The first thing I did when I woke up this morning was use my iPhone. I grabbed it so that I could turn off my alarm but, once it was in my hand, I took the opportunity to update myself on the world. I browsed my Facebook and checked my emails, clearing my phone of all the notifications that had come in overnight. I read the news, looked at some gifs on Tumblr and liked a photo on Instagram – all before getting out of bed.
For most Millennials – according to the Pew Research Center, a demographic born between the years 1981 and 1996 – and many others, this is a normal routine. But it’s also what many critics cite as the youngest generation’s most prominent failing: an impulsive reliance on technology that makes them “minimally employable,” as Jennifer Graham put it in a column for The Boston Globe. She paints a picture of ambitionless “trophy kids” who would rather hide away in their rooms, playing with expensive gadgets, than go out and find a job. They want success without all the hard work that comes with it.
But, even when Millennials do manage to get hired, they’re the focus of increasingly negative reviews from their employers. A chronic complaint of employers is Millennials’ propensity for over-sharing, especially on workplace-oriented social networks. Andrew McAfee, a program director at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, writes on the Harvard Business Review blog that “one of the knocks against Generation Y is that they’ve been encouraged to believe that everything they say and think is interesting, and should be aired and shared. This is simply not true for anyone, no matter what reality TV producers would have us believe.”
Millennials are difficult to manage. Millennials aren’t passionate about their work and will jump ship as soon as they’re offered higher pay or flashier perks. And, if a Millennial does stick around, they will have a screen to their face at all times. A simple Google search of “Millennials in the workplace” will yield a vast excess of blog posts propagating these stereotypes.
Articles and videos offer advice to managers on how to handle their troublesome new employees, some more constructive than others. A September 2013 article by Entrepreneur leads with the questionable headline “6 Tips for Managing Millennials (Whether You Find Them to be Entitled or Not)” but the article – to its credit – gives advice that demonstrates a basic understanding of what makes Millennials tick. Tips include creating “micro-moments for mentorship” and providing “purpose, not perks.” It even encourages readers to “see beyond the stereotypes.”
This final piece of advice will be the key to a peaceful and profitable relationship between Millennials and the generations that came before them. Each generation has specialized skills that are a product of the world it grew up in, and all of these skills has a place in advancing the world we all live in. In the case of Millennials, their worst fault could actually be their greatest asset.
The term “digital native” describes someone born after the Digital Revolution, which began in the late 1970s and played itself out over the last few decades of the 20th Century. According to Techopedia, “the term digital native doesn’t refer to a particular generation. Instead, it is a catch-all category for children who have grown up using technology like the Internet, computers and mobile devices.”
To be clear, Millennials are not the only digital natives, and not all Millenials are digital natives. But many are, and it happens that these smartphone-toting youngsters are the same ones being criticized by their employers.
As computer technology advances, so too will its potential applications in the workplace. But these advances will push into uncharted territory, and a successful business will require the deft integration of modern technology and long-held business practices so as not to go astray. It may be true that Millennials lack the skills that would make them great leaders right now, but these skills come with experience, which takes time – an area in which previous generations have a clear advantage. However it would be foolish for previous generations to look down on the one major skill set that many Millennials bring to the table, one that will help these businesses navigate into the future: an affinity for technology.
From troubleshooting computer problems to designing web pages, Millennials’ technology skills can be employed across a wide range of tasks. And if past trends are any indicator of how technology will continue to develop, it will soon be essential for a business to have a staff well versed in the subtleties of computers and the Internet. It will be even more essential that this staff can quickly learn to use whatever new program or hardware is thrown its way. Fortunately for everyone, this is a skill that Millennials were born with.
But, unfortunately for Millennials, it isn’t easy to convince an old dog that it needs to learn a new trick. New technology has great potential, but old-school employers are often content to continue using the same tools they started with. Millennials, on the other hand, have a discerning eye for situations when technology might eliminate work and improve efficiency. Employers should seize the opportunity to take advantage of digital natives’ skills but, ultimately, it is the Millennial’s responsibility to step up and demonstrate when these skills can be applied.
More importantly, for the sake of their generation, it is a Millenial’s responsibility to demonstrate that a smartphone can be used for much more than just taking #selfies.
– By Nick Bradley