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The entire topic of generational theory is nothing short of political. It’s fraught with finger pointing and sly, snarky jabs and more than anything – misunderstanding. Millennials are not the enemy, lack of change however is. Born between 1980ish and mid 1990ish, millennials grew up in a vastly different world to generation X and the boomers before them. Understanding this new world is key to understanding millennials, to that end we are taking a deeper look in order to figure out exactly what’s up with millennials.

Growing up With Technology

Not every one ranks on the empathy scale but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. The key to being able to work better with millennials is understanding why they are the way they are before you throw around words such as entitlement. Millennials were the first generation to conquer the internet, chat rooms, social media and truly enlist the services of Google in their search for fun, knowledge and the ability to connect with people across the globe. The unintended consequences of the internet; millennials grew up with the promise of instant gratification at their fingertips along with a decreased attention span. Millennials didn’t ask to grow up with an unfettered access to information and the world is only now coming to grips with the detrimental effect that this can have on a child or teen. But that is only one part of the puzzle.

How Were Millennials Raised?

There are many more factors which come in to play though, the primary one being failed parenting techniques. This is not a dig at those who raised millennials, for all intents and purposes they tried their absolute best, the problem however is that they gave millennials medals for participation; which again, millennials don’t ask for. Their intention was to raise their children better than they were, in a more supportive and loving environment. They certainly achieved that. They pushed millennials to pursue their dreams and told them that they could be anything. There’s one problem with that though; that is not how the world works. You do not get a participation medal for doing your job, you do not get a participation medal for getting up after you’ve fallen.

The Impact of the Way Millennials Were Raised

After being told that they could do anything they set their hearts on, millennials entered the workforce with honours degrees in underwater basket weaving only for the world to tell them that there is no place for them. Even those who managed to successfully find their place in the working world face the daily challenge of being told that they simply aren’t good enough (the same as every generation before them were told). For all the hand holding and mollycoddling millennials are at a disadvantage, less equipped to handle criticism and too impatient to invest the time required to climb that mountain to find job fulfilment. Is it really so simple though?

Life Stages Versus Generational Theory

Did you stop to ask yourself who you were in your twenties? Have your belief system and values changed somewhat? Of course, they have and they always do. Your twenties are dedicated to learning how to adult, for lack of a better term. Only millennials get the chance to find themselves with a spotlight on them, social media documents their every move whether they want it to or not. The stupid things previous generations did and said in their twenties are not carved into the internet for generations to come, they have instead been forgotten. Surely every 20 something was lazy an entitled at some point in their lives? That is a rhetorical question. Don’t mistake an entire life stage for a generational stereotype. Emerging adults; people between the age of 18 and 28 are finding their feet, it takes time and many many tough lessons to fully become an adult.

Who Came Before Millennials?

What is most intriguing about generational theory is that when it comes down to it, it really all seems to exist under the guise of not necessarily understanding the next generation but rather differentiating from them and to a large extent shaming them. Remember what previous generations said about the boomers? ‘Arg, filthy hippies!’. Generation X? ‘They’re lost, disconnected and cliquey’. Now millennials come along and people say they are entitled and less engaged. The truth is that slandering the next generation is ingrained in us.

‘I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today’
– Hesiod, 8th Century BC.

A Brief Guide to Working With Millennials

It’s time to side-step your generational bias and really find ways to best utilise the strengths that millennials have as opposed to focussing on their perceived shortcomings. The entire situation requires a healthy dose of empathy – as previously mentioned. Where older generations get it wrong is that they treat millennials the way they were treated while they themselves were climbing the ranks; badly. Millennials do not respond to threats, punishment or shouting. Why should they? They’ve seen their parents and previous generations lose their jobs amidst economic crises. In many cases they worked tirelessly and were fiercely loyal to their employers, millennials will not make the same mistake especially when they have no bond to pay and no children to feed. Millennials know very well that they are replicable and any loyalty is purely one-sided. Big corporations do not care about their employees, they care about the bottom line.

What Motivates Millennials?

Millennials do not correlate time spent on the job with knowledge gained. Just because you sit at your desk from 9-5 does not mean you are learning how to be an effective leader. Millennials fare better with coaching and mentoring and they are driven by finding purpose in their work rather than archaic hierarchical structures. Millennials have come to grips with the fact that knowledge and solutions to problems do not necessarily come from the top, they can come from anywhere and their suggestions are valid. The inability to be recognised frustrates and infuriates millennials because by and large they have abandoned these rigid structures and titles in favour of collaboration. Millennials were raised with the purpose of pursuing their passions which lead them to the desire for purpose and connection. Millennials are not unprepared to do the grunt work; they just want to know why they are doing it.

A Note to Millennials

Sorry guys, you were all painted with the same brush. The truth is that you cannot diagnose an entire generation with a personality disorder. Your parents told you that you were special but at the same time, every other millennial was told the same by their parents. You do need to work super hard to shake the bias to gain credibility and become the leader you are. Fight the good fight in order to find fulfilment in your career and personal life. It’s not as simple as swiping left or right. In your twenties, you have high hopes and big expectations and when you are met with failure and disappointment you need to be able to get up and dust yourself off. Learn the lesson, put in the time and the results will come. You have a lot to offer the world.

Now that we all know a bit more about millennials it’s possible to find a more productive way forward. Step one; stop shouting and start mentoring, your role is not to take revenge for the way you were treated, it’s to line the nest for the next generation because soon enough they will be the ones changing your adult nappies.