There's a great deal to like about the Millennial generation. They can be energetic and enthusiastic to a fault. Millennials are thriftier and less obsessed with material possessions than their predecessors. 

That being said, there's a certain word that comes all too easily to the lips of many Millennials, a word that grates and grinds against the hard-won experience of their elders.

That word is fair.

"I'm hearing it more often lately, and it is just a lousy way to make a case for anything," explained the manager who called it to my attention. "When I hear it, it just completely erodes credibility, because they sound like whiny 12-year-olds."

Indeed, my 12 year-old son constantly trots out, "It's not fair!" whenever I make a decision he dislikes or disagrees with. To which I reply (as did my parents and their parents): "Hey, life's not fair."  And that's doubly true in the business world.  

Take salaries, for instance. In every workplace there are people who make much more money than average, even though they do less work. What are the chances that the slacker down the hall is making more than you? Better than average, I'd guess.

It's not just in the ranks, either. I've interviewed dozens of CEOs, and while some are brilliant, a fair number are empty suits (think Enron's Ken Lay). Even so, most big firm CEOs are paid hundreds of times as much as their average employee.

It's not fair, but it's true.

Similarly, take "fair trade," the notion that importers should eschew suppliers who use forced labor or pollute the environment. While this seems like an admirable goal, it's an abstraction that's contrary to reality.

Absent the risk of a costly PR disaster or a hefty fine, it is the fiduciary and legal duty of a company's management to utterly exploit and even destroy both human and natural resources, providing it increases shareholder value.

It's not fair, but it's true.

In the real world, women get paid less than men, women suffer constant sexual harassment, companies discriminate against minorities, and managers extort unpaid overtime from millions of salaried employees.

In the real world, tall men and attractive women make more money on average than their shorter and less attractive counterparts. In the real world, an idea that saves millions of dollars earns its creator a 1 percent raise. (This happened to a friend of mine.)

It's not fair, but it's true.

By the time they reached adulthood (and certainly by the time they'd held a job for few weeks), members of previously generations had abandoned their naive expectation that anything in life or business should be "fair."

For some reason, though, Millennials appear to have missed the memo. I'd like to think that it's because Millennials plan to find a way to change our laws and regulations to curb corporate excess and create a more level playing field.

If and until they do, though, Millennials should stop trotting out the word fair as if it had any real meaning. They're not convincing anyone and only annoying those of us, like myself, who have concluded that the battle is probably unwinnable.

It's not fair, but it's true.

Published on: Jul 27, 2016
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