Generation Jones meets the Millennials - September 9, 2011
Welcome to the first edition of The Ermi Group Blog. I am new to this great media phenomenon so I will be starting out with a combination of original posts, and also asking some of my amazing friends and colleagues to be guest bloggers!
Ever get exposed to a new concept and then not be able to get enough of it? That is my new obsession of Generation Jones. Jonathan Pontell coined the term and it has been on TV and various news programs, but I apparently missed it, as have most of the “Joneses” I know. I have heard a few versions of who is included in this new sub-generation. But it makes perfect sense that the group I belong to has to have it’s own subset. For years I thought I related to being a Baby Boomer, in fact, I recall proudly categorizing myself in this group of esteemed trailblazers when I was in my late 20s and early 30s. It seemed to fit, sort of, and I always had a thing for being “the youngest” to achieve something, or receive an award, or be promoted or following in my dad’s footsteps, yet a few years earlier than he achieved milestones. Then, I was no longer in the “high potential” up and comer group. The Generation X crowd took over and they had a beat of their own. They did not seem to want to work as many hours as I was. They came in later than I did and had a life. I was a little jealous at the life, but then a little bitter that I was putting in tremendous hours and seemingly being paid the same. Then that was back in the day that the good ole boys tolerated having women because they had a quota. Wow, we really have come a long way. Women in the workforce is a given, but the data seems to support that we still are not paid equally.
I have in recent years shared with my coaching clients that while I worked ridiculous hours and climbed the ladder and won awards, there is not one person in my life that was around when I put in all those hours, ruined my first marriage, and took the verbal abuse of my senior leaders that were bigots and chauvinists. Yes, we have come a long way. My two daughters will have it easier potentially, and I had it easier than the women that blazed that trail before me. Recently my husband purchased Season One of the classic drama thirtysomething. It debuted in 1987, two years into my professional career. I remember watching it every Tuesday night at 9 pm (or 10?) Hope, Michael, Nancy, Elliot, Melissa, Gary and Ellyn were a part of our family. It was the first show that really represented who we were becoming.
While I was really twentysomething, these were our role models. The Don Draper of the late 80s. And interestingly, ad men of 90s vs the MadMen of the 60s. These two shows have really been weighing on me and my need to write and to describe the journey to ultimately help the Millennials get ready to take on their legacy. Events and culture shape our lives, and this sub-set born between 1953-1964 had some influences that may mirror the Millennials (Millies-some say Gen Y, but my 18 year old Millie likes Millennials better so that is what I will call her!). Korea, Kennedy’s, Vietnam, Man on the Moon, TV dinners, and a lot of expectations that we will attend college (if socioeconomically we were fortunate of enough to have this as an option) but once we came of age, the environment was very different. Now we live a life of abundance and excess. We are ‘Jonesing” even still. My husband makes fun of me but I am always dreaming about the future, about home improvements, about vacations, about fun, about hard work, about what’s next. While I do not think we have to keep up with Joneses because we are the Joneses, we are redefining ourselves, wanting to keep up and connect with the generation being poised to replace us.
People I train in performance management and consult with I hear complaining about how the Millennials are spoiled, they expect rewards and positive feedback all the time, and if they are not satisfied with their growth, they move on. They do not want or need to pay their dues, which the Jonesers most certainly had to. But we RAISED these people! We gave them stickers for going potty, celebrated their every move! Over-engineered their lives with soccer, basketball, pep squad, piano lessons, AP classes, and lavish birthday parties. Of course they want to be rewarded. We did it to them, and now it is hardwired. They don’t know any other way. And now we complain about it. We need to get over ourselves and embrace them, throw them a bone of praise when they deserve it and learn from them. They know technology like no one’s business. When I was in high school there was one mammoth computer for the entire school, in college there were a few in a separate classroom and we had to sign up to get time with it. There was no email, there were not even answering machines never mind voicemail and text. The Millennials have leveraged technology from the get go. In fact my 4 ½ year old downloaded How to Survive High School and Tetris on my cell phone (before it was ‘Smart”) at 9 months old and actually figured out how to find it! I didn’t even know I had it until my bill was $40 higher one month! Now she wizzes through the iPad and programs and downloads her own Netflix movies. I better learn how to use those parental controls with this one!
So what does all this mean about leadership? What did Gen Joneses learn that mainline Boomers may not have?
What do Millennials seek that will keep them happy in the workforce? What will the Feds do when the Boomers “bail out?” Will the Millennials find a career in the Feds satisfying and meaningful? What does a heart for public service mean in this day and age and era? What will the legacy be of the Millennials? What will be their unique brand of leadership?
Some of my peers and older would complain about all the texting and lack of verbal and handwritten communication of this latest generation. “They won’t even know how to interview or have a conversation.” I am not sure this is true. The Millennials I have met and coached are eager, and want to contribute. Perhaps their written communication skills look a lot different than mine did, I am not sure it really matters as long as the message comes across as intended. In my early email days, more conflict arose from the written word and our little voices/gremlins inside reading it in the wrong tone. Maybe some needless conflict would have been avoided with a LOL or J icon.
The days of the “my way or the highway” boss is dwindling. These Millies watched us take our beatings, get laid off with and without severance, and line up in the unemployment line. The job market now is not unlike that of the early 80s before those memorable Reagan years of prosperity. They are not going to take it and we need to just deal with that. “You’re lucky to have a job” does not resonate with this group. Their needs are different, they had everything growing up, they lived a life of abundance, and they really are looking for simplicity.
My next post will be more on this topic and what I have learned about leadership!