As people from the middle-aged (yes, my) generation, we are the bridge between today’s seniors, the baby boomers and millennials.
The seniors have seen war and carry the baggage inherited from their parents. Seniors of today had parents who were directly impacted by World Wars, the Great Depression, occasional famine, and disease. Today’s millennials, on the other hand, have lived in a time of amazing abundance. Violence, poverty, hunger, and disease are all declining. In many cases, the only exposure that millennials have ever had to those things has been on television. As humans, we are uniquely wired to often look at the past with fondness and positivity, and the future with doom and gloom, even though there are countless measures that have indicated human lives are getting better and more abundant. From technology to modern medicine, human development means that we are thriving and living longer than ever before.
This generational disconnect in exposure and in thinking ends up being one of the main reasons that managers and leaders get frustrated with incoming generations. Every generation of senior managers somehow has the ability to think of their own generation as living in “the good old days” and that these “new entry-level kids with their gyrating hips (Elvis), free love, grungy, coddled, entitled slacker attitudes will be the end of us.”
It simply isn’t true and history is on our side. Historically, things continue to get better. I would push back so far as to say that if we can get out of our own middle-aged way, there is much we can learn from “some” of these kids. Now, don’t get me wrong. I tend to have unreasonable expectations. I believe that unreasonable expectations lead to greatness. And I do believe that many of the upcoming millennial generation are entitled and whiny. Why? Because they are. Yep, I’m owning my “old guy”-ness. But in some cases, if as “old guys” we can get out of our own way and listen, I believe we can learn some things from these young people (the universe did give us two ears and one mouth, which IS the ideal usage; we need to listen twice as much as we talk).
Some examples may be included in the “old guy’s” way of thinking when he gives a millennial what he thinks is a great opportunity: “You’re bright, and you have a lot of potential. If you keep your head down and work 60-hour weeks for 10-15 years, you might make partner!”
A millennial may very well respond to this with, “Why would I want to work more than thirty hours a week? I don’t want more stuff or a huge house to have to store all that stuff I don’t really want.” While for a millennial, this is a completely legitimate question, to a senior leader, it might seem way out of the line. After all, “it’s the way we have always done things, and working 60 hours a week is a great opportunity.” For a senior leader, he sees this path in life as a way for millennials to reach where that current leader is at today. This, right here, is where the rubber meets the road.
“With all due respect, I don’t know if I want to end up where you are.”
As a manager, this is where you can take a step back and ask, “what if?” What if this kid has a point? How many birthdays and baseball games did I miss? Would I have saved my marriage if I didn’t work so hard to get a giant house that I live in by myself now? This isn’t to say that all managers are miserable or have had terrible lives. Most of us old guys are pretty happy with how things are turning out. However, this doesn’t mean that some of those slacker kids may not be asking the right questions. Often, they’re asking questions that might be ones we should have asked ourselves a long time ago.
As always, if you know someone who could find value in these thoughts on working with millennials, please pass along, anytime! I’m here to help.