Millennials in the Workplace
I’m not so old that I forget being 21. Or 19.. or even 16. But as I get increasingly exposed to today’s ‘millennials’ I’m starting to feel downright crusty. I watch ‘Girls’, I have a Twitter account (still haven’t quite figured out that whole #tag thing or how to get more than my current 36 followers), and yes, I still listen to current music (I said music, not Rhianna). Yes my 20s and 20s are long gone and I had to retire my short shorts last year but I’m not old… am I?
I work at a company that hires millennials. 21, 22 and – *gasp* 24 yr olds. They’re smart, passionate, survive on ‘5 hour energy’ drinks and seem way more aggressive than anyone I knew right out of school. They’re awesome and I can’t help but warm to their enthusiasm for everything.
But wow..that’s where the envy begins and ends. Because in their drive to learn everything, maximize every piece of technology and become deeply involved in ever whim and trend they seem to have skipped a few steps. Basic steps. Which can’t help me make me smile, not because I need to feel superior, but because it makes them ‘real’. Less scary and intimidating. And yes, because it reminds me of the 1994 me… haven’t we all be here?
1. They have no clue how to dress for work.
Last week I met two millennials’ in the break room and couldn’t help but grin. One looked like she was stopping off for coffee on her way home from the night before, the other looked like he was heading off for a kegger. Mini skirts and platform heels, cargo pants and Izod shirts. I swear I spotted a black Chuck Taylor hiding beneath a desk. And these are professionals working for a professional service firm. Which doesn’t involve retail. Sure they’re not lawyers or bankers but we work in an industry that didn’t allow women to wear pants until 1994. I know because I was told off on my first day for wearing a pant suit. Suits and shirts, skirts and ‘nude hose’ were the rule of the day and man, I so grateful that rule died back in the early 2000s. But still, I wish someone – the parents? – would mention that its hard to be taken seriously by a CEO when your shoes have Lucite heels. JCrew is seriously dropping the ball on this one.
2. They can’t write for shit.
A coworker and I have entertained ourselves on many a Friday afternoon by recounting some of the writing that counts for ‘professional English’ we receive. In a world of emoticons, instant spell check and IM, many of the millennials seems to have given up on writing, reading and anything approximating normal speech altogether.
‘So, its like, she went- ‘that deliverable isn’t, like, ‘on it. So now its late.”
‘I want to be promoted because, like, my manager said that I was good, and my career adviser said to ‘big it up’ and I have the skills and I work really hard and been in this role for 2 years. 🙂
Huh? Are we all auditioning for Point Break 2? With writing that falls directly off a ‘Valley Girl/ Clueless’ script its really hard to take these kids seriously, even though I know they’ve all got 135 IQs and can code me under a desk. I love that we’re not to so formal in business these days, but honestly I’m not sure how I’d ever introduce a millennial to a CEO and still expect business to happen. They’re not all this bad, but increasingly we’re having to explain ‘their/there/they’re’ and why you can’t have 16 ‘ands’ in a sentence. Wasn’t this covered in middle school? And don’t get me started on the use of emoticons and texting shorthand in business. Smiley faces and sad faces have no place in business. Just no. We’re not 12.
3. They need constant encouragement and praise.
Anyone who hasn’t been living in a rock knows this one. Everyone gets a trophy, right? When working directly with millennials I noticed that not only did they need everything to be explained to the nth degree before starting something, but that I received daily updates on progress that required ‘approval’. Now I think its great that you want to make sure that your spreadsheet is correct, but I don’t need to ‘approve’ the color you used in the banner headline. And no, I’m not applauding your creative use of font. Once the project was complete, instead of running at high speed to a more interesting project, they stuck around wanting to hear what my superiors ‘thought’ and whether the CEO had any direct feedback for them. I hadn’t the heart to tell them that the likely consideration of their work was a 5 second glance before he scribbled numbers on a Post-It and deleted the file… it seemed cruel when their hopes were so high. Yes guys you did a good job. A really good job and yes Bob, that font was cool. But move on. You’re not getting a trophy or personal written notes of encouragement from the CEO every time you poop. I think he reserves that for his grand-kids. If you need approval or a grade or a trophy I suggest you return to elementary school. I waited 21 years for professional approval and it only came last week. Get in line.
4. They whine when something is difficult.
With the advent of iPads, iPods, iMacs and all other ‘i’ appliances, we’re removed the difficulty from our millennials’ lives. They never had to catch a bus to the library to look up a fact about Abraham Lincoln for a paper, they simply downloaded the paper and ‘customized it’. They never had to figure out how to program a VCR, make a mix tape or drive a stick shift. We now have Tivo, playlists and automatics for that. We have buttons or increasingly icons. Things are easier. But work generally isn’t.
Sure you no longer need a massive calculator on your desk and you don’t have to use an eraser any more, but basically work still involves figuring out problems, coming up with solutions, trying to convince people that your solution is best and then up-selling the crap out of it so that someone lets you go solve the problem your way. Which is hard. And frustrating. And often a complete waste of time when your boss has a change of heart because he saw something better on CSPAN. Our millennials don’t get it. The waste of time. The inefficiency. The lack of source material to base the solution on. What? You start with a clean sheet of paper and just… make it up? I love the look of bemusement when we’re doing something ‘green field’ and its like herding a class of 4th graders to get them started. They think they saw something they can use on the internet, they might have something they’ve seen before and if all else fails they’ll ask something they think can help them. All accompanied by a lot of whining. I seem to remember getting excited at creating something new, completely out of my head based on logic and no small amount of insanity.. these guys get scared and complain a lot. Which does make me wonder who’s running all those start ups.. surely they didn’t find their solution ‘on the web’?? And I’m damn sure they don’t whine so much about doing something hard.
5. They’re deliciously naive.
My very first encounter with a millennial was the day one walked into the CEO’s office, uninvited, to interrupt a video conference with the CEO’s boss man in Japan. The guy – cargo pants and creased button down – just wanted to say ‘what’s up?’ and introduce himself. Thankfully the CEO has a sense of humor and paused his conversation to say ‘hi’ and ask for a more convenient time but the millennial was unflummoxed. He didn’t see what the issue was at all. As we all stood askance as he headed off for a bagel and some coffee, I couldn’t help but admire his moxie. Damn if I’d had that self confidence at 21 I could have done anything. Instead I spent 10 yrs working really hard and hoping that someone noticed me enough to give me more work. I naive to think that work was enough. This guy was naive enough to think that the CEO cared that he’d joined his company. One of the 40 that day.Where as my naivete was based on not realizing how relationships and corporate sucking up worked, these guys are the opposite. They expect that everything is based on relationships and sucking up. The work, the quality of the deliver… that’s just secondary. Which is why my millennial thought he’d get a head start on his career by introducing himself to the CEO, maybe proposing a golf game, discussing a good wine he’d tried that weekend. All before he’d even powered up his laptop for the first time. I don’t want to crush their spirit and I know they’ll get it beaten out of them as they world 14-16 hr days for the next few years.. but its nice to know that I wasn’t the only naivete starting out. They’re still doing it. Just with a lot more confidence and a lot more creased clothing.
I don’t mock our millennials’ for their differences. I’m sure my seniors found me ridiculous with my discount pant suits, glued together shoes and common use of the term ‘whilst’. And to be honest, I admire their confidence, their ‘I can do anything right now‘ air of privilege. Its far faster and easier to temper naivete than to grow self confidence.. so I’m sure a cure for cancer is just around the corner.
I just hope non them are in charge of anything nuclear or you know, important, for a few years.