Four weeks ago, I found myself sitting on an Air Canada flight beside a well-dressed man, who didn’t look much older than my nineteen years. He was wearing shoes I recognized as expensive, a pair of jeans and a black blazer draped over a graphic tee, and he wouldn’t have looked out of place on any university campus.To my surprise, I discovered he is the founder and CEO of a multimillion dollar start up that enables companies to sell their merchandise through online platforms such as Instagram. After graduating from university with a finance degree in 2007, he held his first job on a trading floor in Toronto just long enough to see the 2008 market crash. And with the crash of the market, came the end of that career.He immediately went from 15 bosses to zero, and from a relatively stable income to a world of economic uncertainty. I assumed as a nineteen year old student with a limited income, we could have very little in common.
Over the course of the forty-five-minute flight from New York to Toronto, the conversation was centered on his time in New York meeting with investors, and the questions he had for me before I started my summer internship.‘’How have you found it being a millennial in the workforce?’’ was one of his questions that stuck with me. There are two things here I would like to note, the first being that I had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t really understand what being a millennial had to do with how I was to be treated in the workforce. The second is that by definition we were both millennials and evidently completely different, so why were we being pooled under the same demographic?
He was clearly old enough to start his own family whereas I had just recently been classified as an adult. Regardless of our different level of experience and upbringings, many articles written about millenials classify both of us as lazy, addicted to technology, and entitled. Before this flight, I hadn’t been exposed to the societal image that was being painted of millennials. However, during my first intern orientation meeting I saw that who the millennial generation is and how we are perceived is greatly different.
"Did you really get a participation ribbon for everything?" "Wow, your cursive is so nice for someone who grew up with access to a keyboard." and "Is it true that you have between 3 and 4 social media accounts?" are all questions that arise when talking about the millennial generation. Though well intentioned comments and questions, I have a better understanding of how the media has painted millenials, and how some people have bought into this millennial definition.
Now to answer these questions. First, I did receive a participation ribbon for nearly every sport.
However, I can assure you that receiving a participation ribbon feels as bad, if not worse, than receiving nothing at all. I am well-aware of how to fail, and the importance failing has to any successful journey. Second, it may be true that cursive is now rarely taught, but as companies continue to expect higher tech IQ, the importance of writing in cursive has decreased.Schools now teach typing earlier because it’s what companies are currently demanding from prospective employees. Third, I personally have three social media accounts and no, that does not make me self-centered. The reason social media accounts are so prevalent in today's culture is because they keep people connected.
After reading more than a dozen article surging employees to rethink their leadership techniques as a potential solution to ‘’Why you’re having a hard time with your millennial employees’’, I think it’s safe to say that society is suffering from a large misunderstanding.There will be some millennials who are lazy or entitled or addicted to technology, but that is also true of Generation X and even some Baby Boomers. These characteristics are not synonymous with people aged 18-34. Rather than viewing millennials through a negative lens, companies should be using their understanding of the changing landscape to offer their employees better opportunities.
Efficiency versus Laziness
Pulling out a smartphone to look up a definition rather than flipping through a dictionary should be viewed as efficient not lazy, and doesn’t make an individual less competent.
Connected and Collaborative, not Tech Addicted.
An individual uses technology to stay connected and remain current, which should be seen as a massive asset to companies.
Challenging not Entitled
I don’t expect to get promoted within the first few months of a job, and I will not be booking a coffee chat with the CEO in my first week. That doesn’t mean that challenging expectations and reaching for something should be seen as having an entitlement.
Questioning conventions and demanding transparency within companies is becoming increasingly important among earlier age groups. What does all of this mean for change leadership? I think the first step is changing the attitudes towards the new generations. I am certain that forty years ago the workforce was wary of the incoming generation who had grown up with a radio and listening to Elvis Presley. We're already hearing terror stories of the generation growing up below us. Of course they're entitled and of course they're lazy, they're still teenagers. Instead of following this pattern of skepticism of a generation's work ethic, it would benefit a company to adapt to the changes in the key values of its incoming employees. The theme in today’s generation is transparency. Tomorrow, it may be something completely different. A close friend once told me to ‘’be curious or be afraid.’’Learn from the generations before you and adapt with leadership, rather than continuing to push against it.