Editorial: No mystery to millennials
Just think of young people as smarter versions of yourself.
By Patrick Flannery
Still lots of expert talk about millennials. No seminar program at a large event is complete without sessions telling us how to motivate them, how to retain them, how to find them and how to sell to them. What do they want? What do they like? One pictures a curious crowd of baby boomers peering through glass at a captive millennial, wondering what it eats.
I don’t think the habits of millennials can be all that exotic since they are, at the end of the day, simply young people. You know, like we all were at some point in the distant past. Many of the complaints and observations I’ve read about millennials are simply reruns of the same comments every generation has made about the one following. Compared to us, the young people are always lazy, irresponsible, intellectually shallow and focused on all the wrong things. Some of this is accurate, as young people are young people and by definition still have much to learn. And some of it is unfair and, dare I say, motivated by jealousy.
My observation of young people coming up in the workforce today is that they are superior to us in almost every respect. Smart, good-looking and remarkably healthy emotionally. Fewer problems with law-breaking, violence and substance abuse. Better educated. They lack only experience. Yes, the period of adolescence has been extended in this age of plenty and few millennials are as committed to mortgages, careers and families as we were at the same age. Is this a sign of weak character or greater intelligence? People today can expect to live almost 10 years longer than they could when I was in my 20s. It sure makes more sense to me to use that time to extend your period of freedom and fun when you are young than to extend your time in the retirement home at the other end.
So I think that rather than being different from us, millennials are presented with a different set of circumstances. Frank Martin, University of South Carolina head basketball coach, says, “You know what makes me sick to my stomach? When I hear grown people say that kids have changed. Kids haven’t changed. Kids don’t know anything about anything. We’ve changed as adults. We demand less of kids. We expect less of kids. We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about. We’re the ones that have changed.”
I think that’s pretty much dead on. So if kids haven’t changed, why are business owners having such a struggle reaching them? It’s because the kids’ circumstances have changed and they are, as I opined above, smarter, better balanced and possessing a clearer sense of their own self-interest. They are not going to accept unpleasant working conditions because of some hard-work ethic designed to benefit the employer and not the employee. They are not going to sacrifice their experience today in order to get ahead at a company because they have no illusions about loyalty. They don’t trust employers to reward loyalty with loyalty and know they will change jobs many times before settling down.
Bottom line: they value their time highly and won’t be taken advantage of. The millennials are the same as we are and want all the same things. They are just a heck of a lot better at getting them.