Millennial. Which fuck thought of that awful word? Yet, like it or not, it applies to a lot of people. And as time goes by, more and more are headed to the workplace. Pack up your fine art and expensive whisky, old-timer, the CEOs of the future will have mounted fidget spinners and shitty non-alcoholic craft gin. Now, I realise that around Youth Day in South Africa is hardly the time for a white rabbit such as myself to comment on employment, but fuck me if I think it’s important for young people to do more than make a hashtag and reply “interested” to protests on Facebook. There’s a generational gap in knowledge, expectations, circumstances, and laziness. And it’s exhausting.
But what is a millennial? To put it bluntly it’s the younger generation who’ve got some serious bad press. They’re seen as entitled, impatient and disrespecting of systems. On the upside, they’re also seen as technologically advanced, educated, and of having the unique position of being less likely to die before older people. That still seems rather broad, and after some research, it appears that the New York Times, the Center for Generational Kinetics, and many other groups on the first page of Google reckon millennials are those born from about 1980-2000. That’s right. You’re one of us.
I had long since distanced myself from their kind. I don’t get their Kardashian fascination, political correctness, or use of dabbing as some form of mating ritual. But, then again, thinking you are special is kind of the first sign of Generation Snowflake, so I’ll have to accept I’m one of them. And of course I understand that generations are as defined by location and politics as they are time, especially in South Africa. But social media has seen fit to globalise us as best it can, and for the sake of the post, let’s focus on the youths in general. Stick with me snowflakes, and I’ll make you all stars.
There’s no denying getting a job is hard. It’s even harder these days because we have a lot more people than jobs, and a hell of a lot more educated people. Degrees are the new matric, honours are the new undergrads. But why does it seem so difficult? A dude called Simon Sinek made a video where he comments on quite a lot of it and it’s almost at 7 million views. As a motivational speaker and marketing consultant, it’s difficult not to believe everything coming out of his mouth is horse shit, but there are some gems amongst the poo. Rather than complaining, he digs into why young folk find themselves in such a clusterfuck.
Surprise, surprise, he starts with participation trophies. This trend didn’t quite make it all the way to South Africa, but remnants of it still exist in the States and UK, where taking part in sport or something gets you an award just for being there rather than coming first. In SA, medals and such were usually sponsored by some oke’s dad’s company, and there were often not even enough to go around for the actual winners. I don’t quite buy his point that as gospel, so he goes on to name the overarching problems as parenting, technology, impatience, and environment.
Sinek makes a point in saying our upbringing, which he calls “failed”, is no fault of millennials. This sits well because old people get to bitch about us, and we get to say it was not our fault. And to some degree it wasn’t. We were raised on technology that gave us instant gratification. We sure as fuck didn’t buy it ourselves. At the same time I wouldn’t be so quick to shit on all the parents of the last 20 years, but rather on the environment. Every day, parents and teachers are given new rules (and posts) on what they can and can’t do to us. They’re trying to do the best for their kids and we were too busy picking our noses to know what the fuck was cracking. Yet we’re still here, making our lives work. Not sure what else you want from an upbringing.
So we are plucked from an instant world and dropped into a creepingly slow one. The workplace is particularly resilient to change, especially since a lot of the top dogs didn’t get there by rocking the boat. Sure, it doesn’t help that our generation has more points under “gender” than “experience” on their CVs, but it is in the workplace that the generational gap is ever-evident. There is no app for a promotion and if you want a raise you’re going to have to get on your knees and get one the old fashioned way. And while I’m on that point, one of the worst things people do is sing songs of the workplace before we joined it. Like how it becoming significantly less fun before we arrived is somehow our fault. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “It used to be a lot more cooler”, “You should have seen this place in the 90s”, or “If you keep drawing penises on the notice board we’re taking you to HR”. It’s like there’s no culture and any attempt we make to revive it is too little, too late, and too arrogant. Things like changing a culture take time.
And yet, this may be the problem with my generation. We don’t understand things that take time. We make instant noodles from a Hydroboil in the fucking microwave. Everything we learned at varsity was available online and we have the answer to pretty much every question in our pockets. So why must our seniors at work hide knowledge from us? Why can’t they tag us in the “How to job good” article on Facebook so we can find a YouTube video summary of it because reading is for the elderly and the celibate? Because things take time. I often find myself trying to jot down pieces of advice and lessons I learn at work in an attempt to compile some kind of point form guide to my job. And we are inspired by our own companies to look up to the commerce mavericks who break all the rules and get money thrown at them. Yet, there are no guides. Not because they can’t be made, but because they can’t be used. The people at work, most of them, learned that shit on the fly. And some days they did shit wrong. Some days that did it right. Some days they didn’t do anything and just sort of sucked shit in.
Finding out that nobody truly knows exactly what they are doing was one of the most freeing discoveries of my life. Ignorance is my heroin. There’s this fallacy that at a certain age we have it waxed. We wake up and we suddenly know exactly how to do our jobs for 8 hours at a time, like dinner parties, understand insurance, and start moaning about the music that the younger generation listens to. This does not happen. Every single person is winging it and the ones that look like they aren’t are just slightly better at it. Because the only way to get better at winging it, is to wing it. When you’re getting a brand new problem at work everyday, there’s no way you’ll know exactly what to do. But if you’ve done hundreds of problems over hundreds of days before that, you’re going to be more likely to have a better solve today. Or you won’t and you’ll make a better one tomorrow, because studying the solutions isn’t as good as coming up with them. But we just don’t get that. It’s like trying to teach Monopoly strategy to a generation who couldn’t keep Pokémon Go alive for more than a holiday.
Forgetting my seemingly endless wisdom, what do we do in the interim? We aren’t as work-weary as the older folk, and are years away from being so, but we’re still in the office. The work environment was never made for us, and even though we’re soon to be the majority of the workforce (believe it), little effort has been made to adjust it for us. We’ve got our modern problems with archaic systems. Of course there’s the usual humour of paying us fuck-all at the start, and as disgusting as that practice is, I hardly believe it’s a new one. But if you’re going to work us to the point of turning to alcoholism, at least pay us enough to afford the medical aid that covers rehab. If not out of courtesy, at least out of practicality.
So what’s to come? Inevitably, a workplace full of millennials. Then we complain about the next generation. And the next generation. I’d say and “then on” but by that point our planet would have imploded if not by environmental disaster or war, perhaps simply from shame of itself. But before that happens what do we do? Do want want to continue the cycle of working each generation into the ground until there is no ground in which to work them? You see, the workplace is evolving. Hella slow, but it is still. Our laziness and need to do things quickly is making things more flexible in terms of hours, workspaces, and goals. Then why are so many companies so rigid? We’ve got much more technology than years before, yet often we’re working longer hours and having longer commutes to work. This isn’t the 60s. Men don’t just work until midnight, get drunk on the way home and go back to their wives who look after the kids all day while they spend their weekends pretending that the spark is still there and cheating on each other around the neighborhood. No, we have millennial shit to do.
Sure we have dumb hobbies, like taking pictures of food, but we’re also putting off marriage and kids. And not only because marriage is an outdated institution made to keep us passive and content with an ordinary life while worlds of opportunity are at our feet, but because we think we will have no time for it. In our youth we are important to ourselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m the most important person in my life by a long way. But if we do decide to have families, that’s what we want to do. A 20-something isn’t going to have a house fit for kids, and even if they did, they’d probably be working all day to afford it. And that goes for both parties. Do we hate marriage? Yes. But we hate the idea of a kid seeing 5 minutes of both parents even more.
So that’s it. Millennials are awful. We’re weird and self-obsessed; but we also aren’t going anywhere. Workplaces that resist us completely will be left in “10 Companies You Never Knew Existed” articles for our illiterate children to poke fun at while we try explain to them what trees used to be. And this vicious circle will continue until we come up with a better plan. We’re working industrial revolution hours with information age technology, but we’re sure as shit ain’t holidaying on the moon. We need to let people be people. Give time for families, hobbies, sports, and socialising. We’re driving folks to work to the bone and go home to watch HBO before they’re too tired to do anything else. This is toxic. Even Henry Ford gave his workers half day, granted it was still 8 hours, and was mainly for them to find time to realise they needed to buy shit.
Work is absolutely necessary to keep the world spinning. But the world don’t turn on absolute work. When our generation retires at the age of 87, and we wonder why we’ve never met our grandchildren as we lie on our stress-induced early death beds, what will be our excuse? Because Saying “I’m a millennial” ain’t gonna mean shit to them.
But what do I know? I’m only 24. In bunny years.