In our new book Managing Millennials for Dummies, we discuss how to deal with the “I’m-not-a-Millennial” Millennials. More often than not, this generation’s reputation is taking a beating in the media and in the workplace through unfavorable stereotypes—some real, some imagined. Entitlement is a popular accusation, with descriptions of laziness, impatience, narcissism, and rudeness floating around as well. Quite frankly, they’re fed up with being depicted in this way, saying either “I’m not like that” or “I’m not a Millennial.” When you’re the new kid on the block—although let’s face it, some older Millennials are already in management positions—it can be difficult to stomach such vehement negativity. But if we hop in our Back to the Future time machine and head back to the late ’80s or early ’90s when we Generation Xers were hitting the workforce, you might be interested to hear our stories are very similar.
When Xers graduated college, they were definitely not greeted with open arms in the workplace. Most were labeled as slackers, lazy (that word again), disloyal, and a lost generation who whines about a bad hair day. The stereotypes kept flowing… dirty skateboarders who listened to grunge music, apathetic, and cynical. And worst of all, we had no work ethic. For a visual, older generations just pointed at the character Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High—a laid-back beach bum who only craved righteous waves. Seriously? If this didn’t create a ton of “I’m-not-an-Xer” Gen Xers, I don’t know what would.
All we heard was that we’re not team players and have no work ethic or loyalty, and that’s just not true. People thought we didn’t care, but in reality, we cared too much. We saw what was happening in the office and wanted to shake things up with some change and improvements that would help everyone. Due to our skeptical nature, Xers can be overly critical and demand multiple explanations when they want a project to succeed. They’ll put it through the wringer before they give the thumbs-up. We don’t believe in doing things just because “that’s the way it’s always been done,” and you can’t blame us. Since the day we’ve entered the workforce, it seems like we can’t turn on a TV without hearing about how another institution screwed over its shareholders and employees. So what is so wrong about us challenging the status quo?
Millennials are often referred to as trophy kids because of their helicopter parents. Growing up, Xers usually returned home from school to an empty house, thus being dubbed the “latchkey kids.” We only wished our parents doted on us the same way. Instead, they cared for us in a different way, as they told us to go straight home from school, lock the door behind us, and stay there. They didn’t want us to be one of those missing kids on milk cartons. I remember watching my mom and dad leave for work before the sun rose, then when I went home after school, I had the house all to myself. My parents gave their lives to their jobs, only to be laid off the minute the economy took a nosedive. Xers strive for the balance their parents didn’t have and value the independence they developed at a young age.
So yes, it may seem like we’re not team players when we hunker down in the office by ourselves then dart out the door a bit early to watch our kids’ hockey practice. We’re all for working “quality” hours, just not the long hours. Xers work to live rather than live to work.
And yes, Millennials, like Xers, might seem to have many of the negative stereotypes attributed to them, but if you dig a little deeper and get to know where they’re coming from, you’ll start seeing the positive traits and values shining through. And Millennials, accept all of your qualities—especially the negatives ones—and use them to make a positive difference in today’s workplace. Let your Xer and Baby Boomer co-workers get to know you first, and you’ll find your place too! I don’t know if you know this, but Boomers were once referred to as “long-haired hippies.” That’s for another blog.