Kent State PR prof Bill Sledzik offers a pungent reflection (or is it a moderate rant?) on teaching Millennials how to write, and how the task differs from teaching GenXers:
"I expect a lot from students, and I don’t coddle them. But even the old grizzly bear has made concessions to the Millennial ego. For
instance, I no longer use the label 'trainwreck' to describe the worst
papers. I did with the GenXers, and they responded."
Well, 20 years ago I was a GenXer at Kent State my English composition prof Dr. Jack Null gave me a "D" on my first paper because I had neglected to type a period and thus had created a run-on sentence. And yes, I responded: First by complaining bitterly, and then by taking the rest of the writing very seriously.
By the end of the semester I was laughing along with my would-be adviser as he told a tearful girl she her term paper would be docked a grade for being late.
"But my printer broke!" she cried.
"She thinks God broke her printer," Dr. Null muttered to me in the hallway later.
But that's not the end of the story—and this is why I'm the very last to bellyache about these cheeky Millennials:
I thought Dr. Null's was the last comeuppance I was ever going to get, and by the time I hit the workforce, I thought I was the veteran with the writing chops and the work ethic, and everyone else was the dumb girl with the broken printer.
Several months into my first writing job, at Ragan, there was an editorial meeting about how to re-enliven the front page of The Ragan Report.
The obvious solution was to have founder and Larry Ragan resume writing his popular front-page column, gravely titled, "It Seems to Me." But Larry was getting older, and he didn't want to go back to cranking out a weekly column.
"I'm pretty creative," I said brightly. "Maybe we could trade off!"
Along with the temperature in the room, my idea was silently dropped. Later it got back to me that the word "callow" had come up in Larry's assessment of me, and I didn't have to doubt where he got the impression.
But neither do I blame myself or rue my youthful confidence. It wasn't disrespect of Larry's years. It was just overconfidence—in my mind, in my writing ability, in my education and my upbringing.
And to me, any kid you'd want to hire shows up thinking he or she is the Second Coming. It's how the kid handles the bad news—and how you deliver it—that makes the difference between whether that kid leaves you and goes on to star somewhere else, or whether he or she sticks around and, as happened for me at Ragan, eventually takes your place in the saddle.
Because eventually, you are going to need that saddle filled. And probably, sooner than you think.
Three years later, Larry died, and I was chosen to help edit his memoir, in which his widow Jeanne wrote, "Larry liked you so much and thought you did a wonderful job."
Thanks, in large part, to Larry.
Murray, you keep posting things that take me rewinding back decades and reminding me of stories I’d completely forgotten!
When I was in university a similar thing happened to me. Only, it was a typewriter [you Millenials will need to Google that] on which the ribbon ran out of ink. Since it was the middle of the night on a weekend, and there weren’t 24-hour Kinkos on every corner in those days, I hand-wrote the rest of the paper [about 4 pages of text, plus the endnotes and the bibilograpy] so I could hand it in on time. It just never occurred to me to show up sans paper and whine about it. And I didn’t get docked.
Looking back I think that was a good training ground for the job I do now, because the bottom line in business is that you need to get the job done if you want to succeed: get the promotion, win the client, sell the widget, whatever. Excuses are a waste of everyone’s time.
While I agree that mentoring and guiding a younger employee is important and reasonable, there has to be a willingness on the part of these “Second Coming” kids to hear ANYTHING that isn’t “the sun shines out your tushie and you are the best thing since sliced bread just because you exist!!”
Despite all the articles and opinions I’ve seen over the past 5-8 years, that have insisted that these Millenials and their demands for changes in the structure of work and workplaces will revolutionize things, and that we will see a true “work/life balance” environment and a new approach to work as a result, guess what? It hasn’t happened yet in any workplaces I’ve seen.
There are some great, talented, intelligent, creative and dedicated younger people in the workforce – I’m lucky enough to have two of them working in my department in fact. But I continue to believe that the culture of entitlement the “new” style of parenting is creating is a bad idea, both for the workplaces AND the workers of the future.
I don’t think that makes me crusty, I think it makes me a realist. Because you can say what you want – the fact is this: customers/clients just don’t give a rat’s ass that your kid is sick, or your battery died, or your sun sign went retrograde – they want what the company promised them and if they don’t get it they’ll go somewhere else without a second thought, and then you don’t have a company or a job.
David Murray says
Kristen, ultimately you’re right: Customers aren’t interested in excuses and the company does have to deliver what it promised.
But in order for the company to continue to deliver what it promises, people have to be developed. And part of developing them is, or used to be, breaking the young, talented ones like wild horses, and truly integrating them into the culture of the organization, so that they get some of it in their souls.
And THAT is what has really changed, I think. The impatience of organizations, the short-term thinking that says, “We’ve got to get someone in here who can hit the ground running.” And forgets to ask, “Who’s going to care about this business enough to do the job their way, tomorrow?”
Our pal Rueben has something to say about this on his blog:
I’ve actually had another half-baked blog post on this whole generational issue rolling around in my head for about two weeks. I have some really bright Gen Y people working for me, and we’ve been having an interesting ongoing discussion about the stereotype of their generation and how they feel about it. I’ve actually scheduled a lunch with them this Friday to talk about that whole topic.
I don’t deny that each generation has its unique influences – culturally, technologically, politically etc. But, to your whole point here, I do wonder how many of the “personality traits” attributed to generational differences are really just the result of age. Gen Y is different. But to a large degree I think what makes them different from Gen X and Boomers is that they are young and we no longer are.
Bill Sledzik says
Does the labeling of generations make sense? I don’t think so, but it sure does drive blog traffic. Sheesh.
Truth is there have always been “great, talented, intelligent, creative and dedicated younger people in the workforce.” And just as in the past, some are impatient whiners, some hard-working team players.
By the way, I’m in my mid-50s now, and some people still consider my blog to be callow, but for some reason they prefer the word “sophomoric.” I’ll keep workin’at it!
What say you jump on that motorcycle and cruise to Kent for a few beers? I’ll get the tab and the cab!
David Murray says
The very first chance I get, Bill.