Millennial Matters: Could we stop and just slow roll the hating on Gen Y?

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I was going to lay off of this series for a week; here at ArCompany we’ve been thinking a lot about how marketers see and think about Millennials, and how important it is that we ‘get it right.’ We earnestly believe that this massive generation is changing so much about the way we think, purchase, and use technology, and that they’ve only just begun.

After the push back I received from Millennials on that initial post we decided that we were going to do something different; instead of analyzing Gen Y from afar, we’re going to engage them here at ArCompany on a regular basis; we are forming our own Millennial Think Tank. We’re in the process of interviewing and lining up members; by next week we should have our first online meeting in some form. Stay tuned – it will be interesting. With all of that, I thought I’d let this series sit idle for a Sunday.

Until my very wise, curmudgeon-y, older GenX friend Mike Pollack poked me one too many times. You see, outside of the circle of marketing friends I have, my ‘other’ friends get a bit weary of what they perceive as my Millennial Worship. Mike likes to take regular shots at what he has called the ‘do nothing generation,’ and I regularly tell him how wrong he is.

Mike isn’t alone on this issue – the disparaging names I often hear about Millennials go something like this:

  • The Look at Me Generation
  • The Everyone Gets a Trophy Generation
  • The Entitled Generation

My exact inspiration for this blog was this vapid post about “Generation Validation” by Annie Daly on Elle. I don’t know Annie Daly, but from what I gather from her Linked In profile she is an older Millennial and freelances for People, Cosmopolitan and other lifestyle magazines. I don’t blame Daly for her Millennial bashing post;it is currently one of the hot things to do, and hell, get published if you can when you’re freelancing.

However, I would pose some very specific questions for anyone nodding their head in agreement to Daly’s post:

What is so very different about the need for validation written about in the post?

You’re telling me that you don’t know lots of people of all ages who dress up and want to be told they look good?

And how many workplace comedians have you known who tell the joke expecting congratulations on their comedic brilliance? I don’t believe Millennials have cornered the market on this specific trait.

My Boomer friend Mel Horn summed up my point perfectly with his response:

We were accused of much the same thing.

The Damage of Disparaging

As Mel pointed out so succinctly, it has long been en vogue to disparage the younger generations, and Millennials’ size and impact makes them an even more enjoyable target for some. On another Facebook conversation my colleague and friend Ryan Cox weighed in with perfect sense:

My $0.02…the ‘entitlement generation’ isn’t mine, it’s the current generation in “power” where both the government (big govt) and the rich (top 1%) seem to be the most ‘entitled’ of all.

I truly believe a hard reset of both common sense, responsibilities and expectations is what is needed. If big government oversight and top 1% power continue down the path we’re trending, there will not be an America (as we know it in terms of prestige and power) to be the govt. or top 1% of. (and I firmly believe that)

That is exactly why I think the sport of damning needs to be taken far more seriously now: Boomers and to some degree Gen X-ers have dug Millennials an unfathomable hole in regards to debt, societal ills, and the environment. It may be fun to rag on what makes them different than us, but to pretend that somehow they have it easier than we did is totally delusional. We better hope like hell that the naysayers aren’t right, because the Millennial generation is in many ways our last, best hope.

Why Hope Outweighs My Pessimism

I didn’t start out a lover of Millennials; a few years back I probably echoed many of the disparaging thoughts I now regularly reject about Gen Y. The reason for my change in outlook is very valid: it comes from my everyday experiences. I am blessed that I work in the social media/tech/online world where the opportunity to work and interact with smart young people is part of my everyday work life.

Not only has my Social Justice series provided me with insight into just how entrepreneurial and socially responsible many Millennials are, I get to watch people like Daniel Hebert and DJ Thistle over at Steamfeed, stepping up the quality of online business publications.  I watch as Millennial thinker Daniel Newman turns the idea of the ‘do nothing’ label on its head, he’s so busy creating so much great stuff. Susan Silver, blogger and community manager extraordinaire, is another daily reason that I refuse to believe the negative hype about Gen Y.

I am also inspired because this generation is more civic minded than any in recent memory; they volunteer regularly at high rates. They vote. They start companies instead of waiting around for a job that won’t come. They hold brands accountable because getting the cheapest product available is not usually the highest issue to impact their purchasing decisions.

Of course in that last paragraph I made a lot of sweeping generalizations; Millennials are not a monolith. There are 80 million of them! That means that of course there are lazy navel gazers amongst them, just like there have been for every generation. I think back to Thoreau’s Walden and think: how many older folks thought of him that way when he took off on his reclusive excursion?

So, like I said in my last post, I’ve decided that the way to really ‘get’ Gen Y is to talk to them on a regular basis. Lots of them, as if they are actually real people. By next week we should have our Millennial Think Tank together, and it will give you the opportunity to ask real questions of real Millennials without the veil of  “journalism” standing in the way.

photo credit: bluewinx15(BACK) via photopin cc

0 thoughts on “Millennial Matters: Could we stop and just slow roll the hating on Gen Y?

  1. JoeCardillo says:

    Well done Amy. 
    We haven’t had a chance to really talk about this yet but I’m looking forward to digging in. I think a lot of your analysis is spot on, and being on the upper end of Gen Y I can confirm that I’m regularly subjected to the standard chatter about how vapid we are, as if there weren’t airheads and disingenuous, simplistic people in previous generations. 

    I do see a disconnect in how we are portrayed, and how we actually are. One of the biggest factors is that previous generations seem to equate attention span / multitasking to dumbness. While it’s problematic (for everyone I know, regardless of age) I think it’s a reason people think of the generation so poorly despite the fact that it doesn’t fit the case for causation, and the correlation is questionable as well. Anyway, there’s a much longer comment and blog post in this, which I’ll look forward to.

  2. AmyMccTobin says:

    JoeCardillo Well, one day I’m going to make you write an ENTIRE POST on here Joe. 🙂

  3. hessiejones says:

    Amy, I had this discussion last night when I was with some friends. A friend, who works for the government, was talking about going on strike again. I just shook my head when I began to hear the context of the discussion. Government workers striking in solidarity so that another group within the union could have more vacation days. At another extreme, some of these workers were up in arms because as daycare providers, they were feeling the gov’t shutdown’s impact of their own jobs. The families who relied on daycare services, they said, would find other alternatives and abandon the government daycare services because of the striking workers. 

    It made me realize how “entitled” these people were — people who would see a pension when 95% of the workforce would not; people with job security because of the union; people who largely still think about their own survival and not the impact on others. 

    Another friend spoke about her husband’s job, of 40 years, coming to an end with the company deciding to move the work to China. The response to this?  Well that’s not fair? How could they do this to him?

    It made me realize how much my life was so much different than my friends: I never relied on job security. I was a nomad in life and in career and I kept my skills “relevant” based on market demand. Working in the tech industry means that today’s technology gets old very quickly. To stay ahead of the game you need to keep moving, keep learning and never stay in place too long to become irrelevant. 

    In some ways, this is why I fear for and yet admire the next generation. They will know that working means “never’ taking work for granted. They must rely on themselves to make their own fate. Long gone are the days of strong economies, work stability and job security. Remaining relevant is the name of the game.

    Volatile economies in Europe and in the US have figured out that they must change mindset and fiscal policy in order to survive. This, they laid on the very shoulders of Gen X and Gen Y. 

    On top of this, the aging boomer population will mean even less tax dollars will be going to benefit the younger generations. Health care costs will increase and the younger generations will pay to ensure Boomers are taken care of. The impact on the our own future is not yet known.

    I could go on about environmental effects on our world that will drastically change “everyone’s” priority when its drastic impacts make themselves known.

    I know I sound fatalistic but I also have confidence in this next generation. I know they will do the right things because they are a product of their environment and they’ve seen the missteps that previous generations have made.

    Time will tell and these challenges will, I think, make them shine even more.

  4. hessiejones says:

    AmyMccTobin JoeCardillo Here here:) Would love that Joe!

  5. JoeCardillo says:

    hessiejones AmyMccTobin JoeCardillo Oh definitely, I’m happy to. I have a whole bunch more thoughts on this.

  6. AmyMccTobin says:

    hessiejones AND THAT is why you are not afraid of Millennials and their behavior patterns. YOU have been a nomad by choice… they have had none. But still, I think it’s a better choice to not be dependent upon one entity for your future, and instead to be dependent upon yourself.

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