“Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” The subtitle of Joel Stein’s cover piece in a May 2013 issue of Time, “The Me Me Me Generation” is a searing reminder of how little empathy the older generations have for Millennials, who are generally defined as people who were born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.
Never mind that the last part of the subtitle to Stein’s article, “Why they’ll save of us,” did little to quell my annoyance with Stein’s assumption that we’re a generation of Waynes and Garths. (That last reference was for the benefit of any Gen-X readers.)
Despite being irritated by Stein’s generalizations, I decided to read his article to see if there was any substance to his views.
Much as I suspected, the first half of the article was full of statistics to support Stein’s theories. He quotes a National Institutes of Health (NIH) survey on narcissistic behavior, neglecting to note that this survey is still under peer review.
Nevertheless, the second half of the article does a verbal moonwalk and discusses how some of the very things that make us “lazy” and “entitled” will ultimately make the world a better place. We are blindingly positive in the face of adversity. And, thanks to social media, we possess an uncanny ability to develop communities despite language, geographical and cultural barriers.
At the same time we suffer from stereotypes in the eyes of our elders. Think about how intimidating it can be trying to prove yourself to someone who thinks you spend the better part of your day tweeting, texting and keeping up with the Kardashians.
But before dismissing us as overzealous youngsters with more attitude than ability, I ask you to consider our circumstances. Millennials grew up (some still are growing) in a paradoxical environment. The economic system that our country is based on crumbled beneath our feet, through no fault of our own, and it has been a painfully slow rebuilding process.
At the same time, the size of this generation’s potential buying power is nearly $170 million per year, according to comScore, and growing, making it a prime target for advertisers. We’re barely making ends meet, but everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with advertisements telling us we deserve $300 headphones.
This paradox is a huge opportunity to present.
Now let’s take it a step further. Imagine spending four (or more) years in college, faithfully interning and networking.
After receiving your degree, you prepare to pound the pavement and join the workforce. It’s the quintessential American dream that our Baby-Boomer parents sold us on.
How hard could it be?
Ten months later, you’re a barista on the afternoon shift while continuing to juggle unpaid internships because companies are not hiring someone with so little professional experience.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s unemployment rate is 7.6%, while the unemployment rate for ages 18-29 is 12.8%. We are easily the most overeducated and underemployed generation in this country.
So when we finally land that dream job, we doggedly pursue it with everything that we have because who knows how long it will be before our foundation is shaken and we have to start from the bottom.
Don’t mistake our ambition and determination for arrogance and entitlement. After 14 months of several unpaid internships and unstable freelancing gigs, wouldn’t you feel as if you’ve paid your dues? Instead of indifference, we could use some support.
Try to remember:
1. We have a strong, but different work ethic: We may not want to work the way you did, but by no means does that imply we do not want to work hard. Technology has afforded us the opportunity to be productive from anywhere at any time and we are taking advantage of it.
2. Different definitions of success: Millennials are placing greater importance on quality of life than on monetary success alone. With the constant restructuring of modern businesses, we are concentrating on building our individual worth by pursuing careers we are passionate about with the hopes of achieving long-term success.
3. We’re tougher than you give us credit for: We don’t expect success to be handed to us on a silver platter; we just want the opportunity to prove ourselves.
HUNGRY FOR GROWTH
You have the second largest generation in the country at your disposal and we are hungry for growth. We’re resourceful, entrepreneurial and have a voracious appetite for new opportunities.
More and more Millennials are filling PR positions, such as social media managers and editors because, as technology continues to alter the way the world thinks, we are set to serve as the translators for the new way the world communicates.
My advice to all those PR pros who are managing and/or mentoring employees who are Millennials is to:
Being a good parent ranked the highest among Millennials’ priorities, according to a 2010 study conducted by the Pew Research Center.
1. Make use of technology and social media: We are incredibly tech-savvy and consider communication through text and tweets the norm. Put a Millennial in charge of a social media campaign and I guarantee your clients will be thrilled at the innovative thinking and execution.
2. Keep us challenged: We are born multi-taskers and thrive on constant stimulation, new projects and learning opportunities. If a client tosses you a curve ball, put us up to bat and watch us knock it out of the park.
3. R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin said it best, but mutual respect is a must. We perform best when we feel that both managers and colleagues sincerely respect our work. While we may not have been in the workforce as long as you have, we still want our voices to be heard.
If this raw talent is seen more as an asset, rather than a hindrance, and is appropriately channeled, you can mentor a generation that is poised to be the world’s next leaders and, according to Stein, superheroes in the making. PRN
(This is the first article in a new column covering trends related to the Millennials.)
Glynn Murph is a senior account executive in the Atlanta office of Edelman. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; you can follow her on Twitter: @GlynnCocoa.
This article appeared in the July 22 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.