As cliché as these words may be, the message was driven home during my recent stint with the National Millennial Community (NMC.) Six members, an affiliate from Germany, and I all attended a young professionals conference held by the Worldcom PR Group in Vienna, Austria, a historically rich area, with its beloved and aged structures, fascinating food and rather uniform buildings. We all were quite excited to get the chance to take the voyage abroad in an unexperienced area by none of us, so we all enthusiastically took on the task of, once again, changing the conversation regarding millennials.
So when the time came for our presentation in front of the members of Worldcom, which was chalk full of key influencers/executives of prominent communications companies and groups, we expected a bit of push back regarding our mission because we were briefed prior that there may be a high possibility, but, I for one did not expect to see and be on the brunt end of the conviction stick that some members had regarding the perception of millennials.
Our presentation consisted of observed facts and statistical data regarding the Millennial generation and how prominent it is, not only in the consumer market, but in the professional one as well. We also discussed some potential methods or suggestions to aid in cultivating a cohesive environment for those that engage in the workplace. Once we wrapped up what we believed was a decent presentation and opened the floor for comments and questions, a short lull took over the room while the members dissected what was relayed to them. At the exact moment in which the lull began to become too palpable, a member spoke up, quite sharply I might add , and stated, “Have you ever considered that the work environment does not have to adapt to you but you have to adapt to the work environment,” which was met with nods, claps and other groans of agreement from the group.
The member then went on to state that she did not understand why there was so much buzz surrounding this particular generation and why there is this incessant need to “get ready for them.”
I, for one, though was taken aback by the mild aggression that was displayed, which clearly was an indication that there was frustration that stemmed from personal experiences, kept my cool and listened to the member’s comments. This encouraged the other members to open up about some of their experiences and struggles when it came to their millennial employees. Some discussed high turnover rates and retention, others on strategies on maybe incorporating new hiring tactics, and others on possibly adapting the mindset of partnering and building with millennials with the potential of them eventually moving on to other possibilities. Overall the direction of the discussion took a rather positive turn where a genuine exchange between the mix of generations took place and assisted in closing it on a high note. I did take note that one particular member still was not convinced.
Shortly after, we all relocated to the dining room to convene for lunch. As we all filed together and began taking our places, the member who was not totally convinced approached us, the millennials, and asked if any of us would like to join her. One fellow member and I volunteered and followed her to her table.
We once again, introduced ourselves and began with idle chat regarding our academic backgrounds and professional experiences. We then began to dive into a bit of what occurred in the board room and asked what contributed to the particular views that she held. She began to describe how she believed that we all were people, ultimately. She felt that there were no real differences apart from time periods and the associated developments and events that took place during a particular time, but still very much human nonetheless. She did not subscribe to the thought that the focus should be on millennials only she stated that there are people who came before and a large group quickly following after millennials and that the focus of society should not be centered around them. She felt that you lose sight of the needs and thoughts of others when you have a roar group that is millennials or any generation for that matter.
After listening to her views, I must say that I did find a whole lot of insight from her sentiments. I typically aim to be as fair, objective and inclusive when it comes to my thoughts generally, so I was rather surprised I had not had this thought process prior. I believe at times when one takes on the mantle of a particular group, i.e. millennial, one can be so focused on the needs of that group that one can also forget about the voices of others.
Continuing our conversation, we learned more of her experiences and the rift between the generations from her side of life. She stated how, ultimately, she believes that open dialog and confronting issues head on is the best step in bridging the gap instead of going by silly stereotypes and delusions. She pointed out how that that was sole reason why she invited us over, to have the conversation and not separate ourselves by generations.
At that point the dinner concluded and we all agreed that this was more enjoyable and perspective broadening than expected. She admitted that she learned quite a deal from us and we returned the same sentiments to her. I left the hall thinking what a simple but powerful lesson that is when it comes to genuinely speaking to others to understand. Many times, we approach situations trying to convince and change rather than reach a hand out and partner, and the only way to do this is through communicating. Being reminded of this seems silly, especially being a communications major, but clearly sometimes we need to be faced with old lessons to help with new situations.