Manners: Defining people by “generation”

I was at a business conference for trainers and someone at my lunch table started talking about “Millennials” and “how on earth do we engage this generation?!?” like it is some strange mystery. I looked at her and replied “by treating us like people.”

She was shocked and embarrassed. I explained that I am a “millennial” and I want the same things she wants: to be good at my job, to be compensated accordingly, and to given credit when I do it right. I then said that anyone who thinks the millennial generation is asking for something new or different apparently haven’t been watching Gen X fight for work-life balance for the past twenty years.

I didn’t then continue on to say they missed the week in history class when the term “hippy” was covered. That was the baby boomers saying they wanted more than just the “office life.”  They also missed the rise of unions to demand a 40-hour work week, no child labor, and overtime pay (arguably an early sign of the work-life balance discussion). They missed the civil war (how even those black people should get to choose their job and get paid for it…). They missed the history of the Luddite riots in the early 1800s. They missed the rise of the middle class in Europe. The Magna Carta demanding equality (among the nobility granted, but an early step).

Apparently, the people who think millennials are doing something new – missed history class entirely. Hate to tell you all this, but us “millennials” are just building on a legacy that began probably 600 years ago, it’s just been moving faster – like technology and so many other changes that started in the 20th century.

And that’s the problem with defining someone by their generation – or their job. She had been ranting how someone she knows won’t go get a “real job” because they are trying to start some little business that does something with pallets (I got the impression they are an artist). It’s not like this is a new conversation. In fact that’s why it annoyed me.

You see, defining a person based on their generation is just as bad as using race or country or religion – you stop seeing a person with their own hopes, dreams and goals. Instead you see a placeholder. And placeholders can be dropped, stepped on, thrown away when they aren’t convenient… basically devalued entirely. And any time you devalue someone else’s worth in order to uphold your own (which is the underlying message of a generation being “lazier” than your own!), you are being rude. Entirely and unabashedly rude.