• Hannah Ubl

Millennials, the 41-year-old "Kids"

It happened. Millennials are officially old. (Some might say “geriatric…” to that we say, absolutely not.) But Millennials are definitely no longer those young whipper snappers wondering why bosses think emoji usage at work is unprofessional. Now it’s Gen Z’s turn to enjoy the “ugh, kids today!” complaint. *Collective Millennial sigh of relief*

But, wait. What does that mean for work? Has Generation Z officially assumed the work newb position? (Yes.) This old Millennial will more thoroughly answer these questions, but before I do so, I have to get some things off my chest:

To my fellow Millennials, let us all embrace this ageing process and fully own the title of “Millennial.” We made it through years of being labeled as entitled, annoying, and irresponsible kids who job hopped and spent too much on avocado toast. We may still be on the quest to find our “passion,” or opting to leave our current jobs for something better, while shouldering mountains of student debt. But! We’ve reached a new life stage where we can proudly unite about our cohort’s uniqueness and strengths. Trust me when I say this is important, especially if we want to be great leaders to the generation after us. We’re quite different from Gen Z, and that’s a good thing. If you’re between the ages of 26 and 41 in 2021, say it with me, and say it proudly “I’m a Millennial!” If you’re 38-41, you can call yourself a Xennial if that feels better, but don’t call yourself a Gen Xer (they usually won’t agree with you.)

To Gen Xers and Boomers, I understand your frustrations with us. We were not shy about shaking things up in the workplace. We entered as a new work species and did (and do) operate differently. Thanks for taking the time and energy to learn about who we are and how to manage us. In the years ahead, I sincerely hope that we can all live in a growth mindset and continue empathizing with our distinct takes on what work should look like, and keep learning how to better work with one another.

To marketers, Millennials are still young at heart! Please don’t start assuming that just because we’re older and prefer to stay in hotels instead of hostels while traveling that we’re your basic “getting older and more practical” humans. Millennials are still Millennial consumers who crave experiences, authenticity, and wit above nearly everything else.

Alright, back to the questions at hand…

  1. Millennials are 41. What does that mean for work? First, not all Millennials are 41. Just the oldest of us—and while the youngest may be a youthful 26, many Millennials are excitedly entering the leadership/management stage of their careers. They’re hiring, firing, and managing budgets. Oh, and there’s a lot of us. Millennials make up over half of the American workforce and are regularly navigating generational differences. Boomers are retiring and re-careering, leaving organizations in a panic about the big transfer of responsibility, project, company, or wealth. While Gen Xers are bearing the brunt of that panic, there aren’t enough Xers to replace the Boomers on their way out, so Millennials are stepping up. And just as Millennials ushered in new ways of working as young professionals, they’re also changing the landscape as managers and leaders. For starters, they’re shifting organizational structure, prioritizing wellness and flexibility (hybrid work FTW), and using their personal (instead of institutional) values as a decision-making compass.

  2. Who are “kids today”? In a more general context, “kids today” usually refers to the teens and tweens whose clothing, music, and social media preferences boggle the minds of older generations. In a generations at work context, “kids today” is now in reference to Gen Zers who were born from about 1995-2010. These post-Millennial digital natives were raised in the aftermath of the recession by radically honest (sometimes to the point of bluntness) Gen X parents. Gen Zers are focused on stability and security, are passionate about big world issues (social justice, the environment, DEI and representation), and are drawn to organizations who’re actually doing the work to foster a true environment of belonging instead of just talking about it. Don’t mistake them for Millennials because they’ll likely hide a snicker and question whether they should trust your future judgment.

And one final note… whether it’s Millennials or Gen Zers, no one likes to be referred to as a “kid” at work. Sometimes it comes from a place of playfulness, and sometimes not so much. Either way, “new to the workplace” does not a child make. It just means new eyes and a fresh perspective. Do Gen Zers have a lot to learn? Sure! So did Millennials, back in the day. And Boomers and Gen Xers for that matter. But Gen Z is also bringing all sorts of ideas, and a level of enthusiasm only seen in those who are new to the workplace. Rather than calling them kids, let’s refer to them as young professionals who are going to bring so much to the table (and I, as an old Millennial, can’t wait to see it!)