As college students of what has been deemed the millennial generation — a group that is so broadly defined and yet so definitively stereotyped — we are forced to stand up for ourselves and our career decisions seemingly more so than any other generations past. We are called lazy and told we are uncommitted, unable to handle the work given to us, distracted by social media and that our idealized notions about the working world are built upon nothing but fantasy and unrealistic expectations.
Businesswoman Lisa Earle McLeod and her daughter Elizabeth McLeod, a recent Boston University alumna, co-wrote a piece regarding the tendency of millennials to resign from positions in the business world after only a few months. The piece took aim at the stereotypes we are so well known for generationally. The writers focused on the necessity for employers to care about what business is, does and means. That it needs to be more than just business, because after a while, people are just going to become jaded in their thirst for money. We have enough of that culture already and we need to move forward and be respected for our hard work, entry-level position or not, the millennial and her mother seemed to say.
On the other hand, Neal Dewing, a 31-year-old writer at The Federalist, penned a response to the McLeods’ article, calling out Elizabeth for her inability to understand that she, a self-proclaimed macchiato drinker in an entry-level position at a boring financial job, is simply a number. A cog in the machine of what makes a business successful. He claims that as a typical millennial, Elizabeth must be distracted by social media and spend 20 minutes getting to and from Starbucks, rather than just drinking the free coffee from the backroom. Dewing says that her other, more experienced co-worker’s insufficient work ethic shouldn’t drag her down, but should instead be none of her concern.
The authors of both pieces are extremist in their ideas. Dewing’s aggressiveness missed the entire point of the McLeods’ piece, while the McLeods’ unrealistic expectations for what an entry-level business job should be makes younger millennials look untrustworthy and unwilling to work without praise. Two people, most likely less than 10 years apart, have such different views regarding the quality of work in business culture today.
This sort of discrimination against millennials isn’t the only popular opinion in the business world. All of us have to face discrepancies like this from time to time. Patronizing comments about our inability to commit, or our lack of work ethic or that we are merely dreamers. Did people ever stop to think that perhaps these stereotypes are really just stereotypes? That perhaps not all millennials are this way?
No, probably not. Because we are just numbers, remember?
Of course business is about numbers and money. That’s how corporations work. And the fact is, if you take an entry-level job at a corporation, you will probably be doing grunt work for a while before you are given something rewarding to do. In all honesty, that’s your choice based on what career path you decide to pursue. Some of us cannot possibly see spending our lives behind a desk. Some of us are driven toward creative jobs and opportunities — that’s why we are journalists, publicists, graphic designers, artists, writers and marketing professionals.
We are the ones who are taking over the workforce. Most baby boomers are getting ready to retire, and we are the ones responsible for filling their positions. Between the arguments, here lies a question: is it wrong for millennials, as we are broadly described, to want something more out of our work than the money that we won’t ever see?
It seems that Elizabeth feels — as many other millennials do — that she needs to get something out of her 40-hour work week. It really comes down to personal preference. Some people love having work at work and home at home. But for some people, our work is our hobby. Our work is our creative drive. Those are hours we can’t get back, and we want to spend them doing something we enjoy. Much of these feelings go back to generational differences. There is a common misconception that money isn’t as important to us, but that isn’t true. Of course we want to make money, but would we rather spend our days doing something we hate just to put money in the bank?
And, while we realize that maybe someday we need to provide for our families, right now our focus is on ourselves as individuals, and that’s how it should be. Chances are, when you were our age, you didn’t focus on having a family either.
That being said, just because many of us want to work in creative fields doesn’t mean that our jobs are fun and games all day long. Creative people work extremely hard in day-to-day life. And for many of us, as creative students at a prestigious university, we’ve never been able to separate work from fun in that way because we are forced to work in clubs and on projects that make our creativity worth it, and that get us hired in those entry-level creative jobs that are so hard to get in the first place. We shouldn’t have to limit our potential for fulfillment in our short lives.
There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to be respected for the work that we do. However, a huge issue with a lot of millennials is that they are so focused in being rewarded and patted on the back every time they do something well. You sent an email? Fantastic. You got a client’s approval on a project? Great! You don’t need a cupcake every single time you accomplish some small task. You can’t go into an entry-level position and expect to be instantaneously as respected as everyone else. Prove your worth and prove your value by working hard. But, it’s also objectively ridiculous to say that employees, of any age, don’t matter. Internal public relations can easily go awry if employees don’t feel respected and well taken care of, no matter their age.
What’s so problematic about Dewing’s essay is that there’s a big element of “shut up and know your place.” But you can’t look at us to come up with big ideas and reach out to people using our famous millennial energy and then tell us to do it on your terms. It’s patronizing and insulting. Perhaps the reason we move from job to job so often is that we don’t feel respected. Of course we don’t plan on quitting in the long-term. That’s a huge generalization about our age group. Perhaps we leave because we have a chance to move to a higher position in a new company — newsflash, this doesn’t affect you, our bosses, in any way. On that note, it’s also true that when someone in an office does poor work, it brings the rest of the team down. It’s pretty undeniable that bad energy is contagious.
On the surface this desire may seem self-indulgent, and the McLeods’ piece doesn’t do anything to help the millennial image step away from stereotypes. What does it matter what type of coffee we drink? Her focus on the topic of what we drink and how often we use social media is what makes millennials as a whole so unlikeable.
In reality, there is so much to be said for the fact that there are many millennials who put their time and energy into something they care about. We value our work and we are committed to doing it well. And the people who don’t are a small percentage of us.
This is really a matter of treating us the way you want to be treated. If you will respect us, we will respect you. Give us a chance to prove who we are as individuals and we will see you for who you are as people as well. It’s as simple as human decency.