The other day at work, a couple of co-workers were having a discussion about young people these days. We are securing the licensing to use a gaming-type learning activity on managing a budget. It will be available free of charge to all community and technical college students in the state. It’s really cool. The player starts with a monthly budget, and they have just secured an apartment. There are regular expenses, unexpected expenses and social choices to make over money. In one unexpected expense, the player had a great party Saturday night, but in addition to the party expenses, the cops showed up, and they have additional costs associated with that to pay. Uh … oh …now the next few month’s budget is shot. I actually don’t enjoy playing it because it’s too much like real life, but I would have loved to have had it when I first got out of school.
One of my friends made the comment that kids these days know nothing about how much money it takes to live. Well hell, neither did I. We didn’t talk about money growing up. I had no idea how much my Dad made or how much anything cost. I knew how much groceries cost because I would shop with Momma. I knew that it was a lot by the look on her face every time the cash register spit out her receipt. And, I know how mad she got when my brothers would eat most of what she bought the same day she brought it home. I could tell money was something to fret about. I just didn’t what to do about it. When I got my first job after college, I took a reporting job at a newspaper in Harlingen TX for $225 a week. I absolutely had no clue if I could live on that. I was a college graduate, and I just assumed that surely this would be enough. I never even did the math. As soon as my car needed tires, my budget was screwed. And I had to leave during the day during the summer because I couldn’t afford to pay the electricity bill with the A/C running all day. I had no clue about money, either.
As I trained managers over the past 10 years, the subject of today’s young people has come up over and over. Their tendency to change jobs frequently has boomer managers shaking their heads as the old theory of staying in a job for an extended length of time was some kind of proof of … of what … ??? I don’t know, but for some reason it was seen as desirable. And, I still hear it. They move around too much. They just quit if they don’t like the job. They leave if they can’t get promoted quickly. And, what is the problem with that exactly? I know this. In the past 25 years of my work life, employers had no issue letting people go if it didn’t suit their needs. When I first started working at Whirlpool, I was part of a class of 25 that started on the same day. It was a great job with a great company. We went through a 6 week new hire orientation, and two weeks after we got out, they laid off half the class. Now, most of these people quit other jobs for this two month stint for nothing. It wasn’t proof of anything bad about Whirlpool. It was business. Why would it be bad for an employee to leave a job that’s not a good fit for them? That’s business, too. Why keep investing in something that is not working? I never had much empathy for these managers and their outdated ideas about these ‘young people.’ I basically told them that the boomers are retiring. If you need people in jobs, you are going to have to learn to adjust. If not, they don’t lose – we do.
I actually wish I was born in this generation. I never did fit the baby boomer mold of wanting to work all the time, forsaking my personal life. The same people complaining about young people are the same ones that raised them. When I bring that up, they say they didn’t raise theirs that way. Well, somebody did. Or, maybe nobody did – or maybe their ex did – and maybe that’s the problem. One of the things that boomers don’t like is that ‘kids these days don’t want to work’. Well, I’ll tell you I’ve seen them work their butt off but it’s a different mode of working than what I do. I was struggling to put together a guide when I was in FedEx. It wasn’t my strong suit, and I found the research laborious. We brought in this intern, and in literally a week, she had that thing done. They can tear up research and technology. They know how to navigate it in a way that I will probably never understand. And, who says that the number of hours somebody works makes them a better worker. How many of us boomers and Gen X-ers regret our long hours and intense focus on career-building to the detriment of relationships? These kids are the ones that were left at home. No wonder long hours are not attractive to them. They were the ones without Moms and Dads while the mighty dollar consumed their attention. To be fair, jobs were scarcer back then, and you had to do it to make it, but it was not preferable. I imagine we’re just jealous that we didn’t get to live our lives they way they will get to.
I’ve also heard from several people about the number of questions they ask. When I went to work, I didn’t ask questions. I felt like if I asked questions, it showed I didn’t know how to do the job, and there was this unapproachable image about ‘authority’. It’s still there in most workplaces. Workers in our generation feel like when you’ve made it to a certain level you’ve paid your dues, and you are owed respect. No matter if you are an unbelievably incompetent asshole. It doesn’t matter. Because of your position, you are owed reverence. These kids don’t see that. They’ve been brought up in worlds where information is accessible. They either don’t have to ask anybody, or they see authority figures as resources. If they have a question, they ask. And they expect you, too. The passive-aggressive style of ‘testing’ people to see if they can figure it out doesn’t fly with them. If you want something, you ask. Otherwise, they will move along to a place where they are respected for their skills. I actually really like that approach. It just seems so much more human.
We have to remember that this generation has never and will never have job security. With the state of the economy, they will probably have a much lower standard of living than we do. My generation actually never had job security either, but we had the illusion that we should. This generation has no illusions about that. A job …. is a job … is a job… and there’s more where this one came from – or they’ll make their own. My friend Jessica doesn’t even think about getting an employer. She’s going to do her own thing in her own way. She’s often said she’s glad she doesn’t have to worry about putting up the workplace BS that I do. In my mind, I can’t imagine that, but I really wish I’d had that mindset … or could even find it now. In my field, we look at employment trends 10 years out so we can prepare the workplace. The boomers are moving on. And there were a lot of ’em. There will be vacancies and lost organizational knowledge everywhere. It’s just starting to happen, but we’re not anywhere near the bubble. We will need these young people desperately, and we will need them to have business knowledge to run our world. We have no choice but to work with them and deal with them on their level. Our arrogance will only hurt us and the economy, and that’s not a very good legacy.
I’m glad the world is changing. There were outdated dysfunctional beliefs in the workplace that crushed innovation, and in some instances killed companies. Know who should have been the Amazon of our time? Think about it. Who had regional centers all over the country? Who was able to sell products as diverse as pre-fabricated homes via the US Mail? Who had long-standing relationships with manufacturers with all kinds of goods? Who had that institutional knowledge of serving customers all over the country? Who had generational relationships with families in this country? What ever happened to Sears and Roebuck? That’s where my Grandfather bought all kinds of stuff. They knew how to do it. But, when the internet came out, their board was populated with people who were older and could not fathom the sustainability of technology, and they didn’t want to re-invent themselves. Too top-heavy with boomers and traditionalists, they watched the internet move onto to newer and younger people who had the courage to change the world. I feel really sad when I see Sears because they should have been great still. Arrogance kills so many of our great companies. I hope our youth with their new-fangled ideas will show us stuff we can’t even imagine, and I can’t wait to cheer them on.