Last week a Portland, Maine school went viral for teaching Millennials "adulting." Adulting, for those of you who don't know, is that act of performing what Millennials consider are mundane "adult"-like tasks that range from paying a bill and hosting a dinner party to getting your car fixed, or even going to the dentist.
Many of us can't understand why Millennials can't just figure things out on their own. They frustrate the hell out us. They are the great adopters of technology and change, and yet clearly they are having a hard time excelling in the afterglow of a Boomer-centric world.
Mohammad, who works with me, is one of my favorite Millennials. As a Millennial, his driver is development. His entire life has been a series of developmental exercises and extra-curricular activities with imposed structure.
When Millennials were in elementary school, a shift happened from coming in first to never hurting someone else's feelings. Unlike Boomers and Gen Xers, who were outside playing games until the streetlights came on, Mohammad and his friends were the first generation to have play dates instead of play time. Parents set schedules and organized their world. Multi-colored charts on the fridge reminded that family of who needed to be where and when for dance, soccer or taekwondo. Millennials were left notes to give them directions for cooking dinner or chores to do until their parents got home from work.
With two working parents, they still managed to be the most-fawned-over generation ever. Millennials' parents loved and, some say, coddled them. Bumper stickers celebrated the specialness of Millennials.
So it's no surprise then that Millennials work very well when given care, detail and structure, but not in a traditional workplace environment.
Mohammad counted on his parents to help him navigate adulthood, and they would have it no other way. His parents became his rock. After a childhood of relative peace and prosperity, the rest of the world began falling apart as Millennials were coming of age.
In the 2008 crash, for the first time they saw their parents lose their jobs, and their lives were turned upside down. Presidents lied, prime ministers lied, bankers lied, and college and university presidents lied. And no one went to jail.
No wonder they don't trust. Why would you trust anybody when you know what will happen? Instead of trusting institutions, they trust their parents and peers. Look at Glassdoor, Rate My Professor or Yelp. Millennials post their thoughts on executives, managers and companies. They share everything and are fully transparent. They are trying to bring trust back, but only within their cohort.
Mohammad has been communicating with the world online since the fifth grade. He grew up experiencing the world through the Internet and Facebook. He is driven to share his life, opinions and narrative online, and unlike many Gen Xers, he has no fear of sharing. His heroes include rebels like the Ferris Bueller and real-life rebels like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. To him it isn't language or pictures that matter, but actions, which lead many of his generation to process information kinesthetically, rather than visually or auditory, hallmarks of the previous generations. After all, the Internet is a kinesthetic medium where engagement is through actions, where one "likes", "dislikes", "shares," "tweets," "snaps", "comments", etc.
He and his kinesthetic pals invented new and very interesting entertainment: Youtube and Sexting. Millennials love to play, especially on the computer. It's their soother. It's what they do--play with structure and technology.
It is this comfortable playfulness with technology that makes Mohammad a member of the "adapt, adopt and improve" generation. He and his cohort can take anything and transform it for fit their needs. Look at how they embraced Airbnb and Uber and are creating spinoffs.
Just like Millennials have difficulty with "adult" things that they consider relics of the past, difficult conversations stress them out.
To bring a Millennial out of distress do three things:
1. Ask them for their opinion--their parents always did. They were considered equals at the dinner table or during "family meetings."
2. Give them a proverbial chart on the fridge and tell them exactly what you want and when. Encourage them to ask why. It allows them the opportunity to learn the algorithm of the project. Then give them the space to find the value in it--the greater good. (Remember, they volunteered for extra-curricular credits.)
3. Don't force them to work a traditional 9 to 5, but do expect them to finish projects and tasks on time. Give them a creative outlet to work on projects where they can make things better. You'll be pleasantly surprised with their ability to "adapt, adopt and improve."
It's in a Millennial's DNA to change things using technology.
Gen Xers we need to stop constantly tearing down Millennials (for things they didn't want or ask for) and blaming them for our inability to manage or retain them - and trying to make them younger versions of Gen Xers through adulating classes. Millennials are adults and are successfully finding their way in the world. As leaders, Gen Xers, like me, need to embrace their differences and yes, harness them to create stronger, more diverse workplaces.
This is an excerpt from Dr. Mary's Toronto TedX talk on How to understand Boomers Gen X and Millennials.
To learn more click here or email our Student Coach Mohammad at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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