Monday, September 19, 2011

Millennials Are the New Slackers

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What goes around comes around. Here's another one of those fun HBR blog posts where a blogger from one generation pontificates on the failings of a younger generation, and gets taken to task for it in the comments. In this case, the blogger is Andrew McAfee and his target is the "entitlement mentality" of many Millennials.

A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that might nonetheless be true. The deepest one I've come across recently goes something like at a time of high unemployment and persistent joblessness, Millennials are asking for more concessions and perks from their employers. I just came across a CNN story about how new hires at marketing agency Euro RSCG told their CEO that they want to come in at 10 or later, have free food and a Pilates room, and get reimbursed for their personal trainers.

It's horrific, McAfee says, and he goes on to detail out how Millennials should be acting in this dismal economy. His five-point plan sounds like every other piece of advice given by the older generation to the younger generation entering to workplace: play by our rules and you'll get ahead when we decide the time is right.

The comments are a fun read--more fun, in fact, than McAfee's post. There are some impassioned and frustrated young people expressing both of those emotions there. One, mocking McAfee's dismissal of the younger generation's use of "e-speak" in business correspondence, says:

Your organization should stop hiring employees who can't write. Then again, I guess you'd be jobless.

Ouch. But there is a larger point to be made here.

Millennials are the new kids on the block when it comes to the workplace. And like the Xers that preceded them, they are coming of age in a time of massive joblessness and economic uncertainty. They have youthful enthusiasm and a fresh way of seeing things, and we're witnessing what happens when ideals like that collide with the powerful status quo, protected ever more preciously by an older generation not quite ready to let go.

Although McAfee never uses the word, reading what he says about Millennials, it was hard for me not to sympathize with them and see their plight as similar to the one GenX fought and is in some measure still fighting. It's not fair to call us "slackers" anymore--us Xers with our mortgages, college savings accounts and flirtations with the alternative minimum tax--but it is such a tempting description, that I fully expect it will be recycled with abandon for these Millennials. After all, they have no true sense of how the real world works.


  1. I am a millennial myself and I believe that Boomers are threatened by our entrepreneurial/creative approach to work and interpret it as feeling entitled. Like the CNN article said, we live to work. We look to create and make and difference instead of simply conforming and and collecting a check. Most of us look up to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg who have unconventionally created the 2 single biggest companies today. They have validated that it's ok to go against conventional wisdom if its for something you really believe in.

    The writers research is flawed. Infamous Google like perks such as gym memberships, free food, 10 am clock-ins are granted so you will work all day around the clock without the need to take off.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Chris. I, for one, find Millennials and their approach to the workplace refreshing, but I know I'm in the minority, even among my GenX peers. In your enthusiasm I see echoes of the same constructive rebellion that Xers tried to foment 20 years ago. I wish you greater success than we had in changing the status quo.