Millennials: Coming Soon to a Cubicle Near You

This weekend I’ll pack my daughter off to college, so as a little celebration, I took her and a friend to a Six Flags amusement park this week. As we drove west on the Massachusetts Turnpike, I took the opportunity to eavesdrop on the conversation in the back seat, affording me one of my too-rare glimpses into the world of Millennials.

During the 75-minute drive, I listened to the girls talk excitedly about the people they would soon meet in person for the first time. They already knew many of them, of course. Thanks to Facebook, they had been building connections with future classmates since the late spring. When today’s students arrive on campus, they already know dozens of others.

My daughter, Alice, had already “spoken” to her future roommate several times. I use the term figuratively because Alice hates to talk on the telephone, as do most of her friends. By “speak”, she means text messages, instant messaging sessions, wall posts and maybe a few webcam interactions. For today’s teens, interaction with friends is multi-channel and multimedia.

Media Everywhere

I actually shouldn’t say Alice hates talking on the phone. She just can’t fathom doing nothing but talking. Her favorite context for conversation these days is a massively multi-player game, where friends can slay dragons and battle wizards while chatting about the same things their parents talked about: music, school and romance.

Much has changed there as well. Thanks to MySpace pages and BitTorrent, Millennials have constant and immediate access to the latest music and video. They like the top artists, of course, but along with Lady Gaga (left) they favor an assortment of bands I’ve never heard of that cater to eclectic tastes. When I was their age, I learned of new artists from cassette tapes passed back and forth between friends. Today, a link in an instant message does the same thing, and Apple’s Genius and Pandora make the process programmatic.

Relationships? Well, after listening to two teenagers talk for an hour, it dawned on me that there were people they felt very strongly about whom they had actually never met. One of Alice’s best friends lives in Texas. Their relationship was already well established last year long before they met each other for the first time.

It’s not unusual to hear terms like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” applied to virtual relationships. Nor is it surprising to hear of relationships ending in novel ways. Two years ago, I listened in as a group of Alice’s classmates spoke of a friend who had just ended a romance. Everyone in the group knew the news except the guy who had been dumped. He hadn’t read the message yet.

Sound strange? A survey of teens this year by textPlus found that 30% percent said they’ve broken up with someone or been dumped via text message. Call it passive aggressive or wimpy or whatever you want; it’s the way things are.

Coming To Your Town

And so they head off to college, and in four years they will enter a workplace that understands little about their values and systems. They will encounter managers who believe that Facebook is a productivity drain and who would rather  employees spend an hour in traffic jams each day than get work done from home.

They will have their first brush with cover-your-ass thinking and will sit in meetings that waste hours of time so that everyone in the room can be “in the loop.”

They will encounter rigid, top-down hierarchies in which risk is avoided and decisions are unchallenged. They will find mid-level managers who hoard information out of fear that sharing will threaten their job security.

They will wonder how anything gets done in environments like these and they will gravitate toward those companies that discard tradition. They’re young, confident and coming to your town. Are you ready?

3 thoughts on “Millennials: Coming Soon to a Cubicle Near You

  1. Hey Paul..this is right on. I am taking two to college this weekend: A sophmore and a freshman. They’ve been “speaking” with classmates and roommates for months. They planned who’s buying what for the room….fridge, microwave, tv etc. All this and I am not sure they’ve ever actually heard their voices!

  2. Paul-

    Very interesting but a little disconcerting as well. My fear is that these folks are going to have a serious adjustment period when entering the workforce because they are not as likely to get this kind of information about future co-workers or about others who have something real on the line (competition for jobs etc).

    I think there could be a real hiccup of this first true group of social network babies being pushed through their system into one that while it is catching on still runs in a very old world manner like you mention. That old world manner requires social skills in person, being able to talk to someone ‘cold’ etc.

    I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom but I definitely see some red flags as we transition over the next decade into a whole new way of doing life.

    Oh and their confidence will get nicked just like everyone else’s does so the idea of them revolutionizing everything in a non traditional sense is overplayed in my opinion. I have been wrong on many occasions though ;-).

    Great read and insights. Thanks.

  3. Great post – I especially enjoyed the “Coming to Your Town” portion. 🙂 I am a Millenial, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, think I am fairly balanced between “old-school” and the new ways of communicating that you described. I have hope that the younger end of the Millenial generation will adjust and thrive as they enter the workforce, though I share concerns stated by Frank Reed in his response. I have experienced both the good and the bad with my peers and those younger than me thus far – I think much of it is still largely influenced by how their parents raise them and how they are educated in the K-12 school system.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts – I always enjoy reading your posts! Take care.

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