In order to establish that this post has a more substantive point than it would have in the guise of some old geezer venting his spleen, not that this couldn’t be happening also, let me just say at the outset that I have been deeply involved in the processes that lie behind what I am going to be talking about, and have been involved with them for many decades. I have been on boards and committees in the course of countless job interviews, I have written numerous letters of recommendation, I have given pastoral counsel to young professionals and entrepreneurs on many occasions, and have pretty much seen and heard a whole bunch of stuff. You’d be a geezer too. Enough about my end.
And with regard to what I will be saying about the Millennials themselves, let me begin by qualifying that also — and doing so with some rough numbers. In every generation, you will have fifteen percent who are motivated self-starters. They work hard, and are a credit to whoever raised them. If you ask them to shine a doorknob, they will do it until they can see their grandchildren in the reflection. At the other end, you have the perennially lethargic, straight out of the book of Proverbs. If it were raining oatmeal, they would have left their bowl at home. These are those who ought to be contemplating the ways of the ant more than they do.
The flavor of each generation is set by the soft seventy percent in the middle. This is the group most affected by general cultural expectations, by their education, by popular media, and so forth. They are susceptible to leadership, both good and bad. They can be pulled this way or that. When talking about the Millennials, as I am about to do, I am talking about their general cultural ethos, as established by the bums on their bums, and by the negatively affected middle. So let me tell you what I see — and to the self-starters among them, I say this. Not talking about you. I’d hire you in a minute.
As you might expect, a number of these traits are interconnected.
1. Millennials tend to expect more money than they should. They have been overpaid since their first babysitting job, and they are laboring in a highly-regulated economy — where the government specializes in hiding the real worth of labor from just about everyone. From minimum wage laws to regulated benefits packages, the freshly hired Millennial is encouraged to think that he is being paid — at a minimum — what he is worth, when he is actually being paid what he is worth, plus what staying out of trouble with the government is worth to his employer. A highly beneficial spiritual exercise would be to imagine what one’s paycheck would be in a genuinely free market. Do you really want a business where the employees’ self evaluation is created through a mixture of worth, conceit, and flattery? Or rather one created through a mixture of hard work and humility?
2. Millennials are more comfortable with dependency than previous generations were. This shows up in things like being willing to remain on their parents’ insurance well into their twenties, or in the increasing trend of not getting a drivers license (or a car), and mooching rides from friends, or from mom. What would have been a humiliation to previous generations is taken by this generation right in stride. This tendency is something that you, as a prospective employer, need to be prepared for. You are hiring someone who is likely going bring that trait into your business. Do you want a culture of dependency there?
3. Millennials are attracted to businesses that are employee-centered, as opposed to the older model of customer-centered. Now granting that this is a fallen world, and that “customer service” is a phrase that can be used to justify an appalling treatment of employees, this generation needs to be reminded that businesses exist to provide things for others. That’s sort of the point. So if your interviewee wants to get hired by a firm that is reminiscent of a twenty-something hot tub party, with the occasional customer getting treated like an irritating neighbor who wants to borrow something, then he has much larger problems than I can explain to him here. Do you want a business culture that looks down on customers, on sales, on actual business?
4. Related to the previous point, Millennials think in terms of jobs, not in terms of callings. This means that they come to an interview thinking about what value they can get, instead of thinking about what value they can bring. If they ask for a starting salary of so many clams, and you ask them if they will bring value to the company of a significantly larger number of clams than that, and that angle has never occurred to them before, or they think you are being kind of mercenary for mentioning it, you should think next! to yourself, although it would be rude to say it out loud. Do you want the point of your business to become the harvesting of money from the business? That has happened more than once.
5. Millennials want to have done many important things, but they don’t want actually to do them. They want to have written a novel, but don’t want to do it unless someone gives them an advance — apparently on the basis of their boyish, sly grin, and lots of blue sky. They are encouraged in this by a broader cultural assumption that self-identification counts for a great deal. Feeling “like a girl inside” is now a free pass to all the girls’ restrooms in the California public school system. So why can’t somebody feel like a marketing genius inside? Or a writer? It would be grand to have started a company, or invented a cure for cancer, or to have written a television script that led to the winning of three Emmies. And this is true. That would be very grand. Ah, to have done so! But do you want to have a company culture that treats daydreaming as ambition? Do you really want a business full of employees who say, “Well, you know, I am more of an idea person . . . ”
6. Millennials have been flattered ad nauseam about their street smarts, and as a result, they don’t have any. They believe that they can establish their credibility, not through accomplishment, but rather through criticism of those who do actually accomplish things. Their critical insights, and their right to offer them, rest upon a platform of assumptions about how tech-savvy they are, or web smart, or visually-oriented. It is true that this sensate generation is far more image-sensitive than previous generations were, but this simply means that they are, for the most part, far more image-susceptible. But in the meantime, the universal flattery that has surrounded them on this score means that they are not shy about setting up as a critic. Everywhere they have gone for the last decade, they have been asked to like things on Facebook, rate books on Amazon, rate movies as fast as they can gulp them down, and as a result they believe their critical opinion is valuable. Has it not been sought thousands of times? The real trouble comes if you hire them, and they then have to work alongside someone capable of real work and accomplishment. The guy leaning on the shovel will be ever-ready to give some pointers to the guy actually digging the hole. Do you really want a company where the default assumption about promotion is that a critical eye toward the real work of others is the key to success?
7. Millennials are risk averse. They are not benefits averse, for, when it comes down to it, who is? But they are notably risk averse. They want life to be cozy, and about the only thing that can really disrupt that coziness is when someone in their neighborhood — who was being not risk averse — shot the moon and made it. As a result, he is enjoying the benefits of his success, and thereby incurs the resentment and envy of those nearby. This is an enormous subject, which I hope to get to in the near future, but let it be said here that the warnings about wealth in Scripture have not gone away. They are all still there, big as life. But there is a corollary warning, one that needs to be pressed on this generation. I have seen far more serious sin in the proximity of wealth than I have among the wealthy themselves. And risk averse Millennials have a tendency to fall before the terrible sin of envy without any recognition that this is what they are doing.
Why do I mention these? All generations have their faults. That is true, but these are the faults we are committing right now. These are the faults we could do something about if we wanted.