Here is a quotation that I share in my training programs on generational diversity:
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today.”
In what era do you think this was written? This week’s Economist? A political speech from the 1960s? The Roaring Twenties? The late eighteenth century?
In fact, these words are attributed to the poet Hesiod, all the way back in the eighth century B.C.
Think about it: We have literally been shaming young people for all of human history.
This has never made any sense to me. Why does every generation criticize the next? Why do we do everything we can to discredit the people who will play a large role in creating our shared future?
The most recent and frequent shamees, of course, are Millennials. I’m going to guess that, even if you identify as a Millennial yourself, most of what you have read about this generation is negative. The popular buzz is that today’s 20- and 30-somethings are any combination of entitled, narcissistic, lazy, living in their parents’ basements, unable to make eye contact, and expecting those infamous trophies for participation.
Gen Xers like me were called “slackers” in our youth. And Baby Boomers were called “hippies” and the original narcissistic “me” generation. But the vitriol directed at Millennials from all directions has been off the charts.
Even in the youth-dominated technology sector, one developer from a major tech company posted the hideous statement “We don’t hire junior developers or interns…if you don’t get a puppy, you don’t have to clean up its messes.”
That is offensive, mean, and wrong. If we say we aren’t going to tolerate discrimination in the workplace, we must condemn the constant, brazen shaming of Millennials.
I was struck in the many interviews I conducted with young leaders for my recent book, The Remix, by how many did not want to be identified as Millennials.
Amy, who asked to be identified only by her first name, is a mid-level executive at a media company and former employee of a national senior citizen membership organization.
She told me that she fears that being identified as a Millennial will bias leaders against her.
“I’ve been fortunate to take on some large responsibility and leadership in my career thus far,” she shared. “I’m proud of that and certainly want to continue to grow, but to some extent, I feel that as you move up to more senior and executive-level roles in an organization, there is often a perception or expectation that those roles will be filled with people with a similar profile as far as years of experience or age. I feel like having someone know my age could limit my immediate potential in terms of an executive thinking, ‘She’s not ready,’ or ‘She’ll have plenty of time to get there—it doesn’t need to be now.’ ”
Amy even admits that she has a small patch of gray hair that she used to pluck, but now she emphasizes it so senior leaders might think she is older.
This saddens me, not just for Amy’s feeling that she needs to hide her age in order to succeed, but for any organization that might miss out on any Millennial’s talents because members of this generation feel ashamed of their age.
Ageism affects all generations (isn’t it interesting that a Millennial wants to expose her gray hairs to feel more respected, and middle-aged workers often cover their grays to feel more relevant?), and for business leaders, it is entirely against our own professional interest.
Millennials are already the majority— and soon to be the vast majority— of our country. And our workforce. And our clients and customers. And our vendors. And our investors. And our voters.
No organization will succeed if it does not attract, engage, and embrace Millennials.
If you have ever been guilty of making fun of Millennials or any other generation, in a personal or professional context, you must commit to stopping right now. This includes shaming of yourself or your own generation.
While a bit of light self-deprecation can be charming and build bridges between generations, be mindful of going too far.
Stop clicking on articles about Millennials and Gen Z “killing” everything from paper napkins to shopping malls to homeownership to canned tuna.
Stop calling yourself a Luddite if you are a Traditionalist or Baby Boomer who takes a bit longer to learn technology. And, Gen Xers, we need to stop complaining that everybody ignores us.
For some on the older end of the age spectrum, this also means letting go of nostalgia. I was once at a conference where an executive from a major beverage company told an audience of young professionals, “I feel sorry for you guys. Business was so much more fun in the ’80s!”
That comment helped absolutely no one. Patty McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix, says that nostalgia for “the way things used to be” is one of the biggest potential pitfalls she advises business leaders to avoid.
Her advice is to focus on your customers or clients instead of your memories, to be “constantly thinking about where you’re going to be, who your customer’s going to be, what you need to do differently, how you’re going to scale, and how the world’s going to look. Even if we wanted our companies to stay the same, our customers won’t. The world’s going to go on without us, whether we like it or not.”
If you have any remaining nostalgia for the past, find a way to get it out of your system Reminisce with a former colleague, write a memoir, pack a time capsule.
To spark your thinking, here is a list of a few things I miss from the early days of my career:
• Knowing people’s phone numbers from memory
• Putting fresh calendar pages into my Filofax each new year
• Spinning my Rolodex
• Bringing full-size toiletries on business trips
Of course, my beloved iPhone has replaced the most nostalgic items on this list, and I wouldn’t give up my phone. But if anyone comes up with an app of a full-size shampoo bottle, I’m listening.
This blog post is adapted from my new book The Remix: How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace, your go-to guide for leading and succeeding in the multigenerational workplace. Get your copy today on Amazon or Barnes & Noble today!