The Absolute Last Open Letter to Millennials
I promise you, this is the absolute last time you will have an article written about you. Really. And I also promise that by the end, you will be happy you read it, even if a trophy is not being awarded.....jk LOL
We are all well aware that over analyzing your generation has been a thing since back in the day. If there is another post written about how to deal with you in the workplace, I think even I may get sick. I'm not going to do that to you. You are adults now, and we literally need to be able to work together. I think it will be super uncool of the older folks in business if we continue to relegate you to the proverbial kiddie table.
No, this article is actually about your bosses, Generation X. You know, the people in your office who are a little older, grayer, and who still use Facebook. Since Baby Boomers are getting regular mail from the AARP, I think it is a perfect time for you to understand once and for all who we are, how we work, and how to manage us in the workplace so that we can all get what we want. I say this because I believe, with all sincerity, that your generation is going be the one that ends up changing the world.
Top Ten Things Millennials Should Know About Generation X
It seems appropriate to give this to you as a "top ten" list as David Letterman pretty much defined our late night viewing habits when we were your age, much like Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and John Stewart do today. So here goes:
10. We actually get you more than you think. We may not want to admit it openly, but we do understand where you are at in your lives. Go stream movies like "Reality Bites" or "Swingers" and you will see all of the same narcissism, self-absorbed angst and "ironic" obsessions you get labeled with today. While those movies are generally viewed as "classics" by our generation, they can be a bit of a cringeworthy reminder for us watching them twenty years later. Deep down we know how difficult it is when you are just starting out in your career, and we do have empathy for the tough job market and massive amount of student loan debt you have accumulated. We just get annoyed with you because we don't understand the constant sharing of duck faced selfies and the weird thing you have with cats.
9. Our parents made us independent at an early age. As the first generation to more commonly see divorce and to have both parents working, many of us would come home from school to empty houses and lots of free time. We didn't have playdates scheduled for us, after school activities were usually just once or twice a week, and we lived a completely "unplugged" existence (think giving up social media for a weekend, a cause, or for a religious occasion like Lent....but every day of your life). We also lived at a time when kids could more freely walk the neighborhood or ride their bikes without the same fears we have today. As a result, we weren't micro-managed. There was an independence and self-regulation we experienced at a younger age that you are just now having the freedom to figure out as adults. So of course we get frustrated when you don't schedule that business trip for yourself because no one told you how to do it. Please understand that when this happens, we are really mad at your parents for doing things for you, and totally not mad at you.
8. Business and going to work is primarily about one thing: making money. Did you ever notice how many movies in the 1980s revolved around capitalism? Stream flicks like "Wall Street," "The Secret of My Succe$s," "Working Girl" or "Trading Places" and you will get a glimpse of how our views of work, business and money were shaped. We were a generation taught that "greed is good" and that the primary focus of work was to accumulate wealth and get ahead. We are not wired to be as collaborative or community oriented as you have been. Please exercise patience and resist the eye roll if we don't initially grasp your suggestion at the next all-hands meeting that our company should give away our best product for free so we can increase "uniques". We actually need to see how it leads to making money in order to keep our heads from literally exploding.
7. We will absolutely never understand your taste in popular music. Sure, throw on "Turn Down for What" at a pre-K dinner group party during that magic window of 10:30pm-midnight (aka the last gasp of fun before we have to go home to relieve the babysitter) and you might see some of us "bust a move" as we like to say, but otherwise, we don't get it. True, we had a boy band craze that lasted a minute, but we mainly grew up on rock and old school rap/hip-hop. Don't hate on us if we leave the company function when the DJ breaks out the dubstep. And, by the way, I know it's not a thing anymore, but we do not care what the fox says. And we never will. Remember that.
6. We are good one-to-one communicators. We didn't have cell phones or email until our adult lives, so aside from in-person discussion, our biggest mode of communication was the landline telephone. Vocal tone and visual cues are a big part of how we understand and connect with people. Occasionally we would handwrite letters--which generally were longer than 140 characters, took almost a week to get there, and unless you were trying to recreate a rebus puzzle you found in a Cracker Jack box, did not include emoticons or emojis. While we are quickly embracing texting and IM, if you really want to get our attention, receive feedback from us, manage us, sell to us, or communicate with us in any way, make believe it is Throwback Thursday and try doing it in person or on the phone.
5. We strongly believe rewards are given based on results, not effort. You probably know this by now, but as managers, we generally don't care that you "tried super hard" to get something done but couldn't make it happen. We really only care about what you actually made happen. Again, this disconnect between our generations is not your fault. In fact, we probably make a big deal about it more as a passive-aggressive shot at your parents for making you feel special all of the time. When you complain to them that your boss is mean, we feel like we win.
4. We want you to succeed, but you do have to ask for help if you need it. We are busy trying to get things done. If you aren't getting things done, then we don't get things done. So if you are having difficulty at any point, there are few things we need you to do. First, you have to communicate this to us (again, preferably in-person or on the phone. Not via Snapchat.). Next, please remember that it does not mean we hate you when we don't congratulate you for seeking assistance. Finally, understand that asking for help does not mean we will do the work for you. If you show some initiative, we will take the time to teach you how you can successfully navigate obstacles yourselves. And here's a little secret: if you want to be CEO by the time you are 30, you need to know how to admit you don't know how to do something and when to proactively seek assistance from others to get things done.
3. For your generation, technology has always been a tool you just use. We still have a learning curve. You may not realize that we weren't allowed to use calculators in math class or that we were the last generation to enter the workforce without a computer on our desk by default. There are still members of our generation that are not (and do not plan to be) on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. While we are not completely technically illiterate, it is not innate to us like it is to you. For many of us, it never will be. It doesn't make us less smart or less capable. We just don't see the world changing possibilities that technology can create as fast or as creatively as you. But if you exercise patience, don't immediately go the "they don't get it" route, and explain it to us, we can help you turn your great idea into a real business....a real business that makes lots of money.
2. By nature, we are action oriented. When the going gets tough, Generation X gets going. Hey, we've practically known since the day we started working that all of the money we are paying into the Social Security system won't be there when we are of retirement age because it will be used up by the Baby Boomers. Maybe you think we are crazy for not making a bigger stink about it, but we do it because it needs to be done. Despite the acts of terrorism, wars, and economic downturns we've experienced over half of our adult lives, we've kept our heads down and just plugged away because we have mouths to feed, mortgage payments on houses worth less now than when we bought them and worries about increasing college tuition rates that are in our sights. In order for us to help each other, it would be awesome if you could try to understand this about us and use it to your advantage. We don't shy away from the hard work.
1. We admire you. Collectively, you are the most globally connected generation the world has ever produced. You are bright, enthusiastic, and hopeful. You firmly believe that people can come together and solve big problems. You will not accept the status quo. Generation X is just old enough to understand the real challenges you face to accomplish such lofty aspirations, but also just young enough to appreciate your energy and the fearlessness you apply to achieve them. We envy you, but most importantly, we admire you.
So, dear Millennials, you did it! You completed the absolute last open letter to your generation. I hope you enjoyed it. And the great news is that I lied when I said there would be no trophy. There is actually gold at the end of this rainbow -- in about 10 to 15 years, you will have the pleasure of managing the next great generation: the perfect, well adjusted children of Generation X. Best. Prize. Ever. :)
David A. Frankel has over 20 years of executive leadership experience at startups and leading companies in the financial services, data, and technology markets. He is a frequent public speaker, and currently works with entrepreneurs, senior executives, and leaders in private equity and venture capital as managing partner of the executive advisory firm SLINGSTONE Group. Follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter at @DavidAFrankel.