Part 2 - The Two Millennial Promises
For Millennials, attending school during the bonanza days of the Celtic Tiger brought about some unexpected consequences. One that has been noted in various, inter-disciplinary research is that Millennials display lower levels of resilience than previous generations. There are many potential factors for this (including an increase in the reporting and recording of depression levels, for example) but many researchers point to the role their helicopter Baby Boomer and Generation X parents have had in shaping their worldview by communicating two promises in particular:
1. You can be anything you want to be, and
2. I’m always here for you
1. You can be anything you want to be
The idea that we can be anything we want to be is somewhat farfetched as so many factors remain outside of our control; our family of origin, our access to education, our physical health, the formative experiences that shape our wellbeing and sense of self, to name but a few.
In my own life, I wanted to be a pilot when I was younger but the fact that I inherited colourblindness from my maternal grandfather meant that no amount of work or effort could influence this sad reality of having my boyhood dream dashed. Instead, I had to learn to accept the situation, face my disappointment and choose a different career. But as a Millennial, growing up believing that I could be anything I wanted to be, it took me quite some time to deal with this disappointment. I had to learn about resilience at the coal face, and it wasn’t easy.
When parents and teachers communicated to me - both verbally and non-verbally - that I could be anything that I wanted to be, they weren’t in any way trying to do me a disservice. From their perspective, as access to education and reward for innovation had increased, they naturally imagined that I and my Millennial peers now had more opportunities than they had had growing up. They saw the flattening out of the hierarchical institutions of society and, from their perspective, it seemed like there were now fewer rungs of the career ladder to climb and more opportunities available for Millennials to have a voice and a position of leadership within their organisation of choice. The logic of many parents went something like this:
‘My parents told me to get a ‘permanent, penshionable job’. But if I had had the same opportunities as my Millennial child - where I could study in college for free, find a job in a growing economy, take initiative and be rewarded for it and perhaps even become an early-entrepreneur and tap into a global, digitally-connected economy… then I could have achieved far more. I could have been anything I wanted to be. My lucky children- they can be anything they want to be. So I'll do everything in my power to help them along the way.’
The flip side of this first promise, however, is something that most Millennials were never told; that you need to work incredibly hard for whatever you want. You have to make sacrifices. You will fail along the way and you will need to be resilient and find it within yourself to get back up and keep going every time things go wrong.
2. I’m always here for you
Unfortunately, the second promise, ‘I’m always here for you’, prevented many Millennials from learning from their difficult experiences of disappointment and failure. Why bother working a summer job when mum or dad will give you pocket money? Why study when you’ll get extra tuition before your exams? Why stick at a job you don’t like when your parents will let you live with them for free? Although this might sound harsh, as a Millennial who has seen each of these examples first hand, I think it’s important to mention them. Always having the security of 'the bank of mum or dad', not to mention their relentless emotional support as ‘helicopter parents’, has meant that many Millennials didn’t need to take full responsibility for themselves as adults until they were well into their twenties and thirties.
But in spite of these two well-meaning but disempowering promises, Millennials did acquire some very positive attributes in their formative years. Growing up at a time when digital technology was rapidly evolving, and learning about life-balance from their over-worked parents, Millennials developed many hugely positive traits which are crucial to the multi-generational workforce. Top of the list are an emphasis on values-based, quality experiences in the workplace, traits which naturally lead towards innovation and simplicity.
Innovation and Simplicity
Watching Baby Boomers and Generation Xers work so hard has influenced many Millennials to pursue a simpler lifestyle that is more focused on cultivating personal relationships and shared experiences rather than accumulating more and more ‘stuff’. Founders of social media sites and apps such as Facebook and Snapchat know that personal relationships and shared experiences are what motivate Millennials, and they are just a tiny proportion of the many innovators that have sought to facilitate human connection via the digital economy.
The upside of creating quality user experiences that value human relationships is that it has led to the evolution of, not only an entire industry, but an entire economy that continues to radically disturb the traditional ways of doing business. Just think of how AirBnB, a company founded ten years ago by three young Millennials, is affecting generations-old, traditional hotel chains; AirBnB is already worth more than double the value of the Hilton hotel chain.
Millennials want to have a high quality of life and participate in fun, learning experiences on a regular basis. The corner office, the company car and the title on the door simply don’t motivate the average Millennial in the same way they would have for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Neither does being told what to do from within a traditional ‘command and control’ leadership paradigm.
The growth in online, collaborative gaming has meant that instant feedback has been part of the formative team experiences of many Millennials. Feedback, therefore, has to be given quickly and often, almost immediately after events have taken place. In fact, the notion of feedback is quickly becoming old-hat for Millennials and is being replaced by ‘feed-forward’; the co-creation of a meaningful future, where leader and team member, boss and direct report, sit down before a project and talk about what they each expect from the experience.
To Generation X and Baby Boomers this can seem unnecessary and tedious, displaying the high level of ‘entitlement’ from Millennial colleagues. But to Millennials, this is not just common courtesy - this is the essence of engagement, motivation and influence, by really having one’s voice heard and taking an active, responsible role in any work they are involved in.
Patrick Boland, March 2018.