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Millennials are getting a bad rap. It seems like disparaging them with words like “lazy” and “entitled” has become the latest trend in workplace commentary. Not surprisingly, most of the time, if not always, it’s coming from a non-millennial.
Full disclosure: I’m a father of two 20-somethings who I happen to think are bright, hard working, and passionate, so I could be a bit biased here. Just as importantly, over the course of my three-decade career, I’ve had the privilege to work alongside fantastic colleagues of every age. For the last ten years or so, I’ve worked with these dreaded millennials, and I not only enjoy it, I find immense value in their creativity, problem-solving abilities, and innovative thinking.
A couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a talented 20-something recruiter on my HR team. A discussion had come up about Disrupted, a rather unflattering book published about another Boston-based tech company in which millennials are painted in a pretty negative light (here is Hubspot’s well-written reply, for those who are interested). She was lamenting that “millennials get blamed for everything” and how it gets a bit deflating to constantly hear such negativity around her generation. Yes, she said, there are some bad apples in the bunch, but overall, are we really that much worse than any before us?
She pointed me to a recent podcast that addresses some of the negativity that’s so pervasive in discussions about millennials in the workplace: Why Millennials Need to Carry the Water. I highly recommend listening to it (and the podcast as a whole).
Here’s the general premise: It begins by describing how employees have 2 jobs, the second of which millennials sometimes struggle with:
- Be good at what you do
- Carry the water
What does “carry the water” mean? To quote , “the second job is to make the rest of your team, your manager, and your boss, look good and be successful.” They go on to say you should be “putting them in a position where their life is now easier because they’ve hired you.” Early on in your career, they say, you need to “give them the credit” .
The hosts acknowledge that this is something that, as you continue on in your career and become more experienced, you should continue to do for others, not just your manager. That it has to work both ways.
I love having an open dialogue about career best practices, and the podcast raises some excellent points. Based on personal experience, I’d like to add an additional layer that I think is important to bear in mind as your career evolves.
I “carried the water” back in the 80’s: arrived at the office before my manager, never dared to leave before they did, never took on any credit for a job well done. Had I continued to do that throughout my career, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I encourage an alternative career philosophy: Don’t make your boss look better, make the whole company better, that’s the culture we foster at CloudHealth Technologies.
Here, we focus on mentorship at all levels to ensure everyone is learning and growing. We encourage participation across the organization -- not siloing yourself in your role or department -- so you know what makes our entire business tick. If you’re an engineer and you want to know how sales are shaping up this month, jump on our Friday sales pipeline call. These are just a couple of our core principles.
There’s also plenty of high quality research suggesting that millennials aren’t looking for anything different than Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers wanted. Harvard Business Review’s article from just a few months back supports this contention. For example, millennials are often accused of being job-hoppers that are not loyal to their employers. Well, I’m a baby boomer who, in the first dozen years of my career, had 5 jobs, ranging in tenure from 11 months (a VC-backed failure) to 3 years. I worked in different industries with companies of different sizes (from a 10-person startup to Fortune 500 companies) and I don’t regret a single move. Mobility and differing experiences helped me figure out what my true passion was -- working with a VC-backed technology company both as an operator and as a VC investor.
Millennials, as with any other generation, sometimes need the time to figure out what it is they want to do with the rest of their life. Not only that but, in my experience, I’d be hard pressed to find a generation more giving of their time. When you were growing up, were your parents answering emails or calls while you were on vacation? Were you expected to answer Slack notifications after you wrapped up your work day? Yes, times have changed. So has our work week. So sure, maybe millennials appreciate some flexible hours or extra vacation days. Maybe it’s because they’re giving more, not less.
I’ll close with one of my favorite Millennial quotes from Evan Spiegal (founder of Snapchat). He had just turned down a multi-billion dollar offer from Facebook to sell Snapchat and was told he was crazy. In a commencement address he noted: "When we decided not to sell our business people called us a lot of things besides crazy – things like arrogant and entitled. The same words that I've heard used to describe our generation time and time again. The Millennial Generation. The 'Me' Generation. Well, it's true. We do have a sense of entitlement, a sense of ownership, because, after all, this is the world we were born into, and we are responsible for it."