For two decades now, we've been hearing other generations' complaints about Millennials.

Did I miss anything? I'm not a Millennial. I'm Generation X, but I've always thought these generalizations were pretty worthless. And yet the stereotypes persist. Why?

It all boils down to a single word: envy.

What life would have been like?

Phrase those complaints a bit differently, and they're actually things that most of us would aspire to, regardless of our generation. We'd all like to have our egos massaged, and to be praised. We'd all like to achieve success quickly. We all want to leverage technology

Perhaps most important, we all wish we had the freedom to say what we want, to whom we want, whenever we want.

The difference? Millennials were the first generation to believe they had the ability to live like that.

They're neither to be credited nor blamed for it. It's not that people are different because they were born in 1985 (or 1995) as opposed to 1975, it's that the world is different.

Technology, economy, and politics all changed so radically during that time period. And those of us who are a bit older sometimes can't help but look at later generations and wonder what our lives would have been like if we'd been born in those circumstances.

I thought of all this for the umpteenth time recently after reading an article by Marc Cenedella, founder of the job-hunting site Ladders. It's about how his company had to change after they started hiring Millennials a decade ago. In short, they redesigned their entry-level program to have more milestones--including job titles and pay increases--in order to keep Millennial employees engaged.

It worked, he says, and two points he goes on to make really struck home:

First, the notion of having so much more feedback seemed excessive to some older employees, largely because they hadn't had that level of feedback when they started work.

And second, psychologists say this kind of environment is actually highly effective in improving people's performance and keeping them motivated: namely, offering positive feedback that accentuates their strengths.

Uphill, both ways...

Management practices that older employees had to deal with when we were younger--and this is the technical term--flat-out sucked. Yet there's a predisposition to want to apply them to later generations--even though some of us endured them and hated them.

Feedback? Praise? Transparency? They didn't exist a few decades back, at least not in the ways we're talking about here. Millions of people fell into jobs and careers, and either got stuck or totally depended on the graces of their employers for their pay and advancement.

Managers got away with it. Why? Because there wasn't as much movement between employers. Information just wasn't available to workers. There was no such thing as looking up competitors on Glassdoor, or being recruited on LinkedIn--or even having an easy way to know what other employers even existed--never mind whether they were healthy or hiring.

If you didn't like working for Company A, it was much more difficult to learn about opportunities at Companies B through Z. And that meant people had much less leverage to demand anything better.

But if you're in a hiring or a leadership position now, and you perceive that younger workers act entitled or demand more, there's a temptation to recoil--to compare yourself to them and remember how you didn't have the option to behave that way.

It takes courage to change, both because it means recognizing that younger employees demand better management practices than what people put up with for decades--and also recognizing that older employees deserved better, too.

Even if they never got it, and even if they endured anyway, they deserved better. Give up your envy--and you'll begin to believe it, too.

Published on: Jul 24, 2017
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