New Dogs, New Tricks

I happened to see 60 Minutes last night and the story on Millennials struck a chord. Millennials are the future — young 20-somethings fresh out of college and entering the workforce for the first time. They are a generation raised close to their parents’ bosoms and content staying right there. They’ve been rewarded and awarded in every conceivable way throughout their young lives, often for just showing up. Though comfortable being fully wired (or wireless), and extremely technologically savvy, many have never had to punch a time clock.

My friends and I have had many conversations trying to understand the Millennial phenomenon and its creators — helicopter parents, so named for the way they hover over their children. College administrators tell of parents who call their child’s professor to argue about a grade or get assignments when Justin or Caitlin has a cold. Recruiters tell of kids who bring their parents on job interviews and can’t or won’t make a decision without first consulting mom & dad. Millennials describe their parents as “my best friends.”

I say collectively for MY generation — the young boomers (and probably the older boomers too) — HUH??? My friends and I can’t comprehend tolerating such intense parental involvement let alone welcoming it. Our parents couldn’t wait to trot us off to school, left us to mostly sink or swim on our own in our studies and social interactions, urged us to get a job and expected us to do it, were certainly (all too) willing to give (unsolicited) advice, which we were happy to ignore. Both we and our parents relievedly shut the door behind us with a collective WHEW! when the time came for us to make our own way in the world. (Case in point: I can still see my parents showing up at my new house shortly after I moved in, hauling a carload of my stuff that had been in the attic. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?)

What my friends and I haven’t reconciled is how the Millennials got that way — clearly our contemporaries created this situation, though all of us fervently deny we are or will be that way with OUR kids.

The gist of the 60 Minutes piece, though, was what happens when these pampered, idealistic, uber self-esteemed kids go to work? Chaos apparently, as the square business world tries to accept all these round pegs. A whole industry has sprung up for consultants who specialize in helping companies deal with Millennials (and the reverse, teaching kids how to act in the workplace. “Keep those tattoos covered up at work” was one tip.) Similarly, the “Motivation” business is a $50 billion industry — seeems that kids who have gotten stickers, ribbons, trophies, certificates, treat bags on their friends’ birthdays, and presents every time they or their parents entered a store won’t accept “you get to come back tomorrow” as their reward for a day’s work. Millennials say their friends and activities come before work and believe that adulthood doesn’t start until age 26 or so.

The more I think about it, maybe these kids are onto something. Maybe they’ve spent their whole lives watching their parents (e.g., my friends and I) struggle with long hours, corporate bureaucracy, office politics, and thankless toil — and naturally want none of it. How much time has my generation wasted bitching about work? Didn’t I leave the financial security of “a real job” to work for myself, make my own hours, choose my own clients, and put my family, friends, activities — my life — first? Aren’t millions of boomers looking forward to retirement as the chance to do something they really care about?

Why spend 30 or 40 years at work just biding time for the day you don’t have to do it anymore?

It’s conceivable that these millennials will be my clients (my bosses) in 5 or 10 years. It will be interesting to see how they adapt to the working world and how the working world adapts to them. Will the vast organizational machine change them, or will they build a new machine? Will they destroy America’s ability to compete or raise it to new heights? Time will tell. I hope I’m open-minded and savvy enough to learn the new tricks — and smart and credible enough to teach a few of the old.  

Our wretched species is so made that those who walk
on the well-trodden path always throw stones at
those who are showing a new road. 
                                                           ~ Voltaire


  1. Mel L said,

    Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    I missed the episode–as I miss all TV shows–but it’s probably just as well b/c I would have been retching into whatever concave item was nearest. The whole thing makes me ill. I must watch these idiotic parents and learn what not to do. The thought that I might someday work for one of these spoiled little round pegs? Enough to make me consider becoming Amish. I am honestly worried about our country, our future, the world in general, and being reminded of the lack of spine in tomorrow’s leaders just drives home our impending doom. Wow–there’s a happy comment, eh?

  2. WritingbyEar said,

    Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 9:04 am

    Yeah, it’s hard to know how it will turn out. You wonder if ever they will break free of the apron strings. Or maybe they will adopt some of their older colleagues as mentors…the story also mentioned that was one of the things the consultants were teaching the organizations — how to bring these kids along.

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