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The Last Word: You Talk About Annoying ...

You’ve heard it before: Millennials are self-entitled, lack any discernible attention span and seek instant gratification. While there’s a grain of truth there, I find some very admirable traits, too.

December 11, 2013
Related Topics: Organizational Culture, Generations, Corporate Culture, The Latest, Workplace Culture
Annoyed millennial

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I’m not easily annoyed. Easily entertained, easily amused and, from time to time, easily fooled, yes. But I found myself annoyed at a recent conference. Annoyed by a speaker saying he was annoyed by … millennials.

His barb drew a few yuks from those in attendance. I also noticed that one of the 10 or so Gen Yers in the audience shifted uncomfortably in her chair after the zing was launched.

Part of the presenter’s broader point was that millennials on average will stay at a job 2.3 years.

Now, perhaps Gen Y is used to this type of sarcastic remark from their elders. It merely left me annoyed and thinking that, more so than any generation, those people born in the 1980s and early ’90s have been poked, prodded and analyzed like a lab rat in a maze. “That one is running by himself toward the open end. Must mean that he’s lacking the collaboration gene of his peers working together to gnaw their way out of the cage.”

You’ve heard it before: Millennials are self-entitled, lack any discernible attention span and seek instant gratification. While there’s a grain of truth there, I find some very admirable traits, too. These guys offer enthusiasm and hope.

The previous night, I was walking home with my millennial-age daughter after a nice dinner with friends. She was about to start a new job in a new city. And the excitement in her voice, the anticipation of a new opportunity, was absolutely palpable.

“I think I’m really going to like working there,” she told me. “I’m really excited to start. I think I can grow with them, get involved in management and maybe get into the corporate side.”

Even before starting, she has goals and dreams and, yes, hope — hope that she’s going to spend well beyond the 2.3 years with an organization she is joining.

So when the “annoying” barb was launched the next morning — by a college professor mind you — it left me thinking how absolutely oblivious (or perhaps just insensitive; I’d be shouted out of the room if I called his generation doddering old fools) he is about our new generation of workers.

Rather than looking at millennials as the problem, or kvetching over how to make them happy and content, we should look at ourselves instead. At our attitude. At our willingness to work with people who are younger than those of us over 40.

Do you find millennials annoying? Check the mirror, pal. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s your department or your organization as a whole. And maybe it’s your company’s culture.

Now before you take your lunch hour to run down to Costco to buy a foosball table and a craft beer-making kit to appease your Gen Yers, take a stroll through your organization first.

Are people talking with each other? If so, is the chatter limited to performance goals and recruiting budgets? Or is there banter about last night’s Bulls-Heat basketball game? Or someone’s new winter coat? Or just how darned cute William and Kate’s baby looks? Or at least some combination of work and leisure?

Is there any sense of individuality among your staff? Do they have posters on their walls? Are you fostering that sense of being an individual? Or is it, fall in line, get with the program? That, to me, sounds incredibly annoying. And boring. Take your pick.

Kids, take heed: You are the subject of generational profiling. In fact, you could very well be stereotyped by your boss before you even fill out your I-9. Before you dig your first ditch, make your first sales call or take your first order, your boss may have the preconceived notion that you are annoying.

I work alongside a number of Gen Y-age people. Like my daughter, they are all incredibly hard-working, dedicated, loyal people who happen to be way younger than I.

They don’t ask any special privileges. I’ve never gotten this sense of self-entitlement that seems to be part of their dossier. And they are no more or less annoying than any of my boomer or Xer colleagues.

If you want your young employees to last past 2.3 years, don’t treat them as some kind of annoyance. They’re colleagues and co-workers who can just as easily make you look like a genius as any mid-40s worker. Most importantly, they’re your employees. Treat them like one.

Look, I’m not the defender of some voiceless cohort. They’re grown-ups who are completely capable of sticking up for themselves.

But do you seriously expect a 26-year-old employee to stay with the organization for the next 25 years? How old were you when you jumped to that second job? Fact is, they’re looking for that next piece of the experience puzzle, just like you did.

So next time you pull the annoyance card on your millennial employees, remember this: You might be the one who’s annoying.

Rick Bell is Workforce's managing editor. Comment below or email Follow Bell on Twitter at @RickBell123.

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