Care For, But Don’t Coddle, Millennials
Spend about half an hour Googling for articles on millennials and the workplace, and you will find more written in the last year alone than you will be able to read in a week. How do we attract millennials? What do millennials want? How do we make millennials happy? How do we make millennials feel valued? How do we make millennials feel comfortable?
Then, there are the less public discussions about millennials. In these private conversations, Generation X, baby boomers and traditionalists (and sometimes even older millennials) grouse about what they perceive as an entitlement mentality among some young millennials. Some go as far as to forget the “some.”
From what I have witnessed, there is a jarring juxtaposition between the public and private discourse. This disconnect is disturbing, at best.
Millennials are now the largest part of our workforce. Make no mistake about it; they are an important part not only of the future but also of today. So, we should be thinking about them. A lot.
The problem is that we seem to focus on them to the exclusion of other groups. This boomer worries not enough time is spent on Generation X, for example, the Sheryl Sandbergs and Michael Dells of the world.
Do a Google search focusing on what we need to do attract and retain Generation X. Are you done reading?
From a legal perspective, millennial myopia in the workplace may be evidence of age bias. There is one expression for almost all non-millennials: older workers protected by federal law.
The first year of Generation X turned 50 last year. Soon, all members of Generation X will fall in the federally-protected age group (40 and over).
I also worry that we talk about millennials as though they have monolithic needs and wants. We ignore the substantial diversity among millennials, engaging in the kind of stereotyping we would never do about any race or religion (or, at least, I pray not).
Finally, I worry that the almost obsessive focus on millennials is creating in some millennials that about which some complaint. If leadership mavens worry about your every want and need, it should be no surprise that “I want to be successful” may trail “I want to be comfortable.”
Regarding comfort, no one should have to endure harassment, abusive conduct or even subtle bias or true micro-aggressions. But not every moment of discomfort gives rise to a feeling we needs to articulate, let alone address.
And, for this, I blame those millennials who exhibit such behaviors less than those who have created the expectations giving rise to the actions. No sacred cows, here.
I start with helicopter parents of my generation that have involved themselves too often in their children’s education. And now, some are doing the same in the workplace. “Why did my son not get an A” has become “why did he not get the promotion.”
But it does not stop there. Some of our colleges and universities have gone so far to protect anything that could make anyone feel uncomfortable that that they have not only oppressed dialogue, but they also have infantilized these young adults. As one College President said in exasperation, “This is not a daycare. It’s a University.”
When these young people go from the safe places created for them in the educational space to the real world called the workplace, they sometimes struggle with this reality. When someone does not meet their needs or makes them the slightest bit uncomfortable, they feel microagressed or bullied.
The message is not that we should care less about millennials. The message is that we should apply a more calibrated and balanced approach.
We need to listen to millennials concerns. But we also need to make clear to them what we expect from them.
We need to appreciate the greater focus on life outside of work. But we need to make clear that without happy customers and clients there is no work.
We need to ensure that they do not endure unacceptable conduct. But we need to be clear that feeling uncomfortable does not always mean that someone has done anything wrong.
We need to understand this generation probably has it harder than any preceding it and, with that, a different perspective. But we need to focus on millennials as individuals and not merely the embodiments of generational stereotypes.
Perhaps, and most importantly, we need to care about millennials so that they genuinely feel valued and are productive and entrepreneurial as a result. But we need to be careful not to allow caring to slip into coddling.
When we coddle, we unconsciously satisfy our needs, but we rob millennials of the opportunity to grow. And, in doing so, we limit the growth potential of our organizations.