Every generation has its ‘unemployables’

Recently, I was attending a marketing conference down in Florida, when I witnessed something that I absolutely have to share. Full Disclosure: 1 This is biased against my own generation but should provide you with some insight, hope, and a few laughs. 2 I have a BA in Psychology (my parents didn’t help me pay for it – one couldn’t, the other didn’t offer). That may have come off as arrogance, but I’m proud that my wife and I can work together to pay off each other’s college debt. 

I was attending this three-day conference and, at the end of the first day, there was going to be about 90 minutes-worth of time for break-out roundtable sessions. You’d be able to sit in on four sessions of 20-minute discussions, allowing for a few minutes to get from table to table. One of the roundtables that was getting a lot of attention was regarding Millennials – Understanding them as Employees and Customers. Considering a majority of the room was small-to-medium business owners and marketers between the ages of 40 and 60, you can see why people were so eager to find out more about these enigmatic creatures. Considering my age and my own familiarity with the people I grew up with, I had other sessions I wanted to focus on first, while people fought over spots at that table. 

The leader of the discussion… she never showed… (Reality 1 : Mills 0) 

Now, that had to be embarrassing for the company putting on the event. But, I thought to myself, “Well, it’s spring break, we’re in a really popular vacation spot, maybe she got bumped off her flight or it was delayed. Seems reasonable.” I wanted to try to be fair and give this woman the benefit of the doubt. 

Day 2 rolls around and no one associated with the event host gave out any announcement or reasoning for her absence the previous night. There was a lot of talk going around about whether she was going to be there because she had a spot in the schedule for a presentation around lunch time. Lo and behold, she showed! With no apology or reason, but at least no excuses. So, she began her presentation. 

We started off with seeing how many of the texting short-cuts she displayed could we identify and explain. I felt pretty good that I was able to get a fair amount right. Next, she introduced herself and focused on her background which was working with what seemed to be predominantly large-scale corporations which didn’t seem to be our demographic. She brought up some great points like:

  • they need mentors & coaches
  • they lack trust
  • they need clarity
  • they have a hard time focusing on just one thing
  • business need to have a strong on-boarding process
  • they value experiences

I’d say those are decent points and, I think, would be beneficial things to acknowledge regardless of what generation an employee might fall into. Next, she presented 3 Myths about Millennials and 3 Don’ts. You may see a pattern developing here…

3 Myths (and truths)
paraphrased as I understood the presenter
  1. “They’re lazy”* (they just don’t care about boring things)
  2. “They’re not loyal” (They just don’t view the concept “loyalty” like you do)
  3. “They’re entitled”** (They want to “work hard”)
My Response
  1. Well, I can’t make everything exciting. I’m not here to entertain you – I’m here to make a profit.
  2. I’ll certainly agree that they don’t view it like I do. They’re loyal to themselves, not to an employer.
  3. The real world doesn’t respect wants – The real world respects results. Some may want to work hard, but not know how.
3 Things Not to Say to a Millennial
according to the presenter
  1. “Pay your dues”*
  2. “Wait your turn” **
  3. “This is how it’s done”
My Response
  1. * Isn’t this concept of “earning” directly in contrast with the solid definition of “entitlement”?
  2. ** This whole thing about “putting in effort and time before I can reap the benefits”…what’s that all about? IT’S MY MONEY AND I WANT IT NOW!
  3. My father taught me two key things – First, seek to understand before trying to change. Second, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it – this isn’t the government.

While, I can definitely appreciate her effort to try to help people “get” millennials, one thing really struck me about this woman. She spoke about millennials like we’re all the same. While, I do realize that there are many millennials that may fit this mold, please don’t think that all of us are like this. What I would have rather she focused on was how you could find those Millenials who don’t have some of these traits, which would be desirable for your business. But, it was all about how to conform to them. I seem to remember history teaching us some extremely painful truths about forcing conformity. 

She brought up that millennials are the most tech-focused generation ever – I’d agree with that. And, as an added bonus, you won’t have to worry about your average Millennial “wasting too much time thinking things through”, we’ll just go to Google (because many of us were never taught how to think for ourselves). But you may find some of us who just don’t know how to “think to think”. Fixing that is much harder. This is our generation’s version of the ‘pet rock’. Many of us are what the real world would define as being lazy, disloyal, entitled, impulsive, unmotivated and (not even stupid but just) dumb. 

My thought on millennials would be to pre-filter us as employees. Look for people who actually display the qualities you’re looking for by their actions – hire them for a trial period. Put them in situations that make them prove if they really are everything they were ‘selling’ in the interview. This is a great rule for hiring in general. As consumers, she was right that millennials crave experiences (because they have a deep desire for relationships because many have no self-identity). Try to sell the experience you give your customers, not just your price. Focusing on price can backfire with millennials because they might not know the value of a dollar. 

I tend to find that we break down into two groups: Victims (Losers) and Winners. Victims look at their history and circumstances and believe that they have been dealt a bad hand by God or the world and they lay blame. Winners, on the other hand, look at their history and circumstances and try to learn from them to see what they can do to better in the future. They take responsibility for their current state, regardless of how much of it was caused by them directly. Winners and Losers exist in every generation. We just happen to have more losers than our predecessors because many of us won’t acknowledge that there’s a true difference between losing and winning. We all got trophies. Because many of us were never allowed to experience failure because of 9th place ribbons and other PC agendas, we were never taught what it really meant to work hard. We were sheltered from reality and were left in the nest too long. Many of us were raised by single mothers (I know I was primarily, nothing against her at all) and now you know why “we” have a difficult time relating to loyalty, dedication, commitment or respect. Have you ever felt that you had to “parent” an employee? You just may be the closest thing to a father they have ever had.

So, what have we learned?

I don’t know how familiar you are with butterflies, but this may be a fun fact for you. Do you know that if you help a butterfly break free from its chrysalis (a.k.a. cocoon), it will not be able to survive? It will live its short life crippled. The butterfly develops the strength it needs for its wings to fully form by its struggle to break free. See the parable? Growth comes from struggle. Seek out the right attitude and potential. Offer opportunities and see who excels, who tries but just needs coaching, and who’s just plain apathetic. The moral of the story is that, even though you may feel like the situation is pretty bleak when it comes to millennials, there’s hope in that we’re not all losers. It’s like being a sport recruiter. Put them through the combine and draft from the talent pool based on character, ability, drive, and potential.

And, for a bit of fun, I leave you with this parody.

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