“How Millennials Are Ruining The Workforce,” it read, “and everything else.”
I’ve been reading Philadelphia Magazine for years, since I knew I’d be attending Temple and planting roots here in the city. Usually I can’t put it down, but after seeing this headline, I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough.
Here’s how it goes: Millennials, a group loosely defined as those born between the mid-1980s and late 90s—essentially those who are just now legal adults to those in their mid-30s—are labeled as being lazy, impatient and unwilling to put in any real effort. They are self-serving creatures who want big things and they want them, like, right now.
Sandy Hingston, the article’s author and long-time writer at Philly Mag, mirrored this thinking, saying young people want, “‘hardwood floors, greenery and sunlight,’ gourmet staff breakfasts, ‘nap rooms,’ ping-pong tables, slides, rooftop lounges and beer on tap,” in the workplace.
“Another plus in millennials’ favor,” she said with obvious sarcasm: “They’re unafraid to publicly challenge their elders, even when it makes them look deeply foolish.”
So here I am, Hingston, challenging you—willing to look foolish in the hopes that you may be able to open up your view of people “my age.”
See, this article is nothing new. I’ve read several other articles dismissing up-and-comers in an industry for being inexperienced and unwilling to work from the ground up. We’ve been told time and time again that we’re all the same in who we are and how we act. We hear the discontent from Boomers like yourself, but I’m not sure what you’re proposing for us.
Here’s what it’s like being on the other side.
You mention Millennials wanting to be heard in the workplace, saying, “You know what’s awkward from an elder’s standpoint? Being expected to listen to and appreciate people who haven’t earned that right.”
While I know some young people who exhibit traits Hingston describes—I can name too many people with Snapchat and Instagram addictions that border on unhealthy obsessions—I believe wanting to be an integral part of your work is a timeless trait that shouldn’t be relegated to only those at the top of the food chain.
What perplexes me about many people who make this argument—that newcomers in an industry ought to bide their time, stay silent and suck up any and all information from their superiors—is that it leaves no room for actual learning.
“People who know more get to say more,” she wrote. “People who don’t know squat are supposed to watch and learn.”
There is so much to learn in any industry from those who have been doing it for years. But there is a certain point, especially in our industry, where watching has to become doing in order to really learn.
Since we’re talking about generalizations, as a self-identified “Boomer,” you’ve been down this road yourself. The Boomer generation is said to have secured jobs and comfy places in the suburbs with ease. They’ve been known to have economic advantages because of the strong job market that followed the end of World War II. They’ve even been blamed for the destruction of the American economy, as Washington Post writer Jim Tankersley said in a November article.
“If anyone deserves to pay more to shore up the federal safety net, either through higher taxes or lower benefits, it’s Boomers—the generation that was born into some of the strongest job growth in the history of America, gobbled up the best parts, and left its children and grandchildren with some bones to pick through and a big bill to pay,” Tankersley wrote.
It’s a strange time to be 20 years old. Never has a population carried so much collective education and subsequent debt while searching in a job market still full of adults who were born and grew up in a successful economy.
When it comes to affording the education we need to compete for the limited jobs available, we have to keep up with staggering inflation. In 1986, average college tuition was about $10,000. If tuition rose with the rate of inflation since then, we would owe $21,500 today, according to Forbes.com
This is not the case. Tuition and other college expenses have risen at a rate of about 500 percent, meaning someone who used to pay $10,000 on average will now have to come up with nearly $60,000, surpassing the inflation rate by two and a half times.
I’d say the students who are able to accept unpaid internships are more likely to fit into this category of “cotton-swathed” youngsters who are (disrespectfully?) “too polite” to their superiors that Hingston wrote about. From my experience, this level of comfort and entitlement comes only from a life of privilege that would enable those to work for free.
My dad attended Temple too, thirty years ago. When we sent in my first tuition payments, he amused himself by finding the documents for his first semester here, telling me he worked as a lifeguard each summer to cover expenses.
I, like many of my peers, work year-round to help chip away at the growing debt I’m acquiring here at Temple. Last semester, I worked 40 hours between two jobs and made the Dean’s List for the fourth consecutive semester.
These words are inherent bragging, yes, but I find myself saying them on repeat to adults who tell me over and over again how easy “us kids” have it.
What we want out of life may differ from your generation, and I’m sure what my kids will yearn for will be vastly different from the “hardwood floors and sunlight” my generation supposedly wants.
You are right, Hingston. We want work-life balance. We want to wear jeans to work and enjoy the time we spend there. We want to study things and have jobs that make us happy.
But what that tells me about my generation, a concept that doesn’t seem to resonate with many of the nine-to-five adults who tell me I’ll never make any money as a journalist, is that we want to enjoy the life that we have—even if it doesn’t fit the conventions that were given to us by those who blindly followed.
The good thing about all this noise about Millennials from those who say we’ll end the world, is that it is just that—noise.
The Millennial population surpassed the Baby Boomers in 2015, the Pew Research Center reported, but they’ve made up the largest portion of Philadelphia for a while now. In December 2013, Philadelphia Magazine published the issue “The Millennial Revolution” to talk about the group’s growing impact on the city.
The young people the article profiled valued the diversity, equality and lifestyle available to them here.
While some call them “self-starters” and “entrepreneurs,” others, like Hingston, call them entitled. Whatever you want to call it, young people are changing the way people work in Philadelphia and across the world.
And like it or not, we’re here to stay.
Paige Gross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @By_paigegross.