I make my living from consulting, writing, and speaking about the multi-generation workforce. And even though they’ve now been in the workforce for 20 years, I’m still asked daily what I think about millennials.
What’s behind this obsession with the millennials? It’s simple. We haven't liked their attitude toward work, and we want to fix it.
Guess what? It’s time for managers (and parents) to get over it. It’s time for consultants and the media to stop playing into the millennial hype and leveraging it for personal gain. And here’s why:
1. Millennials aren’t kids anymore.
Bashers of millennials often use the term to include every child, teenager and young adult, but this isn’t accurate. Millennials were born between 1980 and 1996, so that makes the youngest of them about 20 years old and the oldest 37. Each and every day, nearly 11,000 of them turn 30.
The truth is that lumping 80 million people into one neat stereotype is a risky business. Besides, most of the millennials are highly productive workers, successful entrepreneurs, and valuable contributors to our communities. They are functioning quite well.
Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce. By 2025, a whopping 75% of working age adults will be millennials. So, instead of complaining about or trying to change millennials, it behooves us to figure out what changes we need to make to recruit, hire, manage and retain this generation — and move on because there are much bigger problems that need attention.
2. Don’t shoot the messenger (or the teacher).
There’s no doubt the attitudes of millennials can be disruptive in the workplace. Why? Because the only world they know is being disrupted. They aren’t any happier about our shifting world than we are. They can’t imagine much less comprehend the change happening right before their eyes any better than we can. The only difference between them and us is they’re used to exponential change, and we’re not.
Let’s remember they didn’t create the shifting ground beneath our feet — they were born into it. They’ve lived their whole lives with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (what some call the VUCA environment). We haven’t. So maybe, just maybe, they have something to teach us.
The world is changing rapidly, and the pace of that change is accelerating. Just about everything we know and believe about work, jobs, careers and the workplace will be significantly different from this day forward. We need to stop taking aim at the millennials and embrace and engage them instead. It’s time to use them as our guides to the future, as the liaison between our past and their future.
Here’s the bottom line:
Millennials didn’t just suddenly land on Earth and invade the workplace. Thousands of books and articles warned of their entry and announced their arrival. They’ve been in the workforce for almost two decades, and for just about every day of those two decades, the media has been talking about their impact on labor markets, consumer buying and society.
However, instead of trying to understand them and bridge gaps, many people opted to either ignore them or complain about them. Our biggest, scariest problem isn’t the millennials (or retiring baby boomers or upstart Gen Z or the maturing Gen X). Managing the exponential change in the workplace is the real challenge for all of us, no matter what generation we belong to.
Success will come to those who are agile enough to adapt quickly and adept enough to simplify complexity. Many of those masters and managers of change are going to be millennials. It’s time to reach out and engage them as the valued guides they can be on an uncertain and complex journey we all share.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.