Judging by recent trends in all sorts of media, we might think of millennials as the worst generation of human beings ever to exist. “Lazy”, “entitled”, “unwilling to work hard” and “well on the way to being worse off than their parents”, are only some of the frequent labels they get; not only in business-related news outlets, but also political or social-related media. It has become commonplace to joke and complain about millennials and how much they expect high salaries and free lunches. But what is actually behind all the hype about millennials, and especially, what does that mean in the workplace?
Two things are worth keeping in mind. These are of course generalizations; and though they exist for a reason and they often do point to some trends when speaking of large groups of people, they still tell us nothing about particular individuals. The individual differences in all persons are still supremely more important than vague stereotypes. But it’s also worth remembering that the perceptions about what a certain generation “is like” are largely subjective, and are just precisely that: perceptions. Every generation has complained about “kids today”: how disrespectful, lazy or what-have-you they are, and “how easy they have it”. Adults in Socrates’ time had the exact same complaints, the saying goes.
I see two factors. Firstly, adults tend to forget the flaws of their own youth; idealizing “those golden times” when people were honorable, politicians didn’t lie, and everybody raised their kids right. Are you sure? If we travelled back in time (no matter to which exact period) we’d find politicians to be just as dishonest, “the kids” just as troublesome, and most adults trying hard to hide very old emotional pains. On the other hand, that people would complain about “how easy kids have it now” is actually an indicator of our great and continuous social progress. People can be forgiven for being scared of change. When tractors were first invented, surely we’d hear farm grandpas complaining about the lazy kids who just hop on a fancy machine doing the hard plowing work for them: almost too immorally easy!... Yet who on Earth would reject newer, more efficient technology for the sake of nostalgia? We’d be still copying books by hand. Most people won’t and millennials are no exception.
Are millennials “entitled”? Well, what do we mean by that? Sure, some of them might graduate their bachelor programs with unrealistic expectations of their salary, benefits, pace of corporate progress, working hours or vacation times. This is partially explained, I would guess, by the current zeitgeist – shown relentlessly in movies and media – of individual greatness, the American ideals of the great dreamer self-made-man, and the ethos of our era about how special we all are. We in the West live in times of dreamy individualism. But it would be unfair to cast all millennials in this light, and also, is having high expectations or wild dreams necessarily a bad thing?... This stereotype is also a disservice to the many of them who are willing to work incredibly hard – and doing so –, having it clear that there is no free lunch. Many millennials are pouring insane amounts of energy and time into creating their own businesses, much more stressed than their parents ever were. Groups of young anti-government libertarians reject the idea of government benefits, and are willing to work hard for financial independence (whether time will prove them right in their political ideas is a different matter, and up for debate). Several studies and surveys actually show that millennials are busier than their parents ever were: not only working on whatever precarious job they could find but also engaged in all sorts of NGOs; practicing sports and hobbies and extra classes on the side; more informed than ever and demanding social and political change. Just because they are not working on farms, or on whatever image we picture on our heads as “hard work”, doesn’t make all of them “lazy and entitled”.
Millennials also didn’t create the current economic climate were jobs are not only increasingly hard to find but also ever more precarious, temporary, and low-paying. Who is acting more “entitled”: the millennial who wants to make enough money to buy a house (as his parents did), health insurance and some free time; or the corporation who demands that the new worker for an entry-level position have two years’ experience, high qualifications, continuous availability and convenient disposability?... And how can they leave the parental home when it’s simply not affordable on the salaries they are being offered? Many millennials will be worse off than their parents, though by no fault of their own. They are acutely aware that they will no longer have corporate benefits like their parents enjoyed; as jobs are increasingly “precarized”, slimmed down and stripped to the basics of a salary – which by the way remains stagnant. Can they be blamed for wanting what their parents often had – stable jobs, security, pensions, comprehensive health insurance?...
Finally, on their expectations for balancing their jobs with private life: isn’t that something desirable? Maybe so many of them grew up barely seeing their dads (or moms, or both) because they worked such long hours, that they have it clear that they want to work to live, not live for work. Whether this can be mistaken for “laziness” and “entitlement” is up for debate and depends on how the reader thinks of what “work” should mean in our lives.