Who wants to be a millennial? Me.
Perhaps I’ve got a bad case of confirmation bias, but recently I’ve noticed ‘the problem with millennials’ coming up more frequently in conversation. It goes something like this: ‘Millennials are entitled; they want more from businesses and they want to give less in return.’ Unfortunately, the most common defense is pretty derogatory too: ‘Well, they are only entitled because they have to steal, beg and borrow from their working lives to compensate for their impoverished personal lives…’ Oh, and apparently they also have lower self-esteem as a result of being repeatedly told they can do anything, which causes them to over assert themselves too. Ouch.
If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard these millennial stereotypes, I’d be richer than most millennials ever will be. *Clink* there goes another one.
It’s worth noting that, somewhat ironically, many of the complainants are millennials or close in age themselves. This demographic extends up to thirty-five year olds – just enough to encompass the average thirty-four years old of IPA advertising agency employees (according to 2016 census data). This fact alone should be enough of a wake-up call to stop throwing this negative stereotype at quite so much of our workforce.
Let me clear something up. I am a millennial. And, yes – I suppose I do expect more from my workplace than my parents did from theirs. I want a better work-life balance, I want the option to work flexibly, and I want to be able to juggle work commitments with other elements of personal life. But crucially, I don’t just want this for me, I want this for everyone. Because I fully believe that these things will make our industry better.
There is a key point that millennial stereotyping fails to recognize. A lot of the socially responsible work that agencies are currently talking about would actually be accelerated should these ‘demands’ actually be met. They offer the answer to the very real and increasingly urgent question of how to attract and retain more diverse talent. Hard work will always be important, but to equate hard work with good work is a gross oversimplification.
Advertising has changed. Our retainers are getting smaller and a lot of our skillsets will soon be automated. In this climate more than ever, we have to recognise that we are not in the business of billing time. We are in the business of selling ideas. And we are going to have to monetise those ideas differently to compete with consultants and new creative businesses alike. This will mean believing in the talent we’ve invested in, and empowering them to trust their instincts.
So yes, maybe we do want to work fewer hours and achieve just as much. But that is the definition of an improved ROI. Countless studies show that when people put pressure on themselves to complete a task within fewer working hours, they do it better. Less time literally makes people work more productively. And yes, maybe we do want to work more flexibly, but that will definitely lead to better work. Truly great ideas are drawn from different sources and experiences, and office interiors aren’t that inspiring (even ones with bean bags and ping pong tables).
We need to stop talking so much about diversity and start including people from different backgrounds and situations. If we don’t allow these people to make work work for them, we will continue to limit the cultural pool from which we draw ideas. In doing so, we also limit our relevance with all of these groups. But getting people through the door isn’t enough. We have to support them to keep one foot in their personal lives so that they can bring real insights back into the office with them. We should also be offering this support simply because it’s the right thing to do.
So call millennials lazy, but frankly it’s a lazy stereotype. Call them entitled, but how much of your own baggage is being brought to the table here? Presentism and a tough culture of hours was part and parcel of a career in advertising for Generation X (and actually, a lot of us older millennials who love to complain so much about ourselves). Things need to change for the better now, and ‘it’s not fair’ or ‘I did my time’ aren’t the strongest arguments against progress.
Ultimately, the things that we are all trying to improve right now will be driven by the very same agendas that millennials are asking for. Let’s assume, for a change, that millennials want to be empowered to be the drivers of change themselves, for themselves, and for everyone else too.
This piece was by Elle Graham-Dixon, strategy director at BBH. Follow her @elle_sis
Photo credit: Stefan Ferreira | www.picfair.com