"Who cares about a career? Not Gen Y," says the utterly maddening headline brought to you by Patricia Sellers at Fortune. She blames the lazy, ambitionless millennials for their current plight. They're so inferior to us respectable, principled Boomers, Sellers implies! No, she actually goes ahead and says this. In response to the recent Times profile, "American Dream Is Elusive for New Generation," Sellers wrote: "While the article focuses on the horrible job market for today's twenty-somethings, it suggests that these new adults are pretty much unfazed that they're not launching into a dream career. Apart from 14% of young adults who are unemployed today, 23% are not even seeking work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The New York Times notes that the total, 37% of young adults unemployed or not seeking work, is the highest rate in more than three decades and reminiscent of the 1930s." Oh, well then, these lazy kids "don't care," I guess. Because there are so many career-track jobs going begging out there.
It is a mystery where Sellers gets the idea that Scott Nicholson, the millennial subject of the Times profile, is "unfazed." The profile focuses on Nicholson's diligence at school, his dogged search for work, his incessant sending of resumes, his rising panic, his disappointment at failing to make it into Marines' officer training program (he was washed out owing to childhood asthma). I do not know which kind of insane you have to be, to fail to understand that this kid is fazed.
It gets worse!
One person who has been thinking a lot lately about this generational divide is Shelly Lazarus, the chairman of ad giant Ogilvy & Mather (WPPGY). That's not just because her clients — such as American Express (AXP), Ford (F), Coca-Cola (KO) and Unilever (UL) — need to heed the attitudinal differences in order to craft their marketing strategies, but also because half of Ogilvy's employees are under 30 years old. When I visited Lazarus a few days ago in her office, overlooking the Hudson River on Manhattan's far west side, she told me that as she's giving talks about Millenials [sic], audiences are blown away by this one fact:
Sixteen is the number of months before an average mid-20s employees [sic] leaves a job.
Wow. What's a manager to do to keep a Millenial [sic] on board? I — one of those classic Baby Boomers who has [sic] been at one company, Time Inc. (TWX), for 26 years — can't stop thinking that not only corporate loyalty but commitment to building a career may be a thing of the past.
Where to begin with this. Maybe with the seethingly obvious question: why would these twenty-somethings be leaving their jobs? (If they are, that is-the source of this information is not provided.) Can it be because a load of self-infatuated corpocrats with river-view offices aren't offering them job security, benefits or a decent salary? Or (more likely, in the current climate) is it because they are being restructured out in order to provide "gains" for shareholders?
Most gallingly of all, consider the extraordinary admission that Shelly Lazarus, despite the fact that she knows that these people have no jobs, is still plotting with Coca-Cola (KO) and American Express (AXP) to fleece them of whatever change they can scrounge out of the sofa.
"Classic Baby Boomer" Sellers already had years of experience working at Time Inc. during the boom years of the late 1990s, which saw shares of her company increase over a hundredfold. Literally. In those halcyon days, there was talk of zero federal debt. The presidency of George W. Bush had not yet begun, there was no war in Iraq or Afghanistan, 9/11 was years off, and the nascent Internet had brought enormous wealth to many media properties, a considerable amount of which has since evaporated. Some of those companies have hit the skids, and some are hanging in-not hiring new employees, but retaining their existing ones, such as, say, those who were hired before the boom years. But no!
While we Baby Boomers typically place high value on pay, benefits, stability and prestige, Gen Y cares most about fun, innovation, social responsibility, and time off.
The source for this simplistic and wrong-sounding analysis isn't given. But I can tell you, Patricia Sellers, why the millennials aren't following in your self-regarding footsteps. First, because there is very evidently no "pay, benefits, stability or prestige" to be had from the pack of thieves and vandals who currently are in charge. You need only look at how much cash the corpocrats are sitting on and the unemployment figures you cite above in order to see this. (You could start with a look at your own office.) And second, because one look at certain smug, selfish, wantonly destructive representatives of your generation is enough to convince anyone that whatever it is you did yourselves is best avoided.
Photo by Thee Erin from Flickr.