An easy thing to do is to make fun of millennials, right? Oh they're so lazy! They're spoiled! They don't know the meaning of a hard day's work! They have it so much easier than we did when we were their age!
So is this true? Do millennials actually have it harder than previous generations? One millennial thinks so. In a recent interview on NPR, Michael Hobbes - a writer, editor and producer - makes a very reasonable case why.
Hobbes cites the spiraling costs of healthcare, housing and education that impacts his generation. He draws attention to stagnating wages, the rise of lower-quality contracting work that has replaced jobs with more benefits, the expensive real estate and cost of living required to live in the highest growth cities like San Francisco, Seattle and New York and the right-leaning attitude towards more personal responsibility that has shifted so significantly over the past two decades.
It's not all bad. Hobbes appreciates the high level of social services, healthcare and schools that can be found in many parts of the country, particularly cities. Depending on the color of your skin, some millennials are much better off than others. For example, if you're a white American, he contends, you're five times more likely to receive an inheritance than millennials of color - a statistic that resonates when you consider that almost 45 percent of millennials are non-white.
"I think there's a lot of anger from a lot of these people, especially who graduated during the recession," he said in the NPR interview. "We talk a little bit about something like universal benefits or these kind of new forms of welfare. And we need to put these things in place. It's not impossible. Most other countries have this. A lot of it comes down to voting, but millennial turnout is very variable depending on the state. In some places, it's as low as 30 percent, and in some places, it's as high as 70 percent."
All of these factors are huge challenges for the millennial generation. But there's also a bigger problem that Hobbes doesn't mention: a lack of empathy from the generations that preceded his.
The average age of the typical American small business owner in 2018 is about 52 years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. We grew up in a different time, with different problems. We dealt with the "me-generation" of parents, disco music, the Vietnam War, multiple energy crisis, astronomic inflation and interest. The generations before mine lived through the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, race riots and regular assasinations of its leaders. Their parents survived the depression and in some cases two devastating world wars. These generations have little empathy for the challenges that millennials face - just like the generations before them had little empathy for their own problems.
So do millennials have it harder? The question is irrelevant. Every generation has it hard - including the millennial generation.
As an employer, an owner and a manager, you must accept that every generation has its challenges and these challenges are just as important to those living through them. You can't judge or make comparisons. The fact is that the millennial generation now makes up about half of the current workforce in the U.S. Just like your generation and for the most part, these are smart, hard-working, conscientious, caring people. These are your current and prospective employees (and your customers). These are the people that represent your greatest asset and your biggest opportunities for growth.
So when a millennial like Michael Hobbes says that his generation has it harder than other generations, don’t roll your eyes, scoff or laugh it off. Instead, empathize. Realize that, for them, it is harder. You must do what you need to do to help them and meet the kinds of needs they desire in order to feel like productive and motivated employees. They're not going to change. It's those leaders who realize this important fact and change themselves and their companies, who will attract the best people…and succeed in the years to come.