He has been sitting there, slumped in his chair, gazing into the distance, slowly quieting down after being totally psyched out. A CEO of an up and coming start-up just explained why he was not the ideal applicant for the HR position at the company: “You see, you are way too experienced, seasoned*. We mostly work with millennials, you wouldn’t blend in. Clearly there is no need for your expertise here.”
I effing beg to differ, THERE IS.
Let me be frank with you: I am quite comfortable with no longer being invited to conferences or panel talks where the topic is generation X,Y, Z, alpha, beta, what have you.
Not because I do not have an opinion about it – it is hardly ever the case- but I adamantly refuse to fall for Simon Sinek and his kind of generation gurus (otherwise known: jacks of all trades).
They are the ones who talk about this generation as if they were a mysterious virus that had arrived from another planet. Alien species that are to be observed under a microscope in a petri dish while we are all wearing our lab coats and safety hairnets. Let the observation begin then:
How do they react to alcohol? Well. Obviously.
What if we give them more space? They ponder.
What if we close them off from the rest of the world? They tend to panic and/or self-combust.
What do they want at all? They have no idea whatsoever.
How do they behave at work?….?
Usually at this point I am done with being a lady about this.
I do have two of these species at home and I have been observing them and their friends for a while now. Growing up they have become aware of our values, they hear our discourse, our opinions. They usually give them some thought and decide to go with them or challenge them. Just as we used to do it with our parents’ views and deeds. This is how generations work and live together and learn from each other.
So let me clarify some of the misconceptions about the millennial generation at the workplace:
Summing it up: they say millennials have particular needs that should be tended to by their employer. See list below:
Millennials love home office. Me too! Yes, please! There is no better way to start your morning than wandering around in your PJs in an empty house. Sorting through your emails, while the washing machine is gently humming in the background. And when it is done you walk over there -still in your PJs- and put everything in the dryer.
You are trying to come up with a good presentation strategy while collecting dozens of smelly socks from underneath the beds of millennials. Blessed be both their feet!
Then you join a conf call and mute it while taking the post from the deliveryman. (At this point PJ is definitely not an option.)
This is what a true day in home office should look like. This is the reason why every generation loves it. Sitting at your desk all day, suffering through mindless meetings wondering about the washing you need to do when you get home in the evening… what a drag!
Millennials love free fruit. Me too. Bring the basket!
Millennials love flexible work hours. Talk to me about commuting-I live in the suburbs.
Millennials love colourful, eco-friendly office with beanbags scattered around and high tech coffee machine filled with fair trade coffee beans. There is just no way for me to clamber out of a beanbag in a dignified way but I do love to idle in one. I do not drink coffee -so all that paraphernalia is completely wasted on me. I am not willing to burn an incense at Greta’s altar but I do collect my garbage selectively. I hope it counts. You see, I do try my best.
Millennials want to finish work at five as they have a life outside the office that is important to them. No shit, Sherlock! Who doesn’t?
Millennials are said to be arrogant and they totally lack humility. Some of them are like that but we should not bring down their whole generation – See my previous comment on the gurus. However I fully agree with Patty McCord (the famous and wonderful ex-HR head of Netflix) that: every day people get up and go into the office with the intention to do their best. Regardless of what their DOB is. They do not lack humility but are fretting like all of us in the early years of our careers. There is just so much stuff going on: trying to learn the ropes of the job, get accepted, blend in, get ahead. All this while trying not to crash the whole IT system with a single push of a button. Totally exhausting!
And so we have arrived to the main difference between generations: the gap in their life experiences. So most millennials are still not good at expectation management, self-representation, saying ‘no’, giving and getting feedback, learning who’s who at the office. (Mind you some of us are still on the learning curve with these….)
One major issue is that they suck at face-to-face communication, big time. They grew up communicating via text messages, doing their storytelling on Snapchat and Instagram. While doing so, they often do not see the face of the other party. They are much better at deciphering emojis while they tend to get lost in reading real-life facial expressions. It is hard for them to express their emotions and they often lack the vocabulary to articulate their needs in a way they get through to others without provoking an instant fist fight.
This undermines company culture, hinders cooperation, the discovery of mistakes and the surfacing of brilliant ideas.
That is why they need a leader or manager (at this point it is tomato or tomatoe, bear with me) who gets it and is able to provide support in the development process. Paves the way for important stuff to be said out loud, emotions be kept at bay, miscommunications be nipped in the bud.
When IT start-ups turned up in Silicon Valley those handful of VCs knew that they should not shower those young geniuses with money because that would mean the end of their shop. They took on board expert opinion and they put experienced seniors into strategic positions eg. finance, HR.
So while the young ones were running wild with their ideas there was always someone at home being level headed about it all. No wonder that only these companies could thrive in the long run. Being diverse in age brings with it the diversity in approaches, mindset that are just as important of a glue of any corporate culture than hard core expertise.
Every time I get the chance I lash out at how pathetic and ludicrous I find today’s mood captain, happiness or vibe manager titles which someone clearly came up with so the term HR will not scare millennials anymore.
Maybe just maybe they do not get scared so easily. Maybe they do need a person to navigate them in their work relationships and communication. Maybe they would find it funny to help someone up from the frigging beanbag in exchange.
Finally, I am calling out to you, dear start-up CEO, whom I do not know in person but I see that you are one of my followers. I do hope this article comes up in your feed and you recognise yourself.
Let me tell you: You are making a huge mistake!
Just a quick reminder: you learned everything from the previous generation. You learned how to hold your fork, how to floss, how to tie your laces, how to say your name loud and clear, and that it is rude to interrupt someone. You were taught all this and more by someone.
The very same person I was thinking of while writing this article.
You guessed it right. Yo mama.
*Oh how I hate this word! Let’s all agree, it is a euphemism for old. Let’s not use it. Period.