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A Millennial Responds to Generational Criticisms

On 9/16/2013, TRACOM’s Performance Blog post asked  Is the Millenial Generation Equipped For Leadership?  That article looked at some of the criticisms the Millennials — those born in the 1980s and 1990s — are receiving and media coverage of the topic.  As most of this criticism is coming from older workers, we asked one of TRACOM’s youngest employees to share her perspective on her own generation.

By Sierra Charter

Although I think many of the concerns with Millennials are unnecessary, I do understand the older generations’ fears of the emergence of a new generation into the workforce. As humans, our brains are naturally wired to fear change and the uncertain. Many people do not embrace change openly and when their positions and views are threatened, they automatically react negatively. 

This is not the first time a generation was stereotyped and over-generalized by its predecessors. Those entering the job market in the 1980s, aka: Generation X, were stereotyped as disrespectful, wild, and irresponsible. Every generation thinks the kids in the next are worse than they were. In the musical Bye Bye Birdie, which was based on the story of Elvis Presley’s draft into the army in 1957, the lyrics of a song demonstrate the view of “kids” at that time. “Kids – I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today. Kids – they won’t even give you the time of day. Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way? What’s the matter with kids today?” 

So thinking less of “kids” is not a new trend. What is new is that for the first time in history there are four generations working together simultaneously. This is because baby boomers are remaining in the workforce longer than any other generation before them. 

My generation’s perspective is greatly shaped by the non-stop presence of media and technology in our lives. Love them or hate them, reality TV shows are an influence that highlights image over substance. Many of the most popular shows we have grown up watching; Keeping Up With the Kardashians, The Hills, MTV Cribs, etc. amplify the importance of looks and money. Certainly some Millennials do try to imitate what they see on TV which is why we have been labeled as having excessive spending habits.  

Yet the desire for image and “things” is at odds with our weak financial position.  Millennials are also contradictorily characterized as the broke generation because we “don’t have any money and are swimming in debt”. A reason for that debt is that jobs are scarce for young workers and a higher education is more expensive than it has ever been. Our parents’ contributions to our college funds deteriorated during the recession, putting more financial restraints and obligations on us than in previous generations.  The recession was not caused by the Millennials but we are extremely affected by it. 

Let me share a few attributes of my generation:

  • We are extremely hard working for what is important to us.
  • We volunteer and are involved in EVERYTHING (organizations, clubs, non-profits, etc).
  • We work multiple jobs and we are determined students. 

Even though we are labeled as broke and a drain on the economy, many of us “broke” kids have learned how to spend our money wisely, and we care greatly about our education because we are paying for it ourselves. Although some view us as entitled, the vast majority of us are not, and we greatly respect our elders, admire their contributions, and treasure their advice.  We love learning, but we also love indulging in life which sometimes means we spend a little extra on a ski pass or a nice meal.  I do believe we live more “in the now” than previous generations because we have watched, first-hand, how quickly things can change, and how one person can work hard for their entire life to see it lost.  We want to experience our pay-off because the future is uncertain, and if you haven’t already heard, YOLO (you only live once). 

I do admit that generational stereotypes don’t only go from old to young.  I have seen instances when my peers stereotype their older counterparts as “technologically clueless.”  And we might just assume that our bosses won’t understand us, rather than working collaboratively to further that understanding, but for the most part my generation is extremely accepting of others. Whether it’s race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. we love diversity and being diverse.

I spent this summer working as an intern with The TRACOM Group, where the entire workforce was older than me. I went in wondering if a company whose business is based on improving relationships and organizational performance would actually practice what they preach and how they would react to someone still in college.  Just with anyone that has a different world experience than you, I sometimes didn’t understand their views, and had to step back and try and see things from their side. They were patient with me, as I was with them.  There are still some bumps in the road every now and then, my co-workers and I have to work to understand one another, and patience is still key.  Overall, I have learned much from working with them, and my contributions have helped them understand things differently as well. If we all thought exactly the same, nothing innovative would happen. Having a mix of generations in a workforce may seem like a difficult situation, but in reality it creates positive outcomes. 

Sierra Charter is a full-time student at Colorado State University and a part-time employee of TRACOM. 

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