If you’ve read any magazines, Web sites, newspapers, or books in the last decade, you probably know who I am. You know I have a three-second attention span, because I was weaned on emails, texts, and instant messages. You know I’m a self-esteem junkie, because I got participation trophies when I played little-league baseball. You know I’m totally narcissistic, because I have a Facebook page, and a Twitter account, and a Last.fm profile. And you know the buzzword that’s being tossed around to describe me and the other 92 million 9- to 29-year-olds who are theoretically just like me: Millennials.
In recent years, a growing number of 30-, 40-, and 50-something authors have written books detailing how, exactly, my traits will transform your workplace. They’ve read the research, talked to some token teens, and branded their findings with sensational titles, such as The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace, and Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before. By and large, these books are long, boring and peppered with irritating half-truths. In Trophy Kids, for example, there’s a whole page dedicated to deciphering text-message lingo, replete with acronyms like “CRBT” (crying really big tears) and “FOMC” (falling off my chair)–none of which I have ever sent, received, or heard anyone say. And in Generation Me, Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., posits that the 1994 movie Clerks is “a pretty accurate illustration of how young people talk, with about two swear words in every line.” Gimme a f***ing break.
At my editor’s request, however, I set aside my preconditions–which, according to Twenge, is a very un-millennial-like thing to do–and plodded through four of these so-called “youth culture” guides, hoping to discover something new about my peers (and maybe even myself). Here’s what I learned:
Because millennials grew up listening to Mr. Rogers saying we’re special, we need that same kind of approval from our bosses, preferably on a day-to-day basis. And bosses, let’s hope you can deliver! As Drs. Joanne Sujansky and Jan Ferri-Reed explain in Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies are Losing Billions in Turnover to This Generation–and What to Do About It, you have to let promising millennials “know that you consider them to be keepers. Leaving them in the dark…does nothing for their self-esteem.” And if we’re not happy, we’ll walk. “I was actually considering leaving [my] company before [my boss] told me how much she appreciated me,” a young person told Sujansky and Ferri-Reed. Um, okay. But from one millennial to another: In this economy, you should probably start feeling appreciated for oh, I dunno, being employed.
Referencing a 2004 letter penned by millennial moral compass Britney Spears–in which the popstar lists her priorities as “myself, my husband, Kevin, and starting a family”–Twenge argues that my generation is absurdly self-involved. “GenMe takes for granted that the self comes first,” she says. “And we often believe exactly what we were so carefully taught–that we’re special.” (Not sure why Twenge uses “we” here; she’s well over 30.) In 2004, for example, 70% of American college freshmen reported that their academic ability was “above average” or “highest 10%,” which is legitimately hilarious. But immediately following that statistic, Twenge concludes that, because we millennials have such inflated egos, when our bosses criticize us, we become “unfriendly, rude, and uncooperative, even toward people who had nothing to do with the criticism.” Huh. So riddle me this, Ms. Twenge: If we’re constantly whining and disrespecting authority, how do most of us still have jobs? (Side note: Great. Now I sound whiny and disrespectful.)
In Generation We–the easiest book to devour, probably because there were so many colorful graphics–Eric Greenberg writes that we millennials are “profoundly shaped by, and comfortable with, the new technologies that connect people with the world electronically.” Fair enough; almost everyone I know is obsessed with Facebook or Twitter (some more so than others). But Ron Alsop makes quite a leap in Trophy Kids by suggesting that our willingness to embrace social networks makes us “incredibly uninhibited and oblivious to boundaries,” and that we “show little sense of discretion in [our] willingness to tell and show all,” such as topless photos (for girls) and beer-guzzling pics (for guys). Sure, a few kids have very publicly slipped up. But many of us–myself included–know how to use Facebook’s privacy settings.
So you thought you could expect us college graduates to be reasonably mature, eh? Think again. According to Alsop, “Companies today aren’t just hiring the child; they get the whole family in the bargain.” Case in point: “The head of a small advertising agency tells of a friend”–Kevin Bacon, perhaps?–“who was flabbergasted when an employee’s father showed up the day of his son’s very first performance review.” Horrors! But wait, there’s more: “What proved even more amazing was the employee’s failure to grasp why the review wouldn’t take place with the father in attendance.” I just…wow. Being close with your parents–another millennial trait these books discuss–is one thing. But if Alsop’s friend-of-a-friend’s story is true (and let’s face it, third-hand stories always are), then rest assured: I’m as dumbfounded as you are.
5. “Well, glad that’s settled. Wanna grab a drink?”
When I entered the job market, I figured that having fun–at least, the kind that of fun that doesn’t involve blogging for you guys–would start happening after work. (You know, when I wasn’t getting paid to be productive.) But in Keeping the Millennials, my BFFs Joanne Sujansky and Jan Ferri-Reed say that, in order to position their companies as “cool” enough for millennials, employers should organize ice-cream socials and end-of-the-week happy hours. “Some offices have even been known to organize spontaneous Nerf fights,” they write. “Not only are these fun activities, but they also prove to be excellent team-building strategies.” At last, some logic I can follow! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go expense a Supersoaker.