To be honest, I feel like we should just bury the whole idea of generation rivalries. Too often, society has come to see a mere age difference—something that is becoming increasingly arbitrary with increases in life span and tolerance towards those who may work or marry outside the confines that pesky number builds for them—as a full-out threat to all parties involved. Many baby boomers fear for the state of their jobs and government as millennials begin to take over the spheres of influence they once held.
A near-equal number of millennials see their elders as part of the problem that has led their country astray from the beliefs they might hold. It might appear easier to go along this route and to blame one’s own personal bitterness on millions of people with only a range of numbers in common. However, what is becoming increasingly clear is that if America wants to hold up any semblance of the relative workplace harmony it has now, there are a few things that need to be debunked before it’s too late.
Major players in business research, such as Forbes, have already estimated that we are entering a four-generation workplace, making reconciliation all the more necessary for future success. Currently, it is fairly spread out between old and new, with pre-1945 traditionalists and baby boomers making up one side of the extreme and mid-‘60s to 1980 Gen Xers and millennials covering the other. But as traditionalists and baby boomers retire and increasing number of millennials fill the job force, tension over the newcomers has been a major point of discussion. When asked about millennials, older employees often stereotype them as being technology-dependent, entitled and self-absorbed. Not only can these factors vary from person to person, but in some cases, they can even become strengths.
In order for these stereotypes to operate fully, they must be entirely dependent on accentuating the negatives of technology, entitlement and self-esteem. However, these issues are not always as dangerous as people make them out to be. For instance, while it’s certainly true that many millennials engage in the sort of “selfie culture” that many point to as the height of superficiality, just as many take to technology to improve the world, not just themselves. The New York Times takes it so far as to call the millennials “Generation Nice” and theorizes that after seeing so many tragedies unfold before their 24-hour televised media eyes, they have become skeptical of political and religious institutions and opt instead to make changes themselves. They are, in many ways, the generation of petition websites, social activism and corporate social responsibility, with an 89 percent stronger likelihood to support companies that contribute to resolving injustice.
As for the issues of self-esteem and entitlement, millennials may not be quite as self-centered as they’re often made out to be. In fact, much of these two factors can be blamed not on the generation itself, but rather on the environment that cultivated them. They value personal happiness more than wealth, according to Forbes, but surveys have shown that this is more of a reaction to the economic instability of the Great Recession than selfish hedonism. Values have merely begun to spin away from workplace utility and towards self-fulfillment.
For instance, 64 percent of millennials admit that they would rather work at a middle-wage job they love than at a high-end job they find boring. Priorities too have shifted towards having a fulfilling family and marriage, which is perhaps symptomatic of the many broken families of the modern era. Finally, much of the perceived entitlement millennials are so often blasted for is speculated to be a result of lack of competition and helicopter parenting more than anything else. Quite simply, a culture that has taught so many that everyone gets a trophy and that even the smallest of deeds will be rewarded is the true root of the problem rather than personal selfishness.
With all these facts in mind, I encourage all those in the workplace now or about to enter it to consider these statistics before passing judgment on either party. For all those out there who might feel they’re part of the problem, a shallow stereotype, the best thing you can do is not to give in to the criticisms, but to prove to your colleagues that you can transcend these sorts of blanket judgments. In fact, as William Jewell students and faculty, we are obliged to by the principles of our critical thought education.
Ironically enough, in spite of the millennial emphasis on personal happiness rather than politics and religion, some of the best advice on the matter, for me at least, can be found within one of these two spheres: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for the believers.” No matter what you believe in—religion, social change, dreams, all of these, none of these or something greater—don’t dismiss yourself as part of the stereotype. Be the new example and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.