Give Millenials a break!

It’s Time to Give Millennials a Break (and some credit, too)


It’s time to give Millennials a break.

You can’t go a day without reading or hearing what “the problem with millennials” is.  We need to stop that.  Isn’t that just a version of “kids these days”? The same centuries old tired lament? Doesn’t that mean we are just old farts who have passed the buck and we haven’t figured out how to build a bridge with the next generation? And by ‘we’ I mean the Prequels- the Prequels to the Millennials being mainly Baby Boomers and Generation X (and yes, a word I have twisted for my own purposes).

Passing the Buck

Isn’t it interesting that the complaints most often leveled at Millennials- they are entitled, they lack work ethic, they are rabid consumers who are bad at personal finance, they are self-centered- were fostered by those complaining?

YES, we set them up for all this criticism. We handicapped them. All with the best intentions, of course.

We invented technology and then are dissatisfied that they use it prolifically. The internet, the apps, the social media…built by us, adapted and perfected by them.

Instant gratification.  We gave them that too.  Not only in the form of the internet and the creation of things like Amazon, but also in our quest to make sure that our kids “had everything I didn’t”.  Somehow we based our own self-worth on how much we could give them and missed the lessons on how character building it is to have patience and wait.  Or the gratification that comes from acquiring things from our own hard earned efforts.

We extended their puberty, wanting them to stay kids as long as possible, and then are frustrated when they are not responsible young adults when we snap our fingers.  How can they be responsible when responsibility was never entrusted to them?  This goes hand in hand with helicopter parenting.  We were enablers who never gave them the chance to make a decision, take initiative and fail a little.  Again, we were afraid of how this would make us feel, how it would make us look, how it would affect our vision.  It was all about us and we wonder why they seem narcissistic?

We handed out participation medals like candy.  You get a medal just for showing up.  And we don’t understand why they think they should get a 10% raise just because they came to work on time and put in their eight hours?  It used to be (in the ‘good old days’, whenever that really truly existed) that your mother was expected to love you no matter what. Then we expected everyone to love our kids as much as we did so they now think everyone should just think they are special because they exist.

We decided it was no longer acceptable for anyone to chastise our children for their behavior but us and then we are baffled that they dismiss authority.  We decided it was cool for them to address adults by their first names and wonder why it is so difficult to impress the notion of respect for them.

We created this environment.   Stop blaming it on them. We can’t do this to them and then be angry at them.

Addressing Stereotypes and Exaggerations

Baby Boomers were the first to be labeled the 'Me Generation', not the Millenials. Click To Tweet

All of us, the Prequels and the Millennials, are victims of stereotypes.  Generation X got off the easiest.  After they were labeled as ‘latch key kids’ they were almost entirely forgotten about in the media and marketing worlds.  Boomers, on the other hand, were the first to be labeled as selfish as the “Me Generation” (funny how history repeats itself).  With all that, in the back of our minds, we need to realize that each of us does not fit neatly into any of our stereotypes so we can’t expect others to either.

While stereotypes emerge from some truth, they are often exaggerated. This is true for the millennials as well.  The youngest are still in college, so they are a little too young to judge yet.  The older ones are growing up and coming into their stride.  This is significant because just like every single generation before them, growing up levels life a bit.

For the millennials who are the poster children for all the stereotypes, they will change when it is important enough for them to change or until Karma smacks them upside the head.  Either way, they will eventually become old farts as well,  pontificating about the next generation.

Millenials are learning from our mistakes and refashioning what work ethic looks like. Click To Tweet

What Millennials are Doing Right

They are learning from our mistakes.

They have watched us put in too much time and effort into our jobs with nothing to show for it.  We missed out on time with the ones we loved to feed someone else’s dream and we didn’t even get loyalty out of it.  We lost our jobs, watched our pensions diminish or get taken away, all the while a select few were bailing on us with their golden parachutes.  They are determined not to have that happen to them.  They will not put in 65 hours to a job that pays for 40 with a half-promise of a vague future that will most likely not be kept.  They ask for flexibility so they can have the ability to work and take care of their families and be more involved in their own life.

They are refashioning what “work ethic” looks like.

Many Millennials are working as hard as we ever did.  It just doesn’t look the same.  All our efforts were generally poured into one source of income, with years and years in one place, in hopes the “company” would show their appreciation for the rest of our lives.  They are making it happen for themselves.  They are working more in a gig economy.  They are entrepreneurial, they are hustling, they don’t usually have all their eggs in one basket.  Part of this is because we have created an unstable economy and they have had to find alternatives to our blueprint.  Part of it is they are growing new and innovative ways to use the technology we gave them.

We often don’t recognize this work ethic because much of it doesn’t take place in a brick and mortar location with a sign out front.  Much of it is done in front of a computer screen in a location of their choosing in decidedly un-business like clothing. Something we aren’t necessarily comfortable with.

They are resetting priorities and making deliberate choices to live by them.

As part of watching what our work ethic looked like they decided that working to accumulate and maintain ‘stuff’ wasn’t going to be a priority for them.  A good portion of their generation has spearheaded the minimalism and tiny house movements.  The beauty in this is not how minimalist they become or how small their house is.  It is the fact that they have seen something that isn’t working and finding solutions for themselves.

They really do care and they are not all about themselves.

Forbes magazine reported that Millennials are aware of the stress and chaos of the world around them and want to make a difference.  They stated that “77% of Millennials are involved in a charity or “good cause,” 76% believe that business should be a positive force for social impact, and 88% believe business is a force for social change.”

The fact that they believe business is a force for social change is significant considering that in a mere three years they will make up half of our workforce.

They also put their money where their mouth is.  The Case Foundation’s research reports that 83% of millennials make financial gifts as part of their philanthropy.

None of this holds water for the theory that Millenials are self-centered.

They are doing their best to be financially responsible.

Yes, many are still living at home.  Maybe because we’ve enabled them (again) but more likely because they are between a rock and a hard place.

The average salary for young college graduates has dropped 15 percent or about $10,000, since 2000. In 1990 youth unemployment was 11 percent; now it is 16 percent.

The housing to income ratios has increased dramatically since the Boomers started buying homes.  In the 1950’s it was 2.2 and in 2014 it was 3.7. Similarly, with cars, the ratio went from .45 to .61.  You can double check the math here.

Millennials also have a different financial playing field when it comes to college debt.  The tuition (just tuition, no books, fees, or room and board) at Michigan State University in 1985 was $42.00/credit hour and minimum wage was $3.35/hour.  In 2015 that tuition was $452.00/credit hour and minimum wage was $9.25/hour.  What that means is that in 1985, it took 9.3 hours of work per week to pay your tuition costs for a semester.  In 2015 it took 36.6 hours of work per week to cover that same semester.  It is simply impossible to go to school full time anymore without borrowing money or having a personal benefactor.  Even with scholarships and working full time they will still leave with debt.

Additionally, they fight degree inflation.  Companies wanting to up their status are now requiring employees to have college educations for positions that don’t really require one to do the job like receptionists, cash app, filing, data entry, etc. and paying them the same wages they were paying those with a high school education.  Hmmmm….what’s wrong with this picture?

DESPITE ALL THAT, Millenials have started saving for retirement at a much earlier age than us Prequels.  They started at 22 whereas Gen X waited til 27 and Boomers until 35.  Proving that they are much smarter at taking advantage of that compound interest.

They are also better at tracking expenses and sticking to budgets. How exciting is that?  They did what we said and not what we did!

Enough is Enough

There is enough evidence here to prove that perhaps our views are tainted.  The stereotypes aren’t holding up quite as well.  We really need to back off the millennials and see where they go.  Instead, perhaps we should concentrate on better ways to communicate and find common ground.  

Photo Credit: Andy Maquire

What do you think Millenials excel at?

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