I was a speaker and moderator for a panel talking about retaining young talent at a recent Chamber of Commerce event. We finished a few minutes early, so I opened the floor up for questions. I scanned the room, full of two hundred faces, when a man in the back stood up.
"I want you to tell me what YOU Millennials are going to do to make our community better."
Flashback to three months earlier.
I had just joined the Chamber and was attending my first event, the same monthly breakfast where this man was asking his question. Seated across from me were three other business owners, all maybe 45 years old and above.
"They just don't know how to work."
"They think that everyone owes them something."
"They want a trophy for every thing they do."
The "they", of course, were Millennials, and I, of course, am one.
Back to the question.
I answered him by saying that most of the comments made by the panelists centered around the idea that its important to move past names like "Millennials" and "Baby Boomers" because of the stereotypes those names bring to mind, and in the process, creating a barrier to finding, attracting, and retaining talent.
"I think Millennials should do what I think what people of any age should do - be a great business owner, create great businesses people want to be a part of, be a great employer with a great work environment..."
Maybe I misunderstood his question, because a few questions later, another man stood up and said, "I think what the previous speaker was asking was 'What do you think we should do to attract talented Millennials?', since they're such a minority within that age group."
The room was full of people of all different ages, and I'm sure all of them having gone through a large amount of effort and hardship to get the point where they can say, "I own a business."
So I said, "Talent is a minority in any age group. That's what makes talent, talent."
I'm not quite sure what the current obsession is with degrading the "younger folk", but I've run into it enough professionally for it to be "a thing". I'm definitely not a Millennial cheerleader, and whenever a pro-Millennial meme floats around about how we are people "without creative limits" and able to "solve problems on a scale never seen before", I get little puke burps in my throat.
Being a Millennial doesn't grant anyone special characteristics or superpowers - just like being a Gen X'er or a Baby Boomer doesn't make anyone more hardworking or honorable. Being within those demographics does provide an environment for certain characteristics to be cultivated by individuals, but that's where the focus should be - on the individual.
Let people sink or swim on their own merits. Assume they're good, talented, beneficial-to-the-community kind of people until they prove you otherwise.