Are Millennials So Different?

Are Millennials So Different?

June 24, 2015

When I was in college, an older student observed, “We don’t have any patience for stages we’ve already been through.” She was talking about how annoying the freshmen were, but that comment has stuck with me over the years. She was right.

All the buzz these days is about Millennials. They all need a trophy for everything they do. They aren’t loyal to the job. Don’t they know they have to pay their dues, just like I did? They are constantly on their smartphones. Are they even paying attention?

I’m not convinced that this about a generational difference and not just a stage of life.

I’m Gen X, born just one year after the last Baby Boomer. This means that I’m old enough to be the mother of many of my Millennial business contacts. Yes, they are different than I am, but I’ve already had my restless 20s. I’ve already been the kid in a business suit who didn’t know what she was doing and needed some direction. I’ve also already been kind of a rotten employee, who happily stayed home on sick days until I felt 100% better because I didn’t realize how it impacted my colleagues for me to be out another day.

They are different from me in part because I am different. I’m done growing up. I’ve got decades of work experience on them. And a family to take care of. I can use technology just as well as they can and just as often, but I’m tired of it. I’d rather talk to my husband than watch him play another game of online Scrabble.

Here in the real working world, I have Millennial colleagues who are dedicated, smart, and hard-working. Yes, their iPhones are never far away, but they have gotten quickly up to speed and are making great contributions.  I have also encountered some who need direction at every turn and don’t seem to want to be responsible for anything. But isn’t that true at every stage? Some people need a lot of hand-holding and training, others jump in and get it done without a lot of input. That’s what separates the top performers from the employees in the murky middle of most companies.

With Millennials fast coming on as the largest generation in the workplace, we have a lot of on-boarding to do. It’s up to us to provide them all with the tools and direction they need, to give the superstars room to grow and advance, and to recognize their accomplishments in ways that are meaningful to them.

This is no different than what I need at work. I need to have the right resources, room for learning and opportunity, and to be valued in a way that matters to me. I’m just older and further along in my career path. The resources I need are different. The opportunities I’m looking for might include flex time because I have a family to consider. I appreciate being recognized for my efforts just as much as anyone at any age.

So, maybe we just don’t have the patience for their stage in life because we’ve already been there. And maybe it’s up to us to slow down and take the time to introduce young workers to the challenges and achievements of a working life.

Previously published on LinkedIn.