have the wisdom that comes from a long career, the youth have the benefit of enthusiasm and new ideas. Integrating the best employees from a variety of backgrounds strengthens companies by making them reliable and relevant.