Every generation trash-talks younger generations. Baby boomers labeled Generation X a group of tattooed slackers and materialists; Generation Xers have branded millennials as iPhone-addicted brats. These stereotypes are the sociological version of a "Saturday Night Live" sketch: entertaining, inevitable, and exaggerated for effect.
(Full disclosure: I narrowly make the cutoff for millennial status.)
Millennials in particular get a lot of flack for their supposed entitlement and narcissism, but these evaluations have never matched my experience with hiring young people at Warby Parker. They also clash with a number of studies--like a 2010 Pew survey which found that millennials prioritize helping people in need (21 percent) over having a high-paying job (15 percent), or a PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey indicating that 86 percent of millennials would consider leaving an employer if its social-responsibility values no longer matched their expectations. Studies have long shown that an individual's job performance depends heavily on how meaningful she perceives her work to be. More than ever, young people entering the job market are making decisions based on how closely their personal values align with a company's values.
Is that a problem? Not for us. We've built a company that distributes a pair of eyeglasses to someone in need for every pair sold; that purchases carbon offsets; and that hosts mentoring programs at the office. So millennials' need for meaning both coincides with our mission and branding and strengthens the bond between them and the company.
Another good thing about millennials? They have an acute curiosity and interest in all work-related matters--even if those matters lie far outside their defined area of responsibility. They're hungry to know the big picture. Every Wednesday morning, we have an all-hands meeting at which my co-founder and co-CEO Dave Gilboa and I update the team on our larger goals. Last week, our director of consumer insights walked the team through a set of statistics about the percentage of our customers who have vision insurance. That might seem like a very narrow (and potentially mind-numbing) concern, but it isn't. Our email marketing team, for example, may want to send messages to customers with encouragement to seek reimbursements, and our retail team members may want to offer help answering questions about coverage. Drawing out the broader perspective guarantees that each person understands how his or her individual contribution ties into the whole. And our millennials embrace this. They take our business as a whole--not just their jobs, and definitely not just themselves--seriously.
When another editorial pops up denouncing millennials for some perceived generational flaw, I take it with a Miley Cyrus-sized grain of salt. The naysayers don't know what they're missing.