A quick search of the word “millennials” in the New York Times archives reveals that the paper has studied this particular generation quite extensively and concluded the following things, millennials are: incredibly self-oriented (and selfie-oriented? ok), on a quest for meaning, living in their parent’s basements, cynical and disillusioned, unable to become artists because they’re too poor, desirous of having children but unable to because they’re too poor, trapped in a cycle of internships that are making them poor, might not stand a chance in the “real world,” and, um, constantly being stereotyped. But despite what seems like an exhaustive look at everyone born between 1980 and 1994, the New York Times just can’t quit millennials. And what’s the latest gross generalization being made about the generation everyone loves to criticize? Oh, just that they’re incredibly lazy and unproductive. That’s all.
In the latest Times exploration into the lives of 20-somethings, writer Mitchell Hartman explores whether or not there’s actually anything to the stereotype that millennials are as ill-prepared for the workplace as their employers claim they are, or if there’s actually some other explanation. Hartman writes, “In surveys, middle-aged business owners and hiring managers say the new workers lack the attitudes and behaviors needed for job success. They don’t have a strong work ethic, these reports say. They’re not motivated and don’t take the initiative. They’re undependable and not committed to their employers. They need constant affirmation and expect rapid advancement.” Well, then! If middle-aged people don’t find the generation that’s the same age as their children hard-working, then it must be true, right? It couldn’t possibly just be a situation as old as civilization wherein older people simply like to complain about what slackers young people are. Or, wait. Maybe it is. Hartman acknowledges this reality, writing, “complaining about youth on the cusp of adulthood isn’t novel. In the Middle Ages, masters complained about their apprentices’ work habits.” He even talks to Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School, who says, “You can find these complaints in ancient Greek literature, in the Bible. It reflects the way old people see young people… There’s no evidence millennials are different. They’re just younger.”
So then why all the studies and articles asserting that millennials are lazy? Does anybody other than a few disgruntled employers really believe that this generation is any different from previous ones? Yes! It turns out that millennials are not just lazy, but are also self-loathing and quick to turn on each other. Hartman speaks to a few actual, real-life millennials, like Camille Perry, 26, of Portland, Oregon, who claims that her generation “has a poor work ethic.” (Ms. Perry holds down two jobs.) And Hartman speaks to Claire Koerner, 21, a student at the University of Washington in Seattle, who says she “sees a lot of students cheating their way through, just sliding by,” and further notes that these students “just aren’t going to have the skills to work as hard as they’re expected to.” (Ms. Koerner is simultaneously getting a BA and working at a start-up company.) The only millennial interviewed who didn’t find his generation lazy was John Scrofano, 31, (also Ms. Koerner’s boss), who says that because of millennials aptitude with social media and willingness to work remotely during non-traditional hours, he gets “incredible productivity out of them.”
It seems, in other words, that there are some employers who like millennials, and that those employers are the ones who best know how to utilize the specific skill sets of the first generation to grow up with home computers and use email as teenagers and have Facebook accounts while they were still in high school. This isn’t just an issue of millennials not being hard workers. This is an issue of how the idea of “work” has transformed because of technological advancements. This is about a generation that can’t rely on finding long-term employment and so instead works more than one job, or winds up working a full-time job while also attending school, and yet still gets told over and over again that they’re not good enough, until they begin to believe that themselves. And who exactly keeps telling millennials that they’re not good enough? I don’t know, maybe a prominent news source that routinely publishes pieces in which the millennial generation is decried as being one that has no work ethic and therefore no professional promise and thus no future? Maybe? And maybe millennials will continue to feel frustrated with their lack of progress in a world that normalizes the lifestyle of the 1% while never intending to pay most millennials a salary that will ever take them out of the bottom 10%? Yeah, maybe. And so maybe, there should be fewer articles about how unproductive millennials are, especially when those articles contradict themselves and only serve to be used as confirmation bias for people who don’t understand how someone can be working hard when they’re bent over their phones. Maybe the focus shouldn’t be on the young people working several jobs just to be able to afford to pay rent to their parents, and should be focused instead on the people who created and perpetuate the problems inherent in our society today, including the student debt crisis and lack of jobs and soaring housing costs. Yeah, maybe that.
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