By MATT NAYLOR
I’ll be honest – I didn’t even know what a Millennial was until very recently. It was a couple of years ago when the American reality TV show “Survivor” announced the theme for their 33rd season would be “Millennials versus Gen X”. I had to Google it to figure out which one I was.
Despite being born in the early 90s, I’d just never really put much time into thinking about which generation I was from. To me, I just used the term as a vague way of saying “a passage of about 20 to 30 years”.
Then, suddenly the term Millennial became this buzzword that I seemed unable to avoid.
It was everywhere – from articles about how we ruin everything, to how to manage them in the workplace, to how we have it easier than every previous generation, to how we face more challenges than any previous generation.
It seems that nobody has quite made their mind up about us young folk and our place in history.
It’s Not A Generational Thing
The other funny thing about the term “Millennial” is how it has become a catch-all for any and all young people. In 2017, it seems anybody from the age of 5 to mid-thirties can be called a “Millennial” by some. No-one is safe.
It’s said with such vitriol by curmudgeonly “back-in-my-day” people that I almost feel the need to apologise at times for having the audacity to have been born later than them.
Yet throughout history, people have always complained about the generations that come after them.
Bringing Survivor back into the fold, it is fascinating to go back and watch the early seasons of the show, specifically third season Survivor: Africa, which aired in 2001.
In that season, one of the tribes has an internal conflict, whereby half of them were Baby Boomers, the other half young whipper-snapper Gen Xers.
“These kids today, this Generation X. They never want to do anything; they’re lazy,” contestant Carl Bilancione laments to the camera.
Fifteen years later, in the aforementioned 33rd season, it was the now-older Generation Xers who complained about the laziness and arrogance of the young people across the beach. “[Young people] think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.”
OK, that last one wasn’t actually a quote from any Survivor contestant. No, it was written by Aristotle in the 4th Century BC in “Rhetoric”.
“Probably there is no period in history in which young people have given such emphatic utterance to a tendency to reject that which is old and to wish for that which is new”.
Quote taken from a Portsmouth Evening News article. From 1936.
The point is that complaining about younger generations is absolutely nothing new. It is very easy to get on our high horses and believe that those born after us are dooming humanity forever, but just remember that those same criticisms were levelled at you by your superiors in your younger days.
Multiple Generations In The Office
So how does this apply to the workplace? How do you manage an office in which half the staff are young, cocky, know-it-all 20-somethings and the other half are the wizened, long-in-the-teeth fuddy-duddies who reject anything “new-fangled”?
You play to each person’s strengths.
Recognise that all generations have plenty they can learn from each other. The experienced heads in the workplace have seen it all and done it all, their knowledge is oftentimes based on personal experience and should be valued as such.
The Millennials, with their reckless abandon in tow, have watched technology advance around them their whole lives (yes, I remember a time before the Internet and having to rewind VHS tapes before taking them back to the video store). Our penchant for asking “why” and need to “find meaning” in everything can be harnessed to change the world in unthinkable ways.
And the Generation Z, now entering the workplace as fresh-faced graduates, are as tech-savvy as any generation before them.
Rather than complain about the youth of today having short attention spans due to their over-reliance on technology, recognise that they know best how to keep their finger on the pulse of the 21st Century’s fast-moving trends.
I’ve written before on the subject of ageism in the workplace and how easy it can be to only interact with those within your own age group, but the companies that can successfully integrate multiple generations in the office will be the ones that thrive.