Let’s get this out of the way. We are going to indulge in some stereotypes throughout this conversation. Not everyone is exactly the same! Not all Millennials are tech-savvy Twitter mongrels. Not all Boomers are old, stodgy authoritarians. Everybody is an individual, so you can’t continually try to shove people into a box and blindly characterize millions of people just because they were born within a 15-year period from each other.
All good? Good! Now act like that first paragraph didn’t exist and let’s throw tons of people into boxes! Tiny boxes! Boxes made of corrugated cardboard so your hand bleeds whenever you try to break the box down and recycle it!
I get to speak across the country to thousands of people about leadership and generational issues. I absolutely LOVE my job. And you know what I LOVE about my job the most? I get to politely make fun of Millennials. I get to make fun of myself! I get to poke fun of my generation, laugh at the number of face injuries we’ve caused walking into things because we were distracted by our phones, and laugh at the fact we basically created a billion dollar coffee industry when just twenty years ago coffee was free everywhere you went. I don’t remember the time myself, but I’m told coffee flowed from faucets freely instead of costing $8 without free refills.
And while I love laughing at some of the silly things we do on a daily basis, I also love getting the opportunity to bring us closer to each other by recognizing our differences aren’t that far apart. The audiences I get to speak with are not filled with Millennials. In fact, it’s often the opposite. The audiences generally skew older towards Gen X and Baby Boomers. That means after every engagement I’m undoubtedly going to get in a conversation with a Baby Boomer who thinks all Millennials are lazy and lack the skills necessary to perform adult tasks like sending a properly worded email, showing up on time, and not speaking in hashtags. It’s in these moments where I relish in the challenge of convincing others we’re much more similar than we are different. In my experience, it’s how we perceive our situation (or others) which might get us out of whack from time to time and thinking there’s no common ground.
With that in mind, let’s address a commonly-heard gripe about Millennials, but approach it from an uncommon perspective:
Millennials are the hardest working generation. “Huh? That doesn’t sound right. I’ve always heard Millennials are lazy and have zero work ethic.” And you’d be absolutely right to believe that’s exactly what you heard. But it also means you’re wrong. Millennials are arguably the hardest working generation in the workforce today, albeit how they approach work looks drastically different than their older counterparts.
Boomers typically approach work in a hierarchical structure. In order to get things done, you must go through the proper channels and the defined process. After all, that’s what they had to do in their early-career years. You pay your dues. You put in your time. In fact, hard work and work ethic are defined by the number of hours you put into the job. Now that Boomers are in middle-to-upper management levels or serve as a mentor to younger colleagues, they expect the same approach to take hold with Millennials.
The problem is Millennials don’t view work in hierarchical structures. If anything, hierarchy gets in the way of progress. It slows things down to a crawl. Millennials aren’t impressed by someone putting in a ton of hours at the office. “You put in 60 hours this week? Wow, you must be really inefficient with your time!” In today’s world, the number of hours you put into a job is not a gauge for your work ethic.
Instead, Millennials judge work ethic by how often and how quickly you find a solution. Think about it. Do Millennials you work with hesitate to talk with a VP decision-maker in the hallway if it means they’ll get an answer to their question? Do Millennials patiently wait 3 weeks for the IT department to fix a website they need to do their job when they could fix it on their own in a few hours? The answer is no. They don’t hesitate. Millennials will quickly eschew protocol and procedure in the name of finding a solution faster and more frequently.
We also shouldn’t be quick to judge their missteps in the process as failures. Millennials have been taught you sometimes rush to deliver an idea instead of spending weeks tying up every loose end. Phone apps frequently update new versions based on feedback from users. Why not take the same approach to our work? Millennials are accustomed to failing in their pursuit for pace.
At the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We all want our team, company, or idea to succeed. We might just be approaching the work with a different point of view. Are some Millennials lazy? Yes. But the majority are hard-working, passionate, and define work ethic differently than generations before them. It’s less about the hours you put in and more about finding solutions any way possible.