It seems we find ourselves in a period of time when intergenerational tension is at its height, and Millennials are to blame for just about everything that’s wrong in the workplace, at least if you ask Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. I rarely go a day without hearing the “well, they are a Millennial” label being slapped on a younger person or group of people because of their idealism, work ethic or perceived sense of entitlement as it pertains to their ability to successfully navigate the traditional professional work environment. These labels frustrate me because they are discriminatory and are stereotypes that do nothing to support or encourage what is now the largest segment of the American workforce. Like it or not, this is the generation of our next leaders.
These feelings of frustration got me to thinking about being a young Gen Xer just out of college in 1996, working at my first “real” job as a staff member in a law firm. I do not recall feeling unsupported, challenged to be a part of the team, or unappreciated in any way. In fact, I felt the opposite as I had two or three senior coworkers and supervisors mentor me and offer their insight into how to develop my leadership skills. I offer a great deal of credit for the success I have achieved in my career as a legal management professional to these people. I also have a great deal of gratitude for what I consider to be the best gift I was given by these Baby Boomer mentors, which is the responsibility to pay it forward and always be thinking about ways to develop others. Because of this I keep my eyes open for younger colleagues, acquaintances and in some instances, strangers, that are looking to grow, develop, and contribute good into the workplace as well as the world.
I want to encourage my fellow Gen Xers, as well as Baby Boomer colleagues, to remember that Millennials possess many of the same traits and characteristics that we do, and in some instances, have developed a mastery of them that we have not. This generation of coworkers and leaders are smart, adaptable, balanced, ambitious, generous, positive, eager to learn and excellent problem solvers. In other words, they’ve got the right stuff. So the next time you have an opportunity to consider a younger employee in your organization for a promotion, have a job opening to fill or can encourage a person you see doing good work, please do so based on the merits of their actions, qualifications and possibilities. Don’t let the label of Millennial bias your perspective or encouragement because our perceptions, or in this case, stereotypes become our reality. Work to change that by engaging in open, authentic communication with a young professional because with conversation, comes understanding, and with understanding, relationship. Who knows what’s possible after that!