Mic, a fast-growing media startup that boasts 19 million unique monthly visitors, has slick offices in lower Manhattan--and a work force mostly made up of hungry, 20-something media junkies.
"There's 80 million Millennials; we focus on the 40 that went to college," said Chris Altchek, the company's 28-year old CEO, in a recent interview with The New York Times. A laid-back office vibe, he adds, "helps everyone speak out and the best ideas rise to the top."
The Times piece, which lays bare that operating a startup of young employees comes with its own set of challenges, is in many ways the most recent takedown of the Millennial generation.
In November 2015, Mic's director of programming, Joel Pavelski, requested time off to attend a funeral. He was told to take as many days as needed. Shortly thereafter, Altchek discovered--through a tweet Pavelski had sent out linking to a blog post on Medium--that there wasn't a funeral after all. "I said that I was leaving town for a funeral, but I lied," he wrote, insisting that he'd taken time off to build a tree-house (as a way to cope with feeling overwhelmed and feeling a sense of burnout.)
"I was sort of taken aback," Altchek said. "It's not acceptable to be lied to."
What the article gets wrong about Millennials.
Pavelski's scam is a central theme of the Times piece (titled "What Happens When Millennials Rule the Workplace"). While it's true that challenges are sure to crop up in organizations run by Millennials, the article operates on too many assumptions. In doing so, it entirely misses the mark about the generation as a whole.
"Am I the only person who felt slightly insulted by the insinuation that all Millennials would be totally willing to fake a funeral to get a week off from work?" asked Inc. staffer Cameron Albert-Deitch. (An admittedly brief office poll indicates that, no, the 22-year-old assistant editor is not alone.)
How do other members of the generation feel about this?
Perhaps the biggest and most pernicious stereotype surrounding the Millennial generation is that they are all "lazy." As another Inc. staffer, assistant managing editor Abigail Baron, 26, puts it: "You wouldn't write an article called "What Happens When Blacks Run the Workplace" or "Why Polish People Aren't Getting That Promotion," so why is it OK to say all Millennials are ruining the workplace with their 'lazy,' entitled, superficial personalities?'"
Doug Messer, the 22-year-old founder and CEO of University Beyond, a job board that connects college students to companies, notes the massive amount of stigma surrounding Millennials, in terms of the "ridiculous thought that we're a lazy, entitled generation."
"We grew up in a pretty significant recession," he adds. "The Millennial generation has really taken steps forward in terms of innovation, in terms of pursuing avenues corporations have not."
Like it or not, Millennials contribute significantly to the future of work.
Thus why it stings to read Mic's 106 person-strong work force reduced to the descriptors: "...trim 20-somethings, with beards on the men and cute outfits on the women, who end every sentence with an exclamation point and use the word 'literally' a lot." At face value--yes, literally--this suggests a generation more interested in outward presentation than in making a difference in the world.
That couldn't be further from the truth.
"We want so desperately to connect with the world, and sometimes technology is the only outlet we have," said Stacey Ferreira, the 23-year-old founder of AdMoar, speaking in conversation at the Inc. Women's Summit last year.
The fact that Millennials are digital natives (meaning they spend a fair amount of time on their laptops and smartphones) has led many to believe they're not serious about their work. But it's worth considering that digital savvy is exactly what has catapulted Mic, and media counterparts such as Vox and Vocativ, to early success: An aggressive social media strategy means that Mic now has as many as 117,000 Twitter followers, and over 5.5 million views, to date, on its YouTube channel.
(The company recently announced that it had acquired Hyper, a Berlin-based mobile video app, to create what it calls "the most premium mobile video experience anywhere.")
Mic has also attracted the attention of high-profile figures around the world. In recent months, co-founder and journalist Jake Horowitz has landed interviews with political A-listers including Queen Rania of Jordan and Shimon Peres, the former president of Israel. Earlier this month, his company tapped Cory Haik, former executive director of emerging news products at The Washington Post, to serve as its first-ever chief strategy officer.
Yet as David Burstein, the author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World, put it in a previous interview with Inc.: "No one in this generation looks at sending a tweet as some great act of heroism."
The bigger picture.
Least of all Joel Pavelski. While the Times casts his transgression as symptomatic of a brash and careless culture, it fails to flesh out the underlying cause: He was feeling overworked, and failed to cope. "It's easy to say someone died," Pavelski continues in his Medium blog post. "It's much harder to say, 'I think I'm having a nervous breakdown.'"
In fact, rates of depression have spiked among Millennials, notably college students -- there's been a 16 percent increase in mental-health visits since 2000, according to a 2012 study from the American College Counseling Association. Some analysts correlate the uptick to "helicopter parenting," when parents interfere significantly in a child's life and choices, which then makes it hard for the child to adapt to adulthood.
More to Pavelski's point, though, Millennials care most about making a difference. According to a 2015 study from Deloitte, younger respondents said that an overarching "sense of purpose" is a key factor for taking any job--including the company's commitment to employee well-being, for example, or having a nonprofit arm.
"Most people in this generation are giving money to charity," Burstein added. "It's about that pathway toward greater engagement."
While it's apparently true that Mic staffers sport beards and cute outfits, and the company's offices are considered "trendy," is it actually fair to go as far as to call them akin to a "middle school frat house"?
One might have also pointed out the professional camaraderie at Mic, facilitated by an open-office layout, or conference rooms designed to look like a late '90s R&B album. This, as Officelovin suggests, "works perfectly with the company's mission to make news relatable."