As some of you know, I run a contrarian view of the widespread concern for millennials in the workplace. Time and time again I find workshops and speakers touting their newfound wisdom about how “to cope with millennials in the workplace”.
Executives everywhere are pondering this epidemic conundrum, or so the pundits tell us. I, on the other hand, am the father of 5 such citizens. These are 30–something, young adults who are moving through their lives, working jobs, making budgets, having kids, and basically living life, one new experience at a time, just like we all have done.
Are they really different? I say not so much.
I mean really, what new parent hasn’t brought home that first baby from the hospital and had THE MOMENT? You know, when you look at each other and say “what do we do now?”
Or what about bringing home that first pink slip from work; the job that was so ‘perfect’. And again you look at each other and say “what do we do now”?
My observation is simply this…. Millennials are fundamentally no different than any of us were when we were that age. Yes, technology has changed and had an impact, but so did the rotary phone, fax machine, the PC, and the laser disc.
We forget how far back this kind of age bias goes. In his epic work “Walden”, Henry David Thoreau writes:
I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me anything to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it. If I have any experience which I think valuable, I am sure to reflect that this my Mentors said nothing about.
If that doesn’t sound like the Millennials’ Manifesto, I don’t know what does. However, let me remind you, Walden was written between 1845 and 1849. Was Thoreau the original Millennial or is there something to the mindset of a 30–something who is experiencing life with all that is happening being the first time for everything?
I vividly recall my own aspirations and attitudes when I was 30–ish. I was hungry for advancement at work, I wanted significance in the community, and I wanted to make a difference. That is textbook millennial thinking, right?
Let me encourage you to think about your own mindset when you were going through this stage of life (or are you too old to remember?).
My point is this. Having millennials on your team requires a special leadership skill set called wisdom. Wisdom from having gotten to know your team. Wisdom from having learned how to relate to people, one and all. Unbiased attitudes about others who don’t see things exactly the way you see them. A confidence to accept the variance from your own norm and a willingness to embrace the difference.
There is no doubt that having multiple age brackets on the team causes potential friction. The root problem should not be thrust upon the millennial members alone (see “The Problem Is Not the Problem“). No, it is a diversity issue. Older generations need to be open to acceptance of the younger ones, perhaps even agreeing to be a mentor. Yes, I know older workers feel threatened by the younger, up and coming teammates. Yet refusing to embrace the differences only serves to let your employer accelerate your exit, especially when the decision has been made to invest in younger talent.
Some people deal with “different” by trying to beat it down, mold it and shape it into something more recognizable. So sad.
Are millennials different? They are only if you are comparing to people stuck in other mindsets or others at advanced stages of their life cycle. But different as any other 30 year old who has gone before them, like Thoreau? I don’t think so.
Besides, even if we choose to call them different, ‘different’ gives us new ideas, better energy, and possible growth. That gets me excited. How about you?
[reminder]How do you handle the millennial mindset at work?[/reminder]