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The Truth About Working With Millennials

The Truth About Working With Millennials
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Photo Courtesy of CBS

BY LORRAINE DUFFY MERKL

There are three versions of every story: this side, that side, and the truth.

When it comes to veteran professionals interacting with millennials in the workplace, I’ve yet to see an accurate depiction in the media.

Two shows I watch often are on opposite ends of the spectrum; one making the co-mingling of the generations look way too easy, while the other relies on every opposites-clash cliché, without adding any real-life animosity.

The newer one is called The Great Indoors on CBS. Joel McHale plays “Jack Gordon,” a renowned adventure reporter for Outdoor Limits Magazine. His publisher, however, now needs Jack in from the field, because the company can no longer afford the nature enthusiast’s travel budget, nor a print version of the glossy.

Jack’s new position is to ride a desk from 9-to-5, while overseeing young on-line journalists who write about the joys of the wilderness, albeit never having experienced life—actually even a day—in the wild.

Although they are in awe of the man, the myth, the legend, Jack’s millennial subordinates see him as the “human version of dial-up,” because he has adamantly rejected having a cyber footprint. In turn, Jack refers to his new job as supervising “digital daycare,” where he must, like it or not, grasp lingo, such as “click-bait,” and “listicles.”

There is the obligatory meeting with HR about the hostile environment he’s creating (comically, of course) by mocking his young colleague’s emotional support animal, declaring job titles like Online Content Curator as “made up,” and occasionally making a male, hipster co-worker cry.

Despite their differences, in the end, these polar-opposite professionals feel the love. Right.

In contrast, there is Younger, which is in its third season and starting to get on my nerves. If you recall, 40ish “Liza Miller” (Sutton Foster) is a divorced mother with a college-age daughter, whose ex-husband’s gambling left them in financial ruin. Liza attempted to revive her career in publishing, but time away from the industry as a SAHM, as well as ageism, made re-entry difficult. A makeover that allows her to pass as a 26-year-old gets her back in the game as an assistant at Empirical Press.

First of all, the idea that no one has yet to notice that Liza’s older than she asserts is ludicrous. But I digress. The real issue is that Liza—the seasoned professional—is so comfortable in her support staff role (e.g., fetching coffee), which is beneath her experience. In real life, these duties would most likely irk anyone who’d already been there, done that. It’s as though Liza forgot that she re-invented herself as a 20-something just to get her foot back in the door.

Now that she’s there, you’d think Liza would seize any/every opportunity to show off her knowledge to speed up a promotion (if only for the money, since she is indeed tapped out), then get a new job where she could go in as her mature self, and put an end to living a lie.

Foster’s character is good natured, but no professional trying to re-establish herself in business, especially in a competitive environment, would stand by and watch happily (read: maternally) as her millennial co-worker, “Kelsey Peters” (Hilary Duffy), glided past her to get her own imprint. Also, Kelsey is way too gracious, savvy and refined for a 20-something—a far cry from her counterparts on The Great Indoors.

But, that’s fiction for you.

Now, here’s my true experience, having spent the past several years working—albeit freelance—with people who could be my children.

They are not slackers. They work hard and take their jobs, as well as themselves, very—almost too—seriously; even when they are talking about something that sounds, to the naked ear, ridiculous, such as tweets, memes, and Insta shares.

They, however, often give themselves away by reverting to the language of teenagers. After handing in an assignment, I was treated to a congratulatory text from my young editor that read (I kid you not): Lorraine. Dude. Seriously. Good job. I was flattered by the acknowledgement, yet at the same time, embarrassed by the junior high exchange.

As much as they want to be respected for their superior computer skills, internet savvy, and social media mastery, they are overtly disrespectful of the life and professional experience of those who came before them; reducing someone’s decades of cultivating expertise in a field to “old school.”

On more than one occasion, when I contributed an idea or suggestion that outshined one of theirs, such ego-crushing offense was taken that they felt entitled to address me with a passive/aggressive remark or a just plain snotty tone. But when the shoe was on the other foot? I, like the aforementioned Jack Gordon, was chastised by HR for having had an impatient, perhaps condescending, quality to my voice.

All and all though, I find working with millennials not much different than working with colleagues my own age or older: everyone wants to be right, have the last word, and win.

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Lorraine Duffy Merkl
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels BACK TO WORK SHE GOES and FAT CHICK, for which a movie version is in the works.