Phyllis Britt

Phyllis Britt

I was watching a video on Facebook that was trying to explain the “problem” with millennials, and some of the suggestions at the end struck me hard.

In the video the commenter was explaining what brought the generation born around 1984 and beyond to the point they are now. Those of us not in that generation indeed often see them as “entitled, tough to manage, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, lazy” (his words).

If you’re on social media, you almost assuredly have seen the video of a millennial interviewing for a job. In the video, the interviewer gives her some of the constraints and expectations of the position. Her response is a series of excuses as to why his job requirements simply won’t work for her, particularly the start time of 8 a.m. – She explains she’s out with her boyfriend until 3 a.m., then gets her complicated drink at Starbucks around 10, and so 10:45 would be good. When the interviewer says he doesn’t think it’s going to work, she asks to talk to an HR person because she’s feeling threatened by his negativity. To which he says, “HR? You don’t work here!” Her response is, ”You’re firing me?” He sighs and, obviously defeated, says, “Well, yes.”

I think I find this particularly funny because my daughter Liz had her own millennial encounter in the workplace that left her equally exasperated. Realize she was born in 1983, so she’s not far from the millennial era herself; however, she once called me and started the conversation with, “Millennials! Ugh!” And “entitled” was the word she used. Liz explained her company at the time had hired several summer interns. The entire department was working frantically against a deadline, so they were working until 8 or 9 p.m. each day. There was a Starbucks near their office, and the habit was that someone would run out for coffee at some point. One night, Liz told one of her interns to pick up the order. The intern, righteously indignant, replied, “I didn't sign on here to be a 'gopher!'” Liz carefully explained that everyone did their turn at picking up coffee and, as an intern, she should be prepared to do whatever was needed in a deadline crunch.

When I heard the story, I immediately thought that the problem these days is that kids come out of college expecting to gain a “career” right away, not a “job.” There’s no concept of working your way up.

This brings me back to the video, in which the speaker said part of the problem is millennials were constantly told they were special, that they could do anything they wanted, have anything they wanted, be anything they wanted – right now.

We have become a world of instant gratification. Amazon will get whatever to you in 24 hours now. Want to watch a movie? – it’s at your fingertips; no need to check schedules and buy tickets. Need the answer to a question? Ask Siri, and you’ll have the answer in seconds.

The video commenter said the only things that aren’t instant are job satisfaction and meaningful relationships. And he blamed social media.

He suggested we have traded those things for superficial relationships on the internet, and thus have raised a generation of people with low self esteem, who don’t recognize the worth of others and don’t expect others to see it in them. And the problem is reinforced in the workplace. He went on to say corporations today mostly care about the numbers, not the people. There is no emphasis on the employee, just on the job at hand.

He noted only interactions with real people establish relationships and trust, not encounters on social media.

And here is where I began to see myself. How many of us arise every morning and immediately reach for our phone to check emails or Facebook, rather than having a conversation with our spouse or our children? I’m often the only one in the house when I get up, so that’s my excuse, but I definitely do that. How many of us would rather text than talk to another person on the phone or face-to-face? I’ll admit I’m often glad that I have a person’s cell number so I can text instead of call – for me, I think it’s back to that feeling of rejection. It doesn’t sting as much in a text as opposed to direct contact. How many of us, when we do go out to lunch with a friend, immediately put our phone on the table. Doesn’t that say to the other person, “Yes, I’m here with you, but if a call comes in, you’re not important enough for me to ignore that call”? Does that mean, if something better comes along, I’ll be taking that instead of you?

So how do we re-engage, how do we show our youth that people are more important than social media, that being with a person on social media is no substitute for human contact – instead it leaves us more lonely and isolated?

The answer may be simpler than you think. Try leaving the cell phone in your purse or in the car when you’re seeing a friend or family member, leave it downstairs away from the bed, leave it home when you’re headed to a party.

Yes, I have a whole litany of excuses as to why I shouldn’t do that: I use my phone as my alarm clock – the video suggests you buy an alarm clock; you can get one at Walmart for under $10. I might miss an important/emergency call – and what did we do before we had cell phone service? If I leave my phone in the car in a South Carolina summer, won’t it overheat?

Yes, I have what I consider valid excuses, but I’m going to try to turn over a new leaf. I’m going to sit in front of my iPad less, and talk to folks around me. I’m going to call more and, hopefully, someone will answer.

And I’m going to buy a new alarm clock.