Much fuss has been made about the recent article by Cathryn Sloane which stated that online community managers should be under 25, because they understand social media better than older folks. Cathryn took a lot of criticism for the article and also a good deal of outright bullying about the piece.

I wrote the other day about how I think her argument actually has some merit, and my friend Geoff Livingston published this article in support of Cathryn and this great piece today on Razoo's Inspiring Generosity highlighting 5 amazing under-25 community managers.

Yes, there are many, many young people out there who, if given a chance, can do amazing things. The problem is, many of us old farts (the over 35s, I call them) so easily discount and discredit younger people because we think they have no experience, no discipline, no sense of responsibility, and no hope for success.

I don't swear on this blog normally. But in this case, there's only one word I can use to describe this mentality. Bullshit.

The issue is fear. We are afraid of hiring and working with younger folks because we don't quite understand them. The party all the time mentality. The sense of entitlement. The addiction to electronics and the internet. The lack of social skills and common sense. While these behaviours do surface in some younger people, in my experience dealing with this age group often, they are not the norm. And, I'm sorry, but teenagers with a sense of entitlement is not a 21st century disease. I was 17 once. Ask my Mom if I had a sense of entitlement.

I want you to feel more comfortable giving 20-somethings a chance. I'm hoping these ideas will help.

They don't, and won't, think like you.

Here's how I related to the world when I was in my twenties. I had cable TV, but only about 20 channels. I had a phone at home with an answering machine and I had to be at home to retrieve my messages. I had a phone at work and no voicemail. Messages were taken by a receptionist and given to me on pink pieces of paper. I had no computer so wrote everything by hand.

The average twenty something today thinks that kind of life would be the mot abysmal thing they could imagine. They don't know how we could have survived that way. Today we live in a world of instant communication. I started this post 30 minutes ago and now I'm sharing it with the world. To 40-somethings that's astounding. To 20-somethings, they wouldn't accept anything less.

Their brains are wired differently than ours. They have entirely different expectations than we do of social interaction and communication. That means, to work well with them, you need to set your expectations up front. Let them know what you expect in terms of response time, and let them know what they can expect from you. Be super clear on deadlines and what they need to communicate to you if there are issues on a project. Trust me, being crystal clear up front will save you a whole lot of “kids these days” comments.

They don't, and won't, keep your schedule.

Whether you like it or not, the shape of the work environment is changing. The average 20-something does not run on a 9-5, Monday to Friday clock (with two 15 minute breaks and a half hour for lunch!). Work happens when there is work to be done, and 20-somethings, when given solid direction, clear expectations and realistic deadlines, will work days, nights and weekends to get the job done, and they don't mind – as long as they aren't also forced to be at the office at 8am Monday morning.

If you want to have a happy 20-something, let them work on their own schedule. Yes, give them deadlines, and yes, have consequences when they aren't met. But allow your young people to work from 5pm to midnight if they want. Give them remote access so they can work from home or from a coffee shop. They will be more productive and more motivated. Does it mean you need to trust them? Absolutely! But you'll know pretty quickly if they can be trusted with their own schedule, because it will show in what they are able to deliver. So stop being such a control freak and give your team some freedom.

They will amaze you if you give them a chance.

Young people are energetic, creative, fearless and don't make assumptions. You know, those traits all those business books keep telling us we need to have. The thing is, so many older people automatically assume they know what's best, and have the most experience. So young people often get relegated to the back of the room. They don't get copied on emails or invited to meetings, because people don't think they can make a contribution. Just sit in your cubicle little Johnny and we'll let you know if we need a photocopy or something.

The next time you have a big issue – you're stuck on your marketing strategy or your new web design, or you need to figure out how to get your sales team to be more productive – bring all the 20 somethings into a room with laptops and white boards and get them to work on the problem. You will see some amazing things happen. Yes, not all the ideas will be founded on decades of experience. But you'll be surprised at the ideas that come out when a group of people doesn't have any pre-conceived notions of what can or cannot work. I see this in my students all the time. It's why I make them do team projects. They never, ever cease to astound me with their creativity and problem solving skills. Again, hang up your control freak hat for a bit and try it.

Yes, those of us who have been in the working world for 20 or so years have a lot to offer. Yes, our experience has gotten us far. But as cliche as it sounds, young people are the future. They are the ones that will eventually be running our companies. So doesn't it make sense to give them the best possible start now?



7 Responses

  1. Susan:

    Great post with some useful insights in working with millennials. My experience matches yours in that they bleed for you, but you have to let them be free with an unconventional work/life balance. Teleworking is a great gift in this sense.

    To the future!


  2. This was a great piece, and as a millennial, I’m so happy to be reading this. I respect all those who came before me–like you and Geoff–and it means a lot to us to be encouraged by our role models. So thank you!

    Oh, and thanks for linking to the Razoo blog this morning! 🙂


  3. I’m working with Jason Falls now, who’s a GenXer like me, but my last boss? Was 25 years old. He was also amazing, and I enjoyed working with him. In fact, most of my coworkers at my last job were in their 20s, and it was one of my favorite workplaces ever. 🙂 I don’t have issues working with (or even for) someone younger than me. I have issues working with people of any age who aren’t competent and expect to succeed because of their absolute (and misplaced) conviction that they’re awesome, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Which is hardly an attitude exclusive to Millenials. 😉 Experience, confidence, and new ideas can all enhance competency, but it doesn’t replace it, KWIM?

    When I wrote about the Sloane kerfuffle on SME, I really appreciated the specific advice my friend Crystal Miller gave on working with twentysomethings. It was a lot of the same advice you’re giving: make expectations and deadlines and deliverables crystal clear, and make sure you give enough direction to ensure that they follow through and plan all the way to the end of a project.

    I do feel bad that twentysomethings are exiting college with a crappy job market. Mostly because it’s almost exactly like the situation I had to deal with when I was starting out back in the 90s. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    1. I hear you Kat – the job market isn’t necessarily ideal, but I think many employers are missing out on opportunities to hire younger people because they are afraid. I hope that some people are willing to take the chance!

  4. Hey Susan,

    Absolutely fantastic post. And I have to agree with Ifdy, it’s refreshing to read knowing there are people out there willing to work with 20-Somethings. It does take a different approach: clearly outlining expectations, providing direction and setting clear deadlines. But you’re right when you say results can be staggering.

    It seems like every time there’s a generation gap in the workforce, a different approach is required. I’m sure babyboomers had a heck of a time training and mentoring the new GenX. My assumption is they didn’t have the technology to document the process and share their concerns like we do now 😉

  5. Hear hear! I follow a number of students who I taught and who graduated recently. I’m always learning from them online.

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