I’m reading Millennials in the Workplace by Neil Howe, my generational theory super-hero. His latest book, produced with the help of Millennial super-star Reena Nadler is, imo, a must-read for anyone who gives a hoot about HR, workplace issues and general cultural shifts. In full disclosure, I’ve been working with Mr. Howe on some pr, branding and social engagement work in and around this book and his brand.
Any time I read any of Mr. Howe’s books, I read it slowly. I highlight the heck out each book he writes. I talk about the book with friends and colleagues. I digest it. And this book is no different. Recently, I read about how “team oriented” and helpful Millennials (born 1982-2004) are and the implications for employers. (Really. Heads up, folks. Generational cycles impact workplace issues. Heed the experts here to your own advantage and peace of mind.)
Anyway, as a GenXer and one who has been watching the media frenzy and giddiness around Millennials and whatever phase of life they’re in, I’m reminded that when talking about any generation, it’s most informative not to look at a generation as isolated and separate, but as part of a constellation of generations all moving through life phases, with each of the four generational archetypes influencing and being influenced by each other.
So, come with me here as I look at this view of “team oriented” and “helpful” Millennials. How true are the claims that Millennials are more helpful? More likely to feel their career choice or company mission or volunteer work needs to help the community, help others and have a positive impact on society as a whole? Well, when surveys ask that question, guess what? Survey results demonstrate really high stats that show Millennials are much more oriented toward such goals. Not too surprising there.
But what if the survey question looked more like this:
Are you willing to tackle a messy, disastrous project, by yourself — perhaps with the help of some online friends you’ll never meet in person — and to do endless hours of work, never get credit, never see the limelight and never be personally acknowledged for your efforts (except and perhaps by a handful of others doing the same work who will, by the way, also get no credit)?
Hmmm, I don’t think many Millennials would check that box on the survey. But this is exactly what hundreds of thousands of GenXers did in their young adulthood years. What about this question?
Are you willing to tackle a project for which you have no guarantee of success but with the slight chance that others behind you (businesses, nonprofit organizations, governments and individuals) will benefit? Can you do this knowing your effort may help others not have to deal with the horrible tech tools, software, unusable manuals and unresponsive help desks at hundreds of companies across the country and globe? (Remember: no credit, no limelight, no tuition reimbursement, no Volunteer America website acknowledgement, no awards, no shining smiling adult faces looking at you and praising your value)?
What do you think? Do you believe Millennials would score high as “helpful” on this kind of question? I don’t think so. And yet, this is exactly what the GenX generation has done, mostly on their own dime and time. But this GenX effort and time will never be recognized in surveys as being “helpful,” mainly because GenXers didn’t do such activities to get recognition but to do — as GenXers (the Nomad archetype) do — what needs to be done, regardless of or in spite of the obstacles, blocked pathways and unwillingness of those who created the problems (older generations) to recognize the complexity of the mess they’ve allowed to be created.
So, back to Millennials in the Workplace, the surveys that show them to be ever-so-statistically higher in a helper orientation and, by result, interested in jobs and careers with a obvious helper role: this is really important information to know, understand and apply. Read Mr Howe’s book! And it’s true. They are — as a whole — much brighter in their optimism, desire for collegial work experiences, belief in themselves and their generation to “be helpful.” I offer that while acknowledging this as true, my own generation has helped in a way that is equally significant, just not the type of work that will lead to ceremonies, acknowledgement or recognition.
Millennials help and get involved because they see and experience themselves as trusting of institutions, team oriented and helpful.
It’s all good. And it’s all part of the mix.