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THOMPSON: Time to cut Millennials some slack

March 04, 2019 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


As Kermit the Frog lamented in 1970, “It’s not easy being green.” And while the undeniably adorable amphibian didn’t sing it with Millennials in mind…it could be the anthem for those born between 1977 and 1992.

I did some research last week and freely admit I had to adjust my perceptions of Millennials just a bit. If you check Google - as I did - you’ll find variously that “Millennials are…lazy, worthless, entitled, selfish” and so on.

There are a lot of generalizations about Millennials. The problem is generalizations are, well, too general. In fact, generalizations aren’t all together accurate in portraying anyone or anything. And anecdotes are even less reliable. For example, if your neighbour’s Millennial son is actually lazy…and he’s one of the few you know…that colours your perception and you’re more likely to believe most Millennials are lazy.

One thing, for sure, Millennials have been conditioned for a couple of decades to think of themselves as less worthy than previous generations. Again, simply look at the thousands of articles over the last decade that say as much.

A lot of us talk about Millennials much like the weather…often with wonder and indignation but with a good measure of resignation…“It’s just the way things are.” These conversation are, of course, not usually held when Millennials are present. That would be…well, fair. My research shows that most of the crap we’ve heard specifically about Millennials simply isn’t the case.  

I’ve heard - and likely even said - that Millennials aren’t anything like their parents or grandparents. Well, my research shows convincingly that Millennials want interesting and challenging work, rewards on the basis of their contributions and the opportunity to work hard and grow. Hmmmm? Sounds pretty much like the very things I wanted when when I was 30.

Yes, Millennials define success and getting ahead somewhat differently than previous generations…Generation X or Baby Boomers. For example, I discovered that Millennials value job titles and 401(k)s less than my gerneration. Maybe they saw that the security their parents and grandparents thought they had didn’t really exist. Talk to one of these thirty-somethings today and they most value paid time off, flexible working hours and recognition for results.

I also found that Millennials are the largest portion of today’s workforce in America and Canada…just over 37 percent…versus 33 percent for the next largest segment…Baby Boomers. So, whether Millennials are different in some ways than previous workforces or not, we need to recognize they are a force…not a minority that can be ignored…or overly criticized.

Research shows that Millennials - just like Generation Xers and Baby Boomers - want their kids to have more and better opportunities and live better lives than their own. Surprise, everyone loves their kids. Sure there’s little doubt that Millennials have been given more of almost everything. But Baby Boomers were given more than their parents had…the Silent Generation born in the 1920s and 1930s. So, who’s spoiled?”

I often hear some older folks like me say that Millennials aren’t very sophisticated financially and aren’t saving for the future. The truth is they aren’t much different than Baby Boomers when it comes to putting cash away for a rainy day. Only half of Millennials have at least $10,000 saved…but only about 60 percent of Baby Boomers have saved that much…and they’ve had decades more time to do it.

Also, I hear my peers complain about Millennials sitting in the same room texting...or never putting their Smart Phones down. Well, that’s true to a great extent. So what? Hey, this generation grew up with technology…technology we afforded them. Do we have a right to complain about them using what we gave them? Maybe. My parents made fun of me for wearing long hair and listening to Rock-N-Roll music. A check of history shows that one generation has complained about the succeeding generation for nearly 2,500 years.

And maybe my Millennial family members in the same room are just texting things about my wife, Bonnie, and me. They can’t really say aloud, “Can’t believe they know less about their television than their five-year-old grandson!” And, hell, I remember walking around everywhere with a bag-phone with a battery ten times bigger than today’s Smart Phone in the 1980s…boy, was I important or what?

Bottom line? Sure, Millennials have their issues…we all do. And they have a right to worry just as we all have done as we go through life. For example, there are some troubling and unique disparities for Millennials. They are the most educated generation ever…with nearly 40 percent holding a bachelor’s degree or better versus 29 percent for Baby Boomers. But the earnings gap between Millennials who have a degree and those who don’t has never been wider.

What discourages me most about Millennials is something they could not control. They inherited a world that we older folks didn’t take care of as well as we should have. They’re saddled with climate change for one big thing. And most of them…even those without university degrees understand just how big a concern that is…while some older folks still debate whether science knows what it’s talking about.

One thing I’m pretty sure of after doing my research into Millennials…maybe we should cut these folks some slack. We are leaving them with some pretty thorny problems…and it will be their ingenuity, passions, persistence and use of technology that might make the world better for their kids.

So, the next time I find myself thinking how ridiculous Millennial behaviours might be…maybe I’ll just do a Google search and try to figure out how to switch from Netflix back to television. After all, “It’s not easy being green.”

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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