A publisher of a local paper complained about one of her younger employees, a newly minted journalism major. The young man had an entitled air about him belied by an annoying up-tone he shares, sadly, with far too many women and men who are no longer teenagers or from the Valley (an up-tone is a rise in pitch at the end of a sentence or phrase, which makes an utterance sound like a question). Moreover, he was not particularly productive or punctual except when it came time to collect his pay. “He barges into my office, demands his check and announces that he’s taking a few days off,” fumed the publisher. She wanted to respond, “and what have you done for me lately?”
The young man is a Millennial, someone born roughly between 1980 and 1994. Millennials are also referred to as the YouTube Generation, the Internet Generation or the lesser known Echo Boomers.
Claire Raines, author and expert on intergenerational workplace dynamics, describe them as such:
They’re the hottest commodity on the job market since Rosie the Riveter. They’re sociable, optimistic, talented, well-educated, collaborative, open-minded, influential, and achievement-oriented. They’ve always felt sought after, needed, indispensable. They are arriving in the workplace with higher expectations than any generation before them—and they’re so well connected that, if an employer doesn’t match those expectations, they can tell thousands of their cohorts with one click of the mouse.
Raines attributes their collective personality to experiences peculiar to their generation. She identifies eight key trends which started from the 1990s and continues to the present. These are: (1) Re-focus on children and family; (2) Scheduled, structured lives; (3) Multiculturalism; (4) Terrorism, local and global; (5) Heroism; (5) Patriotism; (6) Parent advocacy; (7) Globalism; and (8) Compelling messages.
Among these trends, parental advocacy and messages have most to do with who they are. Raines explains:
The Millennials were raised, by and large, by active, involved parents who often interceded on their behalf. Protective Boomer and Xer parents tried to ensure their children would grow up safely and be treated well. Parents challenged poor grades, negotiated with the soccer coach, visited college campuses with their charges, and even went along to Army recruiting centers.
Their parents have thus been labeled “helicopter parents,” constantly hovering overhead to make sure their progeny is protected, endorsed and advanced, whether the children like it or not, and deserve it or not. This behavior persists through the kids’ early adulthood. Wikipedia offers an extension of the term – “Black Hawks” – for parents who cross the line to unethical behavior such as writing their children’s college admission essays.
Such dysfunctional behavior is compounded by overly positive and sometimes unrealistic messages drilled into children’s heads. Raines lists the following: “Be smart—you are special.” “Leave no one behind.” “Connect 24/7.” “Achieve now!” You are unique and talented and very special and should be adored by everyone. Are we surprised then by the insane number of Americans who believe that they can be the next Idol or think that they can dance?
A psychologist friend of mine adds her own theory (and concern) that cell phones, email, blackberries, texting and social networking sites have not only reattached the umbilical cord (and given it super tensile strength) but have also spawned codependent connections among the Millennials themselves.
But is this all simply another generation gap?
Surely Baby Boomers complained about Generation X. And Baby Boomers heard their parents say, “when I was your age …”
My own experience with Millennials has been rather positive.
While working at Human Rights Campaign, I was impressed by the passion of young women and men – gay, straight and questioning – for advocating equal rights. I was heartened by their comfort with diversity.
Slogging my way through Southern heat and humidity, I am frequently accosted by cheerful and energized youth asking whether I’d like to support Barack Obama. All over town, these future operatives are joined by teenagers in blue blazers and smart dresses interning on the Hill or at K Street, future politicos and lobbyists.
At Aspen Institute, I work and laugh with a Brown graduate, who intends to stay in the nonprofit sector. Walking the halls or typing at their desks are other twenty-somethings with impressive credentials analyzing policy issues in the middle of summer.
The other evening, I met a sophomore from Southwestern University who had decided to spend a couple of weeks at her aunt’s office, a Labor lobbying firm. Her younger brother is set to enter West Point this fall. And my partner’s own nephew will attend NC State College of Engineering to study robotics. Till then, he is life guarding and teaching kids how to swim.
Granted I live in Washington, work in the nonprofit sector, and somehow find myself surrounded by really intelligent and simply good folk, I nonetheless think that Millennials are okay. I am optimistic about the future precisely because of how this generation sees the world – as theirs to change and enjoy.
Now if we can only do something about the up-tone.
Illustration from Adbridge.com.