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  • Writer's pictureLiz Breen

Millennials Only Want What Boomers Had

Updated: Dec 20, 2018

I am a Millennial, the generation which (according to Google's autocomplete) is ruining cheese, the workplace, Applebee's, vacation, Thanksgiving, brunch & the wine industry. In that order. And while I'm tempted to spend this entire post talking about how Applebee's has no one to blame but itself, I actually came here to talk about #2 on that list — the workplace.

I'm sure, Millennial or not, we all know the accusations mounted against my generation as it pertains to the workplace. We're entitled. We're impatient. We're unwilling to "pay our dues." We make demands rather than requests, demands for autonomy and flexibility and ping pong tables and nap rooms. Older generations seem to approach us with equal parts fear and disdain for the ways in which we are bucking tradition. The more I navigate my own career, though, the more I find myself wondering if Millennials are the ones bucking important, longstanding traditions or if the most important traditions have already been stripped away, and Millennials are merely reacting to this loss, trying to fill a void we cannot even name.

Recently, as part of my job, I had the opportunity to interview Thomas DeLong, the very much not-Millennial author of the book Flying Without A Net: Turn Fear of Change Into Fuel For Success. He studies and writes and lectures about organizational behavior, and he discussed an interesting phenomenon. Whenever he asks people above the age of 60 to list their mentors, the people who have truly taken an interest in their career, who believed in them more than they believed in themselves, he said they can quickly jot down 5 or 6 names. The 40-ish crowd can jot down 3 or 4. But once you get to 30 and under, he said, they just stare at you, confused. "And that," he said, "is where my generation has failed. I think we've blown it."

"We've created this broad brush," he went on to say. "We've said, 'Oh these Millennials. They just want too much feedback, they want this and they want that.' And what I'm suggesting is that what Millennials want is the same thing that 60-year-olds got. They want attention, they want to know that somebody cares deeply about them."

And I would agree with him. Millennials want mentorship from Boomers and Gen X-ers. But we don't know that we want it. Not consciously, anyway. After all, how could we know to want something we've never had?

I think Millennials are feeling unfulfilled at work and telling ourselves — because we don't know any better — that we'll find this fulfillment through perks, through the aforementioned ping pong tables and nap rooms. Only we don't. Because if we did, we wouldn't be bouncing from job to job at the rates that we are.

Like so many problems of the modern world, I find myself wondering if the solution isn't a new one — a new piece of technology, a new system, a new philosophy — but an old one. In the case of the modern workplace, I wonder if there isn't something to be said for implementing the "old fashioned" principles of mentorship and job security and loyalty between employer and employee, if those things wouldn't just help my generation improve their experiences at work, but improve the experiences of the generations who come after us, the generations who have to work at the companies we create and manage.

Long story short: Millennials don't really want a nap room. We're just settling for it.

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