Lazy, selfish, snowflake, entitled, sticker generation, and the list goes on and on and on. Whether you like it or not, the words are linked to the term Millennial and though I don’t want to step into the PC trap of measuring my words, the marketer in me knows that semantics and keywords are crucial to engaging or turning off an audience.
Millennials make up a large demographic of students, professionals, educators, and more that are simply trying to do what the generations before them are doing. We want to be able to survive. Now I type this as someone who was just recently labeled a “Xennial” since I was born in 1982 and have a deep love of most things Gen X with a zest for the abundant social media and technology that surrounds us. This millennial generation wants to be able to have a life, have a house, and make a difference. Yes, this generation was given participation trophies as a child. Who is responsible for that? Yes, this is a generation that wants to make a difference. This is the generation who has seen a swell of public activism through the internet and social media. This is a generation who has lived in the world of the 24 hr news cycle. No matter what channel you are watching that 3-minute cute otter video story will be followed up with 23 hours and 57 minutes of war, rape, famine, hatred, politics, shaming, and other news that will make you lose faith in humanity.
My problem with the term millennial is that by using it, you are essentially branding an entire generation with the negative connotations associated with it. Yes, there are those who are the living embodiment of these negative connotations, but there are also those who struggle every day to be something other than. They want to live their life and not be put in a box. With each generation there are struggles. The Gen X and Xennials are worried if they will ever be able to retire. Social Security looks like a piece of fiction for us and not something anyone I have spoken to assumes will be there for them. Now replace that fear with this generation’s fear of not being able to buy a house or ever pay off their student loans. This generation cannot see far enough ahead to worry about retirement. Their demands are immediate because their needs are immediate.
I see so many articles addressing how to reach millennials. There are committees/task forces being created as I type to see what can be done about this millennial workforce. How about you ask them? Why not call them Young Professionals or simply your colleagues. Let their voice be heard and lose your preconceived notions about what they want based on the encapsulation of the word millennial. They want to be seen like anyone else in your office. They want to be taken seriously and not set aside by their birthdate. I have met fiercely immature people in their 40s and 50s and have met professional and resilient 20-somethings. The negatives only define them if you let it.
I ask that if you truly want to know what they are thinking that you ask. I would love for there to be a conference where all, and I mean all, members of our workforce regardless of age can discuss what culture means to them, what salary means to them, what challenges they are facing and how we can work together to better ourselves, our businesses, and our work relationships.
So…that is why I hate the term millennial. It is a box in which to put a generation that just wants to be seen and heard. How does putting anything in a box empower it or let it be heard?