I love talking to groups about generations in the workplace and the challenges it creates. Some experts find this a non-issue, but I respectfully disagree, with vigor. In almost every topic I teach these days, this issue of generations comes up in some way. And in those instances, it is typically a complaint about Millennials.
This makes sense of course because they are the new kids on the block (NKOTB: a little Gen X’er reference), and with that, they are an unknown entity (which I find fascinating because most of them have Boomer parents, so why so much confusion?)
What I hear most often is this:
“They are so entitled!”
“Everyone expects a trophy for just showing up to work”
“They have no work ethic”
I can tell you this: There are upwards of 80 million Millennials in the United States and more than 50 percent are in the workforce. How can we make such sweeping generalizations about 80 million people? Are you kidding me?
A few years ago, while teaching a class on generations, I had a Millennial raise his hand about midway through the session. Up to this point, he had said nothing. Not one word. I work very hard to create a classroom environment where one generation does not beat up the other, devolving into a finger pointing battle around who is right. In fact, I have a rule: If you say something critical of a generation, you must follow it with something nice.
Back to my Millennial.
He raises his hand.
I call on him.
“Everyone complains that we expect a trophy for just showing up. But who was buying those trophies for us as kids? We weren’t. You were. You created this generation, and now you are complaining.”
You could have heard a pin drop.
Yes, that’s the cold, hard fact of the matter: We are to blame. Boomers and Gen X’ers have wrapped this generation of Millennials in saran wrap, knee pads, and helmets. We have protected them from the mean kid on the playground, run their book up to school when they forgot it and cried they wouldn’t be able to check a book out during library time, written their college essay, and rescued them any and every time they fell. And we gave them a trophy at the end of soccer season when their team’s record was 0-10.
When my daughter Maddie played soccer as a little one, she would get in the car and we would say, “Good game, but y’all lost.” Cruel? No way. The league may have not kept score but we did by goodness, and she would learn early what it felt like to lose versus learning when she was 20 years old.
That brings me to a defining parent moment with my daughter Trinity.
When she was about ten years old, I found myself getting onto her about something. My mouthy and sassy child was crossing the line to which I said, “Trinity, you are being disrespectful.” Her reply?
“Mom, if you want respect you have to give respect.”
By a show of hands, how many of you would have had your mouth slapped for a statement like that? Yeah, me too.
But I stopped in that moment and considered her statement. Instead of reacting, I said, “Excuse me?” and Trinity told me the following:
“We get in trouble for yelling, but you yell at us all the time. We get in trouble for being sassy, but you are sassy all the time. It’s not fair.”
I learned some important things that day about my sweet Trinity:
- Trinity’s core value is justice. She does not care much for the whole “Because I am older than you, you must respect me no matter what” mindset that generations before her were raised with. I remember as a kid feeling so helpless because I got in trouble for things I saw adults do all the time. But I didn’t say those things out loud, because, honestly, I would have gotten a beating. But we don’t beat our kids (and I can see my parents generation shaking their head in disbelief that we would not hit our kids as a discipline tool).
- Millennials see themselves as equal players. My daughter’s generation (she is just at the tail end of Millennials) was raised to have conversations with adults. We trained our girls from an early age that when they meet an adult, they look them in the eye, introduce themselves clearly, and shake their hand. I don’t speak for my kids in the doctor’s office either. They do. Mark and I do this because we want them to have great communication skills. I want them to be assertive and speak up for themselves. That’s the upside. The potential downside is that they see themselves as an equal with adults. I say potential because it’s not good or bad. It just is.
Respect is a value of all generations. How respect is understood is different though for each generation. For Boomers, respect is given to anyone who is an “elder,” but for a Millennial, they are more likely to approach respect as something that goes both ways and is earned through behaviors, character, etc.
Generations share many of the same core values, but their expression of the value is often different. We must all do the hard work to appreciate these differences and see their potential to make us better, together.
What’s your respect story? How do you feel about generations in the workplace? Any ideas on how we can respect each other and draw on our strengths and talents? Share your ideas with me! www.facebook.com/bravocc and @bravoplanbe on Twitter.
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Here’s to great conversations and finding common ground!