Why has the Millennial generation aroused such anger? Why do people seem to think it is OK to bash Millennials when they wouldn’t do the same thing to any racial, ethnic, or religious group? This is a question I keep asking myself when I see articles that make snide remarks about Millennials or when I hear older managers talk about the problems with having a younger generation in their workforce. What is behind the anger?
I have a few hypotheses. One is that the bashers are really envious of the lifestyle and approach of Millennials. Millennials have their whole lives ahead of them and they seem willing to take risks and make choices with their needs and goals in mind, even if those choices involve leaving jobs that are not working for them. When I type the previous sentence out, the words seem to mock me, ‘Why would anyone stay in a job that was not working for them?” Well, many boomers have done just that and we really wish that we could just pick up and leave. Yet we have made, as David Whyte says in The Heart Aroused, “Faustian bargains with our mortgages and car payments.” We are too indebted and our investment eggs have lost such value that we don’t believe we can voluntarily drop everything.
Secondly, Millennials currently demand the kind of company they want but that all of us need. The requests they make for challenging work, for feedback on their efforts, and for an opportunity to have a say in their future are things that everyone would like in the “workplace of our dreams.” Many boomers believe that although that would be desirable it is not, as some people would say, practical or realistic.
My third hypothesis is that Millennials ask questions that force us to look at our assumptions. They wonder why we accept the world as it is. Recently I received an American Girl catalogue and one of their featured dolls is Julie Albright, a girl from 1974. She actually represents the time of my initiation into the outside world. I was idealistic, engaged, energetic about wanting to make a difference, and involved in doing so. I wore bell-bottom jeans and tie-died shirts; I wanted peace; and while I didn’t actually protest, my heart was with those who did. Where has that person gone? For a long time it has not been fashionable to tout those values—we were supposed to have grown beyond that. But when Millennials make us remember the person we were, it makes us uneasy and we tend to lash out at them in response.
As my son Ian says, my version of heaven might look more closely like a Millennial’s than I really want to acknowledge.