There has been a lot of negative press for millennials lately, and as someone working in that arena I felt the need to respond. One article on “harsh realities millennials need to understand” particularly inspired my writing. I’m sure you’ve heard all the stereotypes: millennials are entitled and ungrateful with a poor work ethic and commitment issues. To start, let me suggest that 20 somethings have had these stigmas for several generations. Silents said this about boomers who projected the same idea on to Gen X. “Kids these days…” is not a new mantra.
However, a favorite cliché unique to millennials is a jab at “participation trophies.” With regards to that reference, I have to state the obvious question that I rarely hear asked: Who gave them those participation trophies? Seriously? The character of individuals is not formed in a vacuum, and regardless of nature or nurture, generational trends are greatly shaped by those who go before them.
Those thoughts aside, here are some common perceptions of millennials and why they might exist. Let me also say that as with the negative stereotypes above, these are generalizations. Every millennial does not fall into these mindsets, but it does seem to be the norm more than the exception.
1) They aren’t as patriotic as you.
From the first Gulf War, 9/11, Iraq 2, Afghanistan and “Mission Accomplished”, to ISIL and other global conflicts, millennials have seen their share of America at war. While in their lifetime there have been over 50,000 American casualties, they have never celebrated a military victory. And although they have seen key terrorists captured and executed, the underground terrorism movements seem to carry on unhindered.
While most millennials say that they love this country, their affection for America does not equate to nationalism or supremacy. One reason is that they have had more exposure to other cultures than any previous generation. The vast majority of millennials receive their news online from world news sources. It is also not unusual for a millennial to regularly communicate with friends on several continents through social media.
Through this global perspective, they have seen that the United States does not even rank in the top 20 countries for healthcare (37th) nor education (25th). Those are sad and sobering statistics for a country that claims to lead the free world. What you view as a lack of patriotism might actually be a more informed view of America and a greater appreciation for other countries and their people.
2) They are averse to institutions.
In their brief lives, millennials have seen significant moral failures from leaders of every major institution. Corruption and scandals have ripped through business, government, politics, military, law enforcement, sports and of course religion. While there have been scandals since biblical times, the internet and 24/7 news make them far more exposed and available to the public than ever before.
Whether the issue is infidelity, embezzlement, doping or cheating, millennials have witnessed it all. Shockingly, in spite of these failures, the politicians get re-elected, athletes continue to play, the pastor starts a new church, and CEOs receive a massive bonus while the company goes bankrupt. In one case, that company is their government. According to Pew Research, half of all millennials believe that Social Security will go bankrupt before they retire.
In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek points out that while leaders in the animal kingdom take risks and make sacrifices in order to protect the herd, modern business and political leaders tend to neglect their followers, or even sacrifice them, in order to ensure their own success. This trend has led millennials, more than any previous generation, to believe that they alone have their best interests in mind.
3) They aren’t committed to your company.
A common perception of millennials is that they are “job hoppers.” Before I address this one, be aware that according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics the median years of tenure with a current employer has actually increased over the last 10 years, while the percentage of millennials in the workforce has doubled. Although statistics would say that this perception may not be accurate, let me suggest why it still exists.
For the most part, faithfulness to a company no longer ensures job security. Some millennials have seen their parents give 19 years to an employer only to be let go before qualifying for their pension. Others have watched their parents work for 20-30 years in the same job, hating their work and having little time or energy left for their family.
An even greater factor is the ever-changing work environment. Through technology(freelance platforms, crowd sourced labor and cloud based systems), new opportunities for sustainable self employment emerge daily. This is leading more and more millennials to pursue non-traditional career paths. The job market is changing as well, with companies dividing full time positions and outsourcing them to multiple contractors. With this fracturing of roles comes a reduced sense of job security. Wise millennials are pursuing multiple possibilities for employment; it would be detrimental to their success if they didn’t.
4) They are taking over the world. Now.
Regardless of your opinion about millennials, they are not only the future, they are the present. Currently millennials make up 50% of the American workforce, projected to reach 75% by 2030. Millennials are leading Fortune 500 companies, pastoring churches and holding political offices. And it’s not the end of the world. Actually, it’s a new beginning. With far less concern about titles, profits and rituals, and more interest in relationships, purpose and authenticity, I believe that we are about to see a much needed culture shift in the areas of power and influence. One thing is certain, millennials will not be waiting for our permission or approval to make that happen. They never have. And that might just be what bothers us the most.
Millennials currently account for 25% of the population, yet less than one in ten churches are made up of 25% millennials. Nearly 20% of all churches have no millennials at all. We cannot ignore the fact that a church without millennials is a church without a future.