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Opinion: Millennial isn’t a dirty word in business

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I was reluctant to identify as a millennial.

For many, the word denotes feelings of self-importance, bordering on arrogance, along with entitlement, laziness and a poor work ethic. It signifies a person more concerned with Snapchatting their desk rather than working at it. It’s a person without loyalty, who values convenience above all else.

In the business community, millennial can be a dirty word.

That’s because it seems the local business community is dominated by baby boomers. And in my experience, baby boomers are fundamentally scared of millennials.

As a business reporter, why would I want to portray myself in that light?

To be truthful, at nearly 33 years old, I don’t often feel like a millennial. Defined as someone born between 1982 and 2004, there is a vast difference between a 13 year old and a 35 year old.

For starters, I was alive before the internet.

I didn’t Instagram lighting bugs in my yard; I just caught them in a jar. I didn’t have a DVD player in the car. I’ve used a rotary phone. Google wasn’t even a word; I looked stuff up in an encyclopedia. And Siri was the stuff of sci-fi movies.

But I’m not a member of Generation X either. I didn’t know who Kurt Cobain was when he died, and I was at fourth-grade recess during Woodstock ’94.

I had an analog childhood, but a grew up with a digital adolescence. A step removed from today’s toddlers with an iPhone glued to their hands, I came of age in a world of new invention and discovery.

In third grade, I researched a paper on Thomas Jefferson using the internet. It took me all day. In high school, I took typing class. In college, I had a Razr flip phone and was the first of my friends to get a Facebook page.

I’m not quite a member of Generation X, but not quite a millennial. Enter the latest microgeneration: Xennial. Described as people born between 1977 and 1983, University of Melbourne associate professor of sociology Dan Woodman described the group to Australian lifestyle site Mamamia last month, and it set the Twittersphere on fire.

Xennials didn’t grow up with technology; they had to make an adjustment to embrace it. They possess both Gen X cynicism and millennial optimism and drive.

This is the sweet spot I’ve been looking for, right? Problem: I was born in 1984. I don’t even fit into this new definition.

It was with these thoughts I entered a conference room for last month’s CEO Roundtable discussion on workforce development. Millennials were a hot topic and Springfield Business Journal’s subsequent Facebook post on their nontraditional work ethic drew the expected comments.

“What ‘work ethic’ of millennials? They don’t really seem to have any at all. NO, we should not pamper them or encourage them to be that way, they need to be taught and learn how Business & Customer Service work,” wrote Mark Davis.

“Completely disagree ... ‘nontraditional’? Hmmm ... I would call it something far more non-PC,” wrote Betsy Miller.

However, it was the comments of Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Morrow during the roundtable discussion that stuck with me most.

“I have a number of young people, millennials, who work for me and they’re some of the hardest working people I’ve ever had a chance to spend time with,” he said. “They never, I mean literally, never stop, but they work differently in many cases. You may have a situation where being there right at 8 a.m. and punching out at 5 p.m. does not really agree with that lifestyle real well. There are certain jobs that need that, but I also know I get text messages from people I work with at 11 p.m. Sometimes I wake up at 6 a.m. with a few [texts]. They just don’t stop. We have to identify how to really maximize and take advantage of that strong work ethic even if it looks a little bit different.”

It was like a light bulb went off – this is me.

I’m the person emailing SBJ web producer Geoff Pickle story ideas at midnight for the next day’s Daily Update. I’m the person that loathes working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but doesn’t have a problem stopping on a Saturday morning to take a picture of the new HomeGoods sign on South Glenstone Avenue for SBJ’s Facebook page. I’m the person who texts her co-workers all day everyday about everything.

Matt gets it. He knows boomers are set in their ways, that they don’t like change. But he also knows boomers are on their way out. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million baby boomers last year.

Working 60 hours a week used to be a sign of a good employee, a hard worker, someone willing to put in the time. But not anymore – millennials work smarter, not harder. A boomer’s laziness is a millennial’s innovation.

Our definition of a good employee must change. It’s time to put away the rhetoric and take a good look at millennials for what they are.

Matt didn’t realize it at the time, but he opened my eyes as well. If this is what it means to be a millennial, than count me in.

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Emily Letterman can be reached at eletterman@sbj.net.

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