MTV was taping a new show in my neighborhood earlier this week.
I asked one of the surprisingly well-informed temp security guys watching over a side alley what was going on, and he promptly rattled off the show’s title and when it’s scheduled to debut.
“It’s called Underemployed, and it’s debuting this fall,” he told me before shooing off a couple kids, who if they had made it any further would have seen the behind-the-scenes glamour and excitement of a big-production, on-location shoot on full display: a block-long row of empty equipment trucks and chain-smoking roadies.
Workplace TV shows are hardly new. From Ricky perpetually quashing Lucy’s dream to perform at the Tropicana Club in the ’50s on I Love Lucy to the retro-hip ad agency of Mad Men today, the ol’ salt mine has provided plenty of fodder for writers and a relatable escape for the rest of us couch potatoes.
But Underemployed soon will join this intriguing new subgenre of workplace shows that blows off the stereotypical major-network made-for-TV working schlub in favor of asking the question: So, millennials, how was your workday today?
Or, in the case of what likely will be a recurring theme on Underemployed: How are you handling this current state of being overqualified—on paper, anyway—in a restrictive, opaque workplace where there’s lots of corporate structure and little feedback from your boss? Worst of all, young workers, you gotta dress nice.
Underemployed follows on the heels of two other millennials-on-the-job shows, TBS’s Men at Work, which debuted this spring, and Comedy Central’s Workaholics, which I can only describe as Animal House meets South Park in a Southern California business park. And, because I am a full-disclosure kind of guy, Anders Holm, who plays Ders on Workaholics, is the brother of our online manager, Erik Holm.
Then there’s the Web series Funemployed, which some contend served as a model—OK, fans say it was hijacked—for Underemployed.
Why this sudden fascination with telling the on-screen story of millennials at work? It could be that a Gallup survey says 18 percent of the workforce is considered underemployed. Or there’s some business-case explanation about building loyalty now so they can get their hands on the millennials’ future disposable income (though they will grow rather impatient—and broke—if they are waiting on my millennial children to have pocketfuls of extra loot).
TV’s newfound interest in millennials’ quest to find their corner of the workforce world could be the manifestation of the workforce world trying to figure out how the heck to absorb these kids. For several years now HR conference speakers and authors profess to hold the golden key that unlocks millennials’ assimilation into the workplace. Entire careers have been built around expertise in millennials, aka Generation Y. Yet we still seem to asking: Why Gen Y?
We are somehow stuck on the notion that these kids are radically different from all previous generations. Sure, they’re more tech-savvy. But so were you. Remember when Mom and Dad asked you to set up the VCR?
Seriously, millennials are like any other generation of young employees: They want some measure of job security, a steady paycheck and a little bit of recognition for the work they do.
Perhaps watching the antics of Gen Y on TV is another Facebook-ian way that we parents can keep hovering over our children—on screen in this case—to see just what they’re thinking and doing, although if my kids were working alongside the guys from Workaholics, then maybe it’s best to crash that parental helicopter.
Ignorance, in that case, is bliss.
Rick Bell, Workforce Management’s managing editor, is filling in for Work in Progress blogger Ed Frauenheim who is on vacation. Comment below or email him at email@example.com.