Monday, September 19, 2011

Millennials Are the New Slackers

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What goes around comes around. Here's another one of those fun HBR blog posts where a blogger from one generation pontificates on the failings of a younger generation, and gets taken to task for it in the comments. In this case, the blogger is Andrew McAfee and his target is the "entitlement mentality" of many Millennials.

A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that might nonetheless be true. The deepest one I've come across recently goes something like at a time of high unemployment and persistent joblessness, Millennials are asking for more concessions and perks from their employers. I just came across a CNN story about how new hires at marketing agency Euro RSCG told their CEO that they want to come in at 10 or later, have free food and a Pilates room, and get reimbursed for their personal trainers.

It's horrific, McAfee says, and he goes on to detail out how Millennials should be acting in this dismal economy. His five-point plan sounds like every other piece of advice given by the older generation to the younger generation entering to workplace: play by our rules and you'll get ahead when we decide the time is right.

The comments are a fun read--more fun, in fact, than McAfee's post. There are some impassioned and frustrated young people expressing both of those emotions there. One, mocking McAfee's dismissal of the younger generation's use of "e-speak" in business correspondence, says:

Your organization should stop hiring employees who can't write. Then again, I guess you'd be jobless.

Ouch. But there is a larger point to be made here.

Millennials are the new kids on the block when it comes to the workplace. And like the Xers that preceded them, they are coming of age in a time of massive joblessness and economic uncertainty. They have youthful enthusiasm and a fresh way of seeing things, and we're witnessing what happens when ideals like that collide with the powerful status quo, protected ever more preciously by an older generation not quite ready to let go.

Although McAfee never uses the word, reading what he says about Millennials, it was hard for me not to sympathize with them and see their plight as similar to the one GenX fought and is in some measure still fighting. It's not fair to call us "slackers" anymore--us Xers with our mortgages, college savings accounts and flirtations with the alternative minimum tax--but it is such a tempting description, that I fully expect it will be recycled with abandon for these Millennials. After all, they have no true sense of how the real world works.

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It is probably appropriate to use this post about generations in the workplace to announce that at the end of this year I will no longer be posting here at The Hourglass Blog. I started this adventure almost three years ago with the intention of exploring the impact of generational shift on the leadership of our organizations and, while I have certainly done that, I have explored a number of other topics as well. These topics have been of great interest to me, but they have clearly been outside the scope of the original manifesto.

Because of this, and because of my desire to continue to explore the ideas that interest me most, I have decided to set-up shop at a new blog, one molded around all of my interests rather than one narrow subset of them. The new blog, at, is in beta-testing now. If you've enjoyed what you've read here, I would encourage you to read, subscribe or otherwise follow my activities there. From now until the end of the year, I'll be posting jointly in both places, but I expect all the sand will run out of this Hourglass by the end of December.


Shelly Alcorn, CAE said...

Oh no! I am so going to miss the Hourglass. Congratulations though on your new endeavors - I will be sure to follow you there as well!


Eric Lanke said...

Thanks, Shelly. It seemed like the time was right. I'll still talk about "Hourglass" issues on the new blog, but it will give me more freedom to explore other issues as well.

David M. Patt, CAE said...

Hey, Eric,

EVERY generation has entered the workplace with youthful enthusiasm, a fresh way of looking at things, and no understanding of how the world really works. That will change over time.

The people who can't write today will eventually learn how to write (hopefully) and will then criticize their followers for some other glaring flaw.

Eric Lanke said...

They will definitely criticize the next generation for some glaring flaw, David, but I'm not convinced they will ever learn how to write. Not what Boomers call writing, anyway. But maybe they don't need to, since they seem to approach communication from a different enough perspective. That may become the new normal and they may be leading the way.

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