Why you should remove the word “millennial” from your vocabulary in 2018


I’ll admit, 10-15 years ago, I was kind of naive about how business worked.  I am happy to say I’ve learned a lot over the years, and while still optimistic, the naïveté has tapered off.

In 2003, I picked up a book called “Employing Generation Why” by Eric Chester.  At the time, I thought it contained some really helpful and insightful information about dealing with the new generation of younger employees entering the workforce. And here’s where the naïveté comes in… I thought people would read this book (or ones like it), figure out the “generations” quagmire, develop some best practices and move on. I really thought once we figured this out we wouldn’t have to talk about it any more.

Boy, was I wrong.

Fast forward to 2018, and we are still having the same conversation about ‘millennials’ that we were having in 2003 (and even before). If history, and the lessons I’ve learned over the last 15 years are any guide, I think the reason were still have the SAME conversation is that it is the WRONG conversation.

We keep talking about the differences between generations.  Gen X does this, milennials do that. We study the years people where born and the significant world events that likely shaped their way of thinking.

Unfortunately, while this type of conversation makes us feel better about our own generation, it does nothing to help build relationships.  It allows us to be stuck in the mindset of “my generation is better than yours” . Na, na, nah boo-boo!

We also then start to stereotype.  Once we put a label on someone, we feel like we know something about them and how they behave, so we adjust our behavior accordingly. Problem is, when you stereotype (based on ANY label) you risk alienating people based on your biases and assumptions.

Don’t get me wrong, there are differences in how people of different ages behave and view the world, but those differences exist with people of the same age, too.  Putting people into generational boxes is NOT HELPING.  That’s why I implore you to remove not only the word “millennial” from your vocab in 2018, but all the useless generational labels that are currently in vogue.

Baby Boomer.  Generation X. Tranditionalists. The Greatest Generation. Generation Y. iGen.

They are all equally useless. And, by the way, made up.

There is no official entity that tracks generations. The categorization of generations was made up by authors, management gurus and consultants as way to sell books, management practices and training programs. And it worked, too, because people inherently wanted to make sense of something they couldn’t understand. But we went about it in completely the wrong way, which is why we’re still talking about this today.

My mantra when it comes to exploring differences in generations in the workplace is two fold.

  1. Get over it. 
  2. Deal with it.

Get over your preconceived notion that there are these massive gaps in understanding among people of different ages.  We all want to be loved, cared for, and to provide value.  We also all want to be connected to the outside world, and phones are not the only culprit.

Once you make the emotional decision to get over it, to stop dwelling on it, to realize that you just have to deal with reality, then you can do something about it… you can DEAL WITH IT!

How do you deal with? By getting to know your employees.  By being diligent about teaching them how to be good employees. By understanding that young people (no matter when they walked the Earth) need guidance and encouragement, not a lecture about how you walked up hill to school with no shoes.

By the way, I’d like to know exactly when we started thinking that a 15-year old was going to come into the work place with the same skills and work ethic as a 30-year old?  That’s what it seems like we are expecting when we complain about “kids these days” always being on the phone and not wanting to work.

As I said above, we all want to be connected to something, so why not get your employees connected to your business? Instead of complaining about the phone, give them a reason to not be on it (and it’s not just a policy).  Provide a compelling reason for them to concentrate on the work you need them to do and they will stay off their phone.  They go to the phone because they are bored, and that’s because WE haven’t given them a reason to care about what they are doing.

That’s part of dealing with it… by not just accepting the status quo. Maybe the positions and jobs you have someone doing are outdated? Maybe you need to provide more options for input and self expression?  That has to be monitored, and is more difficult than assigning a script, but maybe that’s what needs to happen to engage your employees and keep them off their phones?

My friend Josh Liebman tells the story of when he worked at Cedar Point, and most of the attractions had automated spiels.  Great for consistency, not so great for encouraging the employees to have fun.  They then decided to allow employees to make the spiels live and put their own spin on it… they had fun, added in some coaster trivia and other fun facts, and the guests loved it.

That’s probably why a fews years ago I heard an attendant at Gemini doing the safety spiels as Cartman from South Park. It was hilarious.

I don’t think that kind of service or experience happens when we put each other into generational boxes. I don’t think it happens when we stereotype and treat the majority based on the actions of the minority. I also don’t think it happens if we don’t get to know your employees and find out what their particular strengths and struggles are.

That’s your job as a leader. And if you want to know what your employees want or need, ask them. You won’t find a better resource for what will make them outstanding employees.

Related: Adam Conover – Millennials Don’t Exist

Thanks for reading!

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2 thoughts on “Why you should remove the word “millennial” from your vocabulary in 2018

  1. Hi Matt – I think you really hit the proverbial nail on the head. Years ago I spent a lot of time trying to direct my training segments to certain generations. Then I realized, as did you, that people are more alike than different. Treatings employees, as well as guests without the stereotype of their generations, can really open our perception of who they are. For our guests – not all seniors have dementia. Not all younger guests are difficult to talk to. I love how freeing employees up to have fun and make work fun is a terrific idea. So, in other words, once again you have opened new visions for trainers and managers. Good for you.

    • Thanks, Donna! I appreciate your perspective! The tide on generational studies started to turn for me when I was teaching a class and had just gone over the characteristics of Gen Y. A person who fell into that age group spoke up and said, “that’s not me.” From that point forward I was skeptical, and found myself falling further and further out of agreement with the “experts”. Even those folks are changing their message now. Thanks again for the kind words, Donna. Not surprised we’re on the same page! :o)

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