I recently read an op-ed claiming that millennials are terrible workers: They don’t know how to communicate. They only want to work forty hours a week. They feel entitled.
Remember stories about slackers? Before that it was hippies. Beatniks. In each case, young people were smeared as lazy and unmanageable. The problem with this prejudice, like all other forms of prejudice, is that it demeans an entire group, and it is a simplification. I share some concern about the impact of texting on how we communicate. However, I know many people in their forties and fifties who hide behind texting when they should be making a call or holding a face-to-face meeting.
What’s wrong with millennials? The same thing that was wrong with slackers, hippies, and beatniks: They don’t control the mainstream media, and they aren’t making hiring decisions.
What I have seen in millennials is a type of realism about what work should be. One of my millennial clients took a big pay cut to have a better quality of life. I challenged her to think about how long it will take to make up the lost income and related raises. Without skipping a beat, she asked me what good the money will be if she is always miserable. She thought through what she was giving up and what she was gaining. I would call that good career management.
Are some millennials lazy? Of course. There were lazy Baby Boomers and probably even some lazy folks in the Greatest Generation. My impression is that millennials want to work in jobs that interest them and treat them fairly. They have learned from watching their parents and older brothers and sisters work hard with little reward. They understand the game.
According to the business website 24/7 Wall Street, unemployed workers are moving to big cities. Some of the cities in the South and Southwest that have attracted new residents, such as Tampa and Las Vegas, have endured high unemployment. Denver and Houston are drawing people because their unemployment rates are below the national average. This article follows a trend that Fortune editor Leigh Gallagher has described in her book, The End of the Suburbs. People are voting for life that has more options and is less dependent on the automobile. According to Gallagher, young professionals, those who are most challenged in the current job market, do not want to live in suburbs. This trend will impact how people work as well as how they live. Cities are back, and that’s a good thing for our economy and culture.
What if a young person doesn’t work between the ages of 16-24? AP reports that 15% of Americans in this age group are unemployed and have little prospect of finding work anytime soon. The report notes that people who don’t work during this period fail to learn skills that they will need later in life. I would take this problem to a more basic level: These young people will not have the opportunity to learn how to work. While I preach the importance of skills, there are more fundamental elements involved in working: getting up in the morning, getting to work on time, listening to the boss, and putting out a good effort. We learn our work ethic early, and too many young Americans are not having the opportunity to learn how to work.
What should be done? The best answer is that we need more good jobs for adults, so young people can work lower level jobs while they are in school. While some manufacturing is coming back to the U.S., it’s too little, too slow. The next best alternative would be some kind of government sponsored program, which were common just a few years ago. Again, this solution seems impossible in a political era that is captivated by the idea of cutting spending rather than growing an economy by investing in the country and its people. What is the solution? I don’t know. It almost feels like our leaders want young people to fail. They care more about what is owed to banks and investors today than what we out to the generations that will be leaders tomorrow. To me, that is the true definition of bankruptcy – moral bankruptcy.