In Defence of Millennials, Their Work Ethic, and Their Awesomeness

Categories Caribbean, The Thought Parade
In Defense of Millennials - Woman Smiling - You Need Life Skills

Today’s blog post is in defence of Millennials because we are getting ragged on all the time and well, it’s kinda rough out there for us. We’re being blamed for everything, from destroying the napkin industry to being responsible for the destruction of the modern workplace. 

I’m going to be defending my generation, Millennials, and I’ll be going through all the reasons we can and should be defended. After all, we’re worth it!

The Millennial Reality

Ladies and gentlemen, take a look at my most famous tweet on Twitter. It’s funny. Funny enough to get over 250 likes and over 200 retweets. It however sadly illustrates a reality for me, and one that other Millennials face.

This is my truth. At my age, my parents had (not ‘has’, typos people!) all these things. The deeper reality of the tweet, however, is that there is no way in hell that I could afford their lifestyle today.

The hashtag “#Millennials” has allowed over 250 people to find me because they too sympathize with my present truth: figuring out if I can afford a box food/lunch tomorrow as a treat is a real financial reality that Millennials face.

This post is therefore written in defence of the Millennials who feel they are being ragged on by those who don’t understand the changed reality of the world of work in which Millennials have moved into and in which they operate. 

Who is a Millennial?

You ask all the hard questions!

Many who speak of the evils of Millennials don’t know what an actual Millennial is. The quick and dirty guide to who a millennial is comes from:

Neil Howe, who, along with his deceased co-author and business partner, William Strauss, is widely credited with naming the Millennials, a generation he figures spans from about 1982 to 2004.

– from After Gen X, Millennials, what should next generation be?, USA Today

Convenient!

That means that a millennial, in 2017, is anywhere from about 13 to 35 years old.

Yep, that’s a super large age range and includes quite a few ages and stages of life.

For the Pew Research Center, Millennials are the “first generation to come of age in the new millennium.”

So now, at least we now know who we are talking about when we discuss the presumed characteristics of Millennials. And well, you can learn about the other generations when you feel like.

The Accusations Against Millennials

I went on a TV show a few days ago, and on it I was pressed to defend Millennials against what I consider to be the unfair accusations that we are lazy, entitled, have no real sense of hard work, and have an expectation that when we come out of school, our degrees will have us automatically receive Audis.

Where the hell does that come from?

Picture of Jodi-Ann Quarrie (Yoo Need More Jodi) on TVJ's "All Angles" - In Defence of Millennials - You Need Life Skills
My face as I try to convince the panel that every generation thinks the one that comes after it is worse and that laziness isn’t a Millennial disease but a human condition.

First, we must explore why these ideas are even in the heads of those individuals who blame us for those sorts of things. Next, I’ll consider why it could reasonably be said that Millennials didn’t expect to come out into the current and the utterly confusing world of work. And why it absolutely sucks for us.

Why are these accusations being leveled against Millennials?

They’re not new. This accusation of laziness and entitlement has been passed on to every generation. It is normal for you to consider that those who come after you have worked less hard than you have, have more advantages than you, and will never reach the levels of greatness that you have without your struggles. It’s a HUMAN TRAIT to believe that those who come after you are not as great as you are.

That’s fine.

But where does the idea come from that Millennials are lazy and entitled and they have an expectation that a degree means something?

The generations before us.

These are the same parents taught us the value of education and our school system reinforces the idea that academic success leads to success in life. Blame them. They raised us with high expectations of achieving a better life than they ever did if we followed everything they told us to do.

The Lies Sold To Millennials

In Jamaica at least, we are the generation that has achieved the highest levels of high school and university education in history and we’re also demographically quite large. So we’re coming out into a world where the Government of Jamaica has pushed tertiary education and we have responded.

Our parents grew up at a time when getting an education was an entré into a job and they understood that a degree, that piece of paper, meant something to the world of work. So, our parents, likely Baby Boomers, introduced us to school and the world of work on the basis that we would make a better life than they had with the degrees that they encouraged us to get.

Many of our parents had decent lives and many had lives that were improvements on the experiences their parents before them had. Our parents had comfortable lives. Not excessive, but every generation wants better for the generation that comes after them and so our parents, likely without degrees, wanted better for their children.

So, we took debt out and they took debt out, and we went to school. And in taking out debt, we are also the most heavily indebted generation. Before we start work, we are already hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in debt before we do anything at all.

So we don’t start off at zero, we start off at negative. Many of us didn’t have the opportunity to have our education paid for by someone else. So our expectations were that, by taking on that debt, we would be able to repay those loans.

I remember going to a meeting where they were trying to convince me to go to a particular school and the comment was made that:

US $10,000 (approximately JA $1.3 million) a year? You can pay that back easily as an attorney.

That is the idea we were raised on. That taking out these loans put us in a better position. That with education, we would be able to live the lives our parents worked for and hoped for us, a life better than their own.

Jamaican Twitter, Millennials in the Workplace, and Internships

About a week ago, a discussion arose on Jamaican Twitter about Millennials, their attitudes and whether there was a sense of entitlement and unreasonableness to those coming out of school. Then the issue of Millennial interns, their need for real work experience, and their allegedly poor work ethic came up.

In response to some of the tweets I was seeing around, I wrote a thread on my comments regarding the situation of Millennials and what I consider to be the lies that they were sold.

1. Internships Are The Same As They Were in 1970, Almost Guaranteed Access To A Job.

That natural progression is broken. It no longer exists in current Jamaica.

2. When You Start Working, You’ll Be Secure Enough To Be Able To “Pay Your Dues” for 30 years.

There is a culture in Jamaica, and around the world as well, of older individuals believing that Millennials have a short attention span but also a poor work ethic and an immediate expectation of wealth and riches.

What is the world you think we will exist in 30 years time?!

And I don’t think it’s an immediate expectation of wealth and riches if you consider immediate faster than 20 to 30 years. I think it’s much more a reality of watching our parents work and work and work with the hope of retirement at some point in time, whether 65 or 70, then the hope of resting.

Many of us don’t believe that the world of work will allow us to even retire in a traditional sense and therefore feel that it is more useful to us to have a balance between current work life and things that other generations would traditionally put off until retirement. Things such as traveling, painting, writing a book, all those sorts of things that are time intensive but depend on your having a bit of disposable income to do, along with good health.

3. Millennials have started at the same place as their parents. The innovations in modern medicine and modern life don’t affect them at all!

There has been a fundamental shift that has happened in the world of work.

The world in which we were academically prepared for preps us to be good little employees. Just like our parents and grandparents were. And our education system has not fundamentally changed in the past 50 years. It has prepared us to go out and be employed. To be employed by someone. But the very nature of that work has changed.

The world has changed with brand spanking new factors globally like:

  • longer lifespans than ever so people aren’t dying like they used to in order to be replaced by younger workers;
  • older people staying in jobs longer;
  • delayed retirement for older workers because recessions or the financial crisis in the 90’s devastated their wealth;
  • the rise of technology where many of the jobs that Millennials would have been raised to believe would have existed when they were older no longer exist or they don’t exist in the form they existed;
  • the additional pressure of technology in lowering wages. Because if a machine can do it for cheaper, in order to be hired, an employer is in an even stronger position to argue in relation to the cost of hiring.

So the best educated and most indebted generation is now forced to work for much less than we paid for our education with dim prospects of getting the job stability and increased prosperity that our parents hoped for us.

4. Internships Are A Nice And Fair Way Of Parceling Out Jobs

In the discussions that we had, Millennial work time became quite a big issue because the very definition of an internship remained unsettled.

Are we talking about an intern who is absolutely unqualified such as a high school student that is being taken in to be taught something (and should receive a stipend to allow them to afford to come to work)?

Or are we talking about someone who has spent hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to gain a University education and who is moving into the world of work? Someone who, while they may not know everything about this particular office or workplace, knows many things and can be of assistance of some use to the company and therefore should be compensated?

Unpaid Internships

I’m part of a global movement to end unpaid internships at the international level and so I feel strongly that unpaid internships are a way of eliminating individuals who have taken the time to put themselves in debt and to pull themselves out of poverty. These unpaid internships are a new bottleneck, a new way of saying to individuals that, even if you get to this level, we will still keep you out.

We are perpetuating certain systems, and replicating class inequalities. If you can afford to do those internships and take those opportunities, you already come from a place of privilege and from that background, you are only replicating yourself, you aren’t really making space for anyone else.

It also ignores the reality that a number of talented and extraordinary Jamaicans live in rural areas or have disabilities, and unpaid internships or any situation which does not allow individuals from different parts of the country to be involved in these internships isn’t a system that allows our best and brightest to shine. This is especially considering that many companies are based in Kingston and St. Andrew. So anything that prevents people from truly being able to move out of their situations, to truly move out of poverty, and have real social mobility in this country, anything that prevents that we are to consider suspiciously and to consider eliminating.

Are we comfortable knowing that our brightest minds are stuck in a Call Centre working because they can’t afford to be unpaid interns to break into their field?

5. An Internship Is A Gift The Company Gives Out

An internship isn’t and should never be just free labour but it is an experience.

An internship isn’t a gift a company gives to an intern who walks into their organization but rather part of their corporate social responsibility. A company that serves the interests of Jamaicans and serves the people of Jamaica, that makes profit or benefits from being established in Jamaica, that makes money from being established in Jamaica, has a social responsibility to continue to provide for Jamaicans. That company has a responsibility to continue to replicate the people they hope to hire in their organization one day.

That’s part of the struggle that Millennials are having. The very idea of an internship seems to be considered by some companies as a gift that they give the interns that they take on. It is false to consider it that way.

It is instead part of your responsibility as a social actor to do these things, and it is your responsibility to ensure that your internship experience is not only useful for the intern (and potentially useful for the company as well) but is also meant to be, as a whole, useful for the country.

6. Technology In The Workplace Only Makes Things Easier For Millennials

Part of the struggle, not only for internships for Millennials, in general, is that the very idea of a work day is now confused between the old idea and the new idea of work.

The old idea of work required face time. You would come into work at 8:30 a.m., you would physically be there at that time, and you would be able to end at the end of the day of work at 5:30 p.m. After you left, usually, your boss would no longer have access to you.

In the 21st century, we are now struggling with two things.

  1. We still have a face time requirement, in that you are meant to come into the office and sit there from 8:30 a.m. That’s even though at University, you’ve become accustomed to having virtual conversations and completed work assignments over the Internet with your classmates and teachers. The recognition of that technology and mindset has not permeated the world of work.
  2. Also being asked to use modern technology and being bound to work through it. Where your boss, when you leave work at 5 or 6 p.m., may send you work at 8 p.m. by email to be completed that night.

So the modern methods that exist are now used to prolong the work day in ways that were never envisioned. And thus, a longer and more involved work day is something that you have to bear in mind when considering Millennials in the workplace.

We suffer from both sets of expectations. We are meant to be always electronically available but are also meant to be always physically available. And Millennials hold physically being in front of someone with less prestige than Baby Boomers.

7. If Millennials Only Worked As Hard As We Did, They Would Be Fine.

There is an understanding that an internship experience will, hopefully, lead to a job within the organization. That is why you work for those 12, 15 hours and continue to try to impress individuals with your ability to organize your time and your work and to produce good work consistently.

The difficulty is that many of these organizations that are taking on interns have no interest in providing positions for any individual to work in that organization.

Therefore, the employer uses the expectation that they are going to provide a position in that organization as a fake carrot they dangle in front of any person that tries to get in. This carrot is then constantly moved away with longer time periods and more onerous tasks. Tasks that are being done by full-time staff for pay.

Entry-level positions are also being decimated across the board. With the advent of technology, corporate restructurings where positions are being made redundant, and a shaky economy, those who have years of work experience, not only internship experience, are now competing for those entry-level or beginning jobs. Those jobs no longer exist for those moving into the workforce.

The challenge, therefore, is that a Millennial is not unreasonably requesting that there be some special provision be made for us. Rather this is an explanation that the world of work does not provide the same sorts of benefits that it used to give to our parents. There is very little expectation that any job or position that we’ll be taking is going to be one that is going to offer benefits like healthcare. These are the things that make a difference in the kind and quality of life that we can enjoy.

We will not be rewarded in the same way our predecessors were. And the promise of coming into the world of work to reap the benefits of those who have come before us by taking on massive amounts of debt is that lie that we have been sold. We entered the world of work with an understanding that, the way the world of work had been over the past 40 years is something we would have had the benefit of.

We are trained for a world that no longer exists.

We are sitting and watching the Industrial Revolution in real-time. It’s the Information Revolution that completely topples the world. And the difficulty Millennials face is that the world isn’t yet settled. We won’t benefit from entering into a more settled world like Generation Z or Generation Alpha will. We are instead moving into the world of work where everything is changing and in flux as we speak.

None of the rules, neither the old rules nor the new rules, are settled enough for us to know what exactly is to be our goal and where the goalposts are.

Millennials Bring About A Better World

Millennials are also part of a generation that, as a whole, tries to push for improvements in other areas of their lives. We are more likely to be volunteers, be socially aware, environmentally aware, and technologically aware, all wins for the world!

Volunteers

We are the generation that is most likely to volunteer and that is an important aspect of social and cultural development.

Socially Aware

We are also the generation that is most likely to be socially aware and involved in social causes. We are the generation that will not tolerate things like sexual harassment and sexual violence because we are more aware and sensitive to these issues as a result of education campaigns throughout the years and the interconnectedness of the world. Through that interconnectedness, we are able to see what happens in other parts of the world and what it is that we do and do not want to see replicated here.

Environmentally aware

We are the most environmentally aware. I would challenge anyone, especially considering petitions like preserving Cockpit Country, to show me that Millennials were not a critical part of the demographic that went out of their way to vote for the preservation of Cockpit Country. It is the way we see the world.

We recognize Climate Change for example and the ways in which it will decimate Small Island Developing States like Jamaica and those of the rest of the Caribbean in a way that could not have been envisioned by our parents. These, therefore, create new stressors for us.

Pollution and toxins in the water mean that the kind of generous and forgiving environment that our parents grew up around is just not one that we will be able to enjoy.

Technologically Advanced

So we must remember that, with any of the criticisms of laziness and entitlement (criticisms I believe that can be leveled at persons and not necessarily at a generation), each and every single one of us comes with the benefits and the amazingness of being Millennials. Amazingness such as being incredibly technologically savvy as we are Digital Natives and have grown up in this sort of environment. We are prepared to work in a world that requires us to use advanced computer technology, virtual reality, and augmented reality through the use of applications like Snapchat, a technology that we are already very very comfortable with.

And career success is possible for us. It just looks different than we thought it would.

Defending the Millennial

So, are Millennials in general, and Jamaican Millennials as a whole lazy and entitled? They’re not. I do not believe that me, any friends, as well every single person between 15 to 35 is lazy. What I do suggest however is that the way we consider all these things needs to be discussed. After all, Jamaica’s continued development depends on this new generation and we must consider that while the differences between the generations may right now appear to be large, they must be bridged for the benefit of the whole human race.

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4 thoughts on “In Defence of Millennials, Their Work Ethic, and Their Awesomeness

  1. I usually read your blog posts or at the very least skim through but boy I had to comment on this accurate exposition of the issues concerning #Millennials…..

    If I may add a bit to the conversation, another relevant issue is the obvious generation gap and the consequences of same. Many persons are unable to grapple with #Millennials being far more qualified than they currently are or were at that age and therefore use unpaid internships, modern day slavery and other new found ‘supervisory’ techniques to attempt to ‘belittle’ and silence #Millennials. Many work places rather to point blame on the ‘New kid on the block’ who is trying to change everything and ‘nuh have nuh mannaz’ or ‘jus a come and need to join the line’ instead of seeking to nurture and develop the emerging workforce. Every where you go and everything you do as #Millennials now becomes an issue. In fact, when they cant find reason to critic your work ethic or quality of work produced as a #Millennial the next best step is to formulate unjustifiable criticisms about personal matters outside of work. Some even craft narratives to ensure your time spent at work is just plain horrendous. Many times work stress it is not about the work but the caustic environments created over isms and schisms.

    Sadly, some of us Millennials just cant bother fighting anymore and have decided to focus on personal development – and herein comes the other criticism that #Millennials are fickle and wont stick around to help ‘build’ your company.

  2. Interesting perspective. Very salient arguments presented here although as you admit, your parallel conversation(s) ebb and flow between the defense of paid internships and the blanket criticisms of millennials. I agree with much of your analysis regarding internships and corporate social responsibility particularly within the Jamaican context not to mention UN agencies! The challenges to modern work (technology replacing humans etc) is Yuge! I will say however that every generation has their fair share of lazy lumpen proletariat and the millennials are not exempt from this phenomenon. So my one and ongle critique of your blog post is that you fall into the same trap of painting a broad brush (like the millennial bashers) in the section at the end where you give some reasons why “Millennials Bring About a Better World”. I would argue that you can’t conclusively come to those conclusions (hmm overkill?) based on your own personal experience or those around you or in your circle(s) of influence. The only way to objectively arrive at this consensus is through a proper representative random sampling of your target population (blame the social scientist in me). – Granted your very last paragraph suggests you are aware of this. Nice passionately laid out stream of consciousness though! At Dem!

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