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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

And This Is Why Millennials Get Such a Bad Rap

Millennials working hard

Millennials are entitled. They’re narcissistic. They’re spoiled and they’re lazy.

Surely, you’ve heard all of this? And you’ve sighed, exasperated by the frequency of these stereotypical statements that fail to acknowledge that Millennials as a whole—like every other generation—include incredibly awesome, ambitious people, as well as those who aren’t so great.

At The Muse, we avoid talking about Millennials too much for this very reason. And yet still, sometimes it’s really hard to remember that the people making headlines (who check off every box on a person’s list of Millennial problems) make up only a small sample size of the group.

A recent article in the New York Times focused on Millennial workplace behavior (see above for appropriate adjectives). Integrity, character, and honesty are notably absent throughout the piece. While many sections made me pause, the most memorable anecdote was that of 27-year-old Joel Pavelski, Director of Programming at digital news site Mic. Upon feeling burned out, he decided not to speak to his boss about taking a couple of personal days to recharge, but to fabricate a tale of friend’s death. His supervisor, who reacted as any decent human being would, told him to take the time that he needed to deal with the tragedy.

The truly crazy thing about Pavelski’s bold lie isn’t that he made it up (after all, as he says “It’s easy to say someone died. It’s much harder to say, ‘I think I’m having a nervous breakdown’”), it’s that he made no effort to keep it under wraps. That quote came from an article he wrote on Medium and published while “mourning,” clearly revealing that he was not at a funeral, but outside, building a treehouse. For the insubordination, he received a slap on the wrist—one more indiscretion like that, and he’s gone.

Like the disgruntled Yelp employee, who may or may not have considered the consequences of writing an open letter to her CEO outlining her many grievances with both the company and the organization’s leader himself, these social media expressions aren’t viewed as faux pas, even if others—Millennials included—can’t stop shaking their head at the stupidity, the carelessness, and the callousness.

The stories don’t exactly paint a pretty picture of those individuals born between 1981 and 2000, and that’s a shame. As long as a certain entitled subset continue to act out (I’m sorry, but there’s no other way to describe some of these well publicized incidents), it’s going to remain difficult for people to see the whole picture and not be inclined to criticize an entire generation.

I agree with Joan Kuhl, founder of consulting company, Why Millennials Matter, who feels that part of the problem with the ever-growing bad rap is the fact that we don’t often hear about the (much larger) class-act group, the professional twenty and thirty-somethings who wouldn’t dare lie about a death to get out of work and who’d think twice before tweeting something negative about their job. And I guess it would be boring to write about the young professional who approached his manager about taking a day off to regroup and recharge, or about the entry-level staff member who found a way to address an issue of concern with his boss in a calm and respectful tone of voice. Indeed, these are not the kinds of things that make for great headlines.

So, if you’re a Millennial, what can you do to get your older co-workers to stop buying into these trend pieces? Continue to show up at the office and be your awesome, ambitious self. No matter what generation’s currently cool to bash (heard of Gen Z?), actions will always speak louder than words.

And if you’re one of those co-workers, how should you react? Like you would react to any outlandish story—you’d recognize it as an anomaly and not as a clear sign that all the rumors are right. After all, you used to be that new generation, too—and you turned out OK.