Time to Stop Blaming Millennials for your Badly Run Business

I mentor many millennial, have worked with many millennials and am the relative of quite a few millennials (including two that I am mother to). I think millennials get a bad rap, and here is why I think the conversation needs to change around this group:

  1. Talking about “millennials” as though they are a monolithic group is about as useful as talking about women in the same way. Such a large cohort of people which span so many other characteristics is silly. What millennials share more than anything of the older demographic groups includes:

a) They were raised with technology in a way that no previous generation was. The flashy, instantaneous, ADD driving allure of video games existed before millennials, but this was the first group raised on it. Does this impact their attention span as a group, maybe. Has it effected all of our attention spans, probably.

b) Communications — as a subset of technology, is also totally different for millennials. Not only that their parents could track their moves on their cell phones, but the flattening of hierarchies that comes with it. If your President and respected CEO’s are tweeting- and you can tweet back- that is not only an optic difference, it changes the way you think about your voice and your standing in society.

c) There have been some really different world events that have happened in the lifetime of millennials. I know for my kids 9/11 created an entirely different lens on how safe the world is- or not. The fact that we have been at war for most of the lives of millennials also changes how they think about occupying other countries- and if anything makes them desensitized to it. Are millennials more fatalistic? I don’t think so. The world is harsh and most of us figure that out eventually one way or another.

2. Because of the things in 1) above, millennials may (on average) think about work and hierarchy differently than previous generations. This is actually really healthy- but it is a challenge for old school companies to keep up. One area that this is very acute is in the Banking Analyst hiring structure. It used to be a foregone conclusion that the best and brightest kids graduating with finance degrees would fight it out to be selected as Investment Banking Analyst- a job they would covet and hold on for dear life in hopes to be among the chosen who would move on to be Associates. Today, banks are competing with technology companies, consulting, buy side firms and startups- to name a few- for these best students. What’s more- the kids who are coming in as Investment Banking analysts are largely disdainful of the antiquated hierarchical structures and ways of working. I talk to a lot of these young people and the message is all the same- they are not scared of hard work and the 3 hour nights of sleep that often go with these gigs. What they can’t abide is the rework that is caused by the game of telephone that winds from the VP to the ED to the MD and then back down that chain to the analyst- all of which could have been avoided if they all could have had a conversation together. And are all these middle men necessary? This is why banks are losing analysts in droves- but they aren’t changing the way they work fast enough to stem the tide. They blame millennials for being entitled or lazy when in reality that isn’t why they are leaving.

3. The millennials I know are just as hard working as previous generations but they are, on average, less awed by a linear path of success. What I see are young people who are able to step back and see — largely because of all of the information available today that wasn’t readily available before- that there are many ways to be happy, and that the corner office may not be one of them. Having a broader outlook on what to pursue to have an enriching life (provided that you can pay your bills and feed yourself) seems healthy to me.

I get hives when anyone talks about a demographic group like they are one person. In the case of millennials, I see the desire to bucket them all together is largely done by people in companies who are being challenged by new ways of working which are inconvenient to deal with. The reality is that it may be millennials who are leading the charge on forcing these changes, but it is not millennials alone who recognize that there are better ways to work. Most companies have poor managers, poor technology, and rather than focusing on the future of work are holding fast to rules that should have been ditched a long time ago. All of this is fixable but it requires the will to change — and blaming millennials is just so much easier!

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Advisor, Mentor, Speaker, Writer. Fintech and Commodities Professional. Wife, mother, grandmother and devout Catholic. Views expressed are my own.

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Catherine Flax

Catherine Flax

Advisor, Mentor, Speaker, Writer. Fintech and Commodities Professional. Wife, mother, grandmother and devout Catholic. Views expressed are my own.

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