Do you complain about Millennials? - a message from a Gen Xer to baby boomers and GenXers alike

I smirk when baby boomers and Gen Xers (my generation) complain about Millennials. ‘Disloyal’, ‘unable to focus’, ‘low stress tolerance’, ‘want instant gratification’ and even ‘unleadable’ are just a few of the criticisms I hear when I speak about Millennials in the workforce.

We, baby boomers and Gen Xers, often forget that we were quite rebellious ourselves. Because of it, we were the first generations to earn special labels. Before that, young people were simply “youngsters” with a mind of their own.

However, what about Millennials? How do these young adults differ from previous generations?

Consider the difference in upbringing between today’s and past generations:

  • We, baby boomers and GenX, raised our children based on a fairly equal relationship compared to our parents’ authoritarian approach.
  • In additional to regular schooling, we sat next to our kids to help them with their homework and enrolled them for tuition so they could become successful at school. Unheard of half a century ago (unless you were royalty).
  • We wanted our youngsters to have the best possible education to succeed in life, all the way through university. In earlier generations, University was for the selected few.
  • We praised our kids to the sky and told them they can do anything they want. Baby boomers were brought up hearing that they had to work hard if they wanted to succeed.
  • We gave our sons and daughters all the gadgets that they wanted and more. As soon as there was a slight ‘need’ or just ‘want’, we gave it to them. Looking back; I saved half my weekly pocket money for years to buy my first Philips cassette recorder.

Labelling different generations is a reflection of the rapid change of our society, which hopefully is also for the better. Different upbringing and different environments do mean different behaviour. However, the good old times were not always that good. We raised our kids to look eye-to-eye with us, because we despised our parents’ authority (and perhaps even their spanking). We devoted ourselves to our kids, because, back in the days when we had seven siblings, we felt neglected by our parents. Many of us knew hardship, and we wanted the best for our kids.

So whose “fault” is it that Millennials have a lack of respect for authority, that they see lifelong learning as an inherent right, and expect constant feedback? Who’s to blame for Millennials being online 24/7 and having a low ability to focus on one task at the time?

Can we rather focus on the wonderful things Millennials bring to society, because of how we raised them?

Millennials…

  • … are critical thinkers, because we taught them that they have a voice.
  • … have experienced trusted relations within their parents, which they are ready to replicate in many different interpersonal relationships.
  • … know that open communication builds trusted relationships and is good for getting things done.
  • … are flexible – the sharing economy helps them to take flexible life choices, that are more sustainable for the world, too.
  • … have a thirst for making a real impact, which, combined with critical thinking and good education will mean loads of innovation and process improvement.
  • … have a strong desire to do good – to work for a company where they can contribute to the greater good.

As a result, Millennials do challenge us to be our best selves. Let’s thank them for it!

By Mette Johansson, founder of MetaMind Training, author of "How to Make Yourself Promotable - 7 skills to help you climb the career ladder" and speaker on leadership topics, including Authentic Leadership – “Unmask The Leader Within”

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