“Lions and tigers and millennials, oh my!” said Dorothy never on the way to Oz. Millennials are to blame for everything from global warming to Bernie Sanders. They are described as brilliant or lazy, often in the same article. They are the generation best known for walking into street signs, while texting the person with whom they are walking. And parents, don’t you dare call them on their cell phones. They’ll ignore you unless you text.
Here’s the single thing you need to know about millennials. They are no different than any other generation. Yes, really.
A few months ago, a financial planner invited me for cigars and drinks at his office late on a Friday afternoon. While not a cigar guy,the prospect of a good IPA drew me in. My host canceled at the last moment, but I went anyway as I knew at least a couple people, who would be there.
The gathering was held at a good ole boys financial planning firm where Don Draper of “Mad Men” would have felt at ease. However, in an unexpected twist, all the cigar connoisseurs were 35 years old or younger. My host, who had canceled, was near my age, 56. So I found myself in the den of, and at the mercy, of the dreaded millennials.
What would I say to them? Would they shun me? How could I get street cred in a gang thirty years and more younger than me? Should I tell them I thought Bruno Mars was brilliant at the Super Bowl halftime show? (He wasn't.) What does an old man have to say to a bunch of young whippersnappers, outside of “Stay off my damn lawn.” and “Isn’t Metamucil great?” We had quite a lot to discuss in fact, and I had more to learn than to teach.
I learned that millennials are no different than any other generation in their age range. The conversations ranged from the timing of marriage proposals to first house purchases to when to have children. Pretty mundane stuff, but reassuring to me. Family and careers mattered most. They aren’t all looking to switch genders, and I suspect most of these young professionals will vote Republican.
Much of what seems different about millennials stems from the Great Recession into which many graduated from college and found themselves in the worst job market in twenty years. I’d like to claim credit for this erudite observation, but I learned this from two talks given by a Federal Reserve economist.
I heard him speak in January 2015 and January 2016. In 2015, he opined that economic growth was being strangled by sluggish housing growth largely driven by millennials not moving out of mommy and daddy’s house into the real world. This fed the stereotype of millennial as parental parasite.
In January 2016, the Fed economist told a different story. Millennials were beginning to form new households at the same rate as previous generations, albeit a few years later than normal. Since millennials were slow to find career jobs, they postponed marriages and children. When the economy improved, they behaved as previous generations. Millennials don’t have fundamentally different values. The economy drives their behaviors as with every other generation.
We all believe that we know millennials, who are particularly entitled, and who believe they should start in the C suite. But think back a little, or maybe back to prehistoric times, to when we started our career journeys. We all knew entitled slackers back then. Of course, slacker wasn’t even a word back then. We just called them lazy and unmotivated.
Everything you’ve ever read about millennials being fundamentally different from other generations is written by people selling something, and typically that something is human resources consulting nonsense. As a parent and employer of millennials, I write from very personal experience that they’re different from real humans in style only and not substance.
Yes, they communicate using different technology. They text and use a diaspora of social media sites. However, remember how our parents complained about the time we spent on the phone, which was as foreign to our parents as Yik Yak is to us.
Millennial bashing will likely be approved as a Winter Olympics sport, replacing curling,which is really only fun as an excuse to drink anyway. How long before Harvard Business School offers a Masters in Millennial Management? You can skip all that nonsense by knowing that millennials are almost humans too.
Thanks for reading!
Frank Stitely, CPA, CVA
Clarity Practice Management