The following is a response to “Why Millennials Keep Dumping You: An Open Letter to Management,” a post cowritten by Lisa Earle McLeod with her daughter, Elizabeth McLeod, a millennial and cum laude graduate of Boston University.
I am also a millennial. I’m 31 years old, a bit more seasoned than Miss McLeod, but still in the same generational cohort. When I read her open letter and compared it to my own experiences as a millennial in the workplace, I couldn’t help but recall that I used to share a lot of her misconceptions about what makes work “meaningful.”
I’ve been employed by the same company for seven years. I started there as a temp, snagged a permanent position, and have worked my way up to management. It’s not glamorous work by any stretch, but I’m now in a position to effect change in my company, and I’m free to devote myself to meaningful pursuits outside of the office. I didn’t get there by demanding my boss pander to my youth.
I certainly didn’t get there by quitting after eight months.
Consider this response a mild corrective, from one millennial to another.
You hired us thinking this one might be different; this one might be in it for the long haul.
No, we didn’t. We hired you because we decided to prioritize your cheap price tag and theoretical trainability over an older, more experienced (and expensive) worker.
We’re six months in, giving everything we have, then suddenly, we drop a bomb on you. We’re quitting.
That’s a shame. Best of luck. Don’t worry about us, though. We’ll likely have the position filled in a week or two. Remember to turn in your ID badge and parking pass.
We know the stereotypes. Millennials never settle down. We’re drowning in debt for useless degrees. We refuse to put our phone away. We are addicted to lattes even at the expense of our water bill.
You forgot “we’re way too sensitive to even mild criticism.”
Our bosses are not wrong about these perceptions.
But, pointing to our sometimes irresponsible spending and fear of interpersonal commitment isn’t going to solve your problem. You still need us.
By “fear of interpersonal commitment” do you mean “fear of picking up the phone?” Yes, we do need you…to not waste time waiting for someone to respond to an email or text.
We’re the ones who’ve mastered social media, who have the energy of a thousand suns, and who will knock back 5-dollar macchiatos until the job is done perfectly.
So you’ve mastered being on social media during work hours, you have the energy of a thousand distractions, and it takes you 20 minutes to get back from Starbucks. There is free coffee in the break room, you know. It’s OK, for free coffee.
I’ve worked in corporate America, administrative offices, advertising agencies, and restaurants. I’ve had bosses ranging from 24 to 64. I’ve had bosses I loved, and bosses I didn’t. I’ve seen my peers quit, and I’ve quit a few times myself.
What an absolutely unique person you are. I have never seen a resume quite like yours.
Here’s what’s really behind your millennials’ resignation letter:
1. You tolerate low-performance
It’s downright debilitating to a high achiever. I’m working my heart out and every time I look up Donna-Do-Nothing is contemplating how long is too long to take for lunch. I start wondering why leadership tolerates this. Is that the standard here? No thanks.
Donna’s performance is not your concern. Your performance is your concern. Perhaps one day you will be in a position to evaluate Donna, but today you are not. You are “working your heart out” in an entry-level position, most likely – Donna’s core function may be higher-level than yours, and thus she delegates busy work to people like you. Please believe: we see you working hard, and we are talking about you and your future.
2. ROI is not enough for me.
I spent Sunday thinking about how I can make a difference to our customers. Now it’s Monday morning, what do I hear? Stock price. Billing. ROI. Suddenly, my Monday power playlist seems useless. I’m sitting in a conference room listening to you drag on about cash flow.
So you’re not in management – that’s fine! You’re young and better used as an individual contributor. As you gain more experience you’ll see that managers and executives have to be concerned with long term, strategic vision rather than the day to day customer experience. That’s why they hired you.
I was making more money bartending in college than I am at this entry-level job.
Go back, then.
You say I’ll get a raise in a year if the company hits a certain number? So what? I need something to care about today. Talk to me about how we make a difference, not your ROI report.
Let me suggest this possibility to you: we are likely in business to make money. That is how we make a difference. The more money we make, then the more people such as yourself we can employ. If you find this insufficiently meaningful, you may join a charity organization or the Peace Corps.
3. Culture is more than free Panera.
Don’t confuse culture with collateral. Yes, I am a cash-strapped millennial who really appreciates free lunch. But I don’t wake up at 6AM every day to play foosball in the break room. I’m not inspired to be more innovative over a Bacon Turkey Bravo.
So you’re saying we can safely cut the Panera and the break room from the budget? Thank you for the feedback. This extra money may free up some money to buy office supplies.
I need to be surrounded by people who are on fire for what we’re doing.
You don’t, actually. This is something you tell yourself to justify your dissatisfaction with the trajectory of your life.
I need a manager who is motivated to push boundaries and think differently. Working in a cool office is really awesome. So is free lunch. But a purposeful culture is more important.
You do realize that we probably have a mechanism for you to provide this feedback without quitting, right? HR is really annoying sometimes, but they do encourage management to actually listen to the concerns of their direct reports. Try it at your next job.
4. It’s ok to get personal
Treat me like a number? I’ll return the favor.
Know this: ultimately, we are all numbers to this company. We have entered into an arrangement whereby we exchange our labor and expertise for money, with the goal of building and supporting a business in which there are stakeholders who seek to profit. The only reason a business exists is to make money. Get used to being a number.
This job will quickly become nothing more than my rent payment. I’ll start living for Friday and counting down the minutes until 5. After a few months of that, I’ll probably have a drunken epiphany and realize I want more out of my life than this.
Again I am struck by the unique experiences you relate and astounded at how precious you must be to all who know you.
Then I’ll prove your assumptions right. 8 months in, I’ll quit and leave. Or worse, I’ll quit and stay, just like Donna-Do-Nothing.
Again, Donna’s work is not your concern. Will you be giving us two week’s notice?
That’s not good for either of us. Here’s what you need to know:
I was raised to believe I could change the world.
Sorry about that.
I’m desperate for you to show me that the work we do here matters, even just a little bit.
Check your bank account. Does that matter?
I’ll make copies, I’ll fetch coffee, I’ll do the grunt work. But I’m not doing it to help you get a new Mercedes.
I’ll give you everything I’ve got, but I need to know it makes a difference to something bigger than your bottom line.
It doesn’t. One day, maybe you’ll have people working for your bottom line. Though not if you keep quitting every 6-8 months.
Best of luck. I don’t think we’ll be providing a reference.
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