“And it will be a long time before you see them again” he added.
‘He’ wasn’t a consultant, sociologist or futurologist. He was a farmer jumping on to his tractor outside my house.
But let’s leave him for now and come back to him later. Let’s talk a little bit about the famous Millennials… whatever and whoever they are.
Whatever and whoever they are, I hear people go on about them, warning us about how very different they are and talk about them as if they had come from nowhere, as if they landed on us from a distant and very strange planet.
Some of the warnings I hear are about how self focused and self-interested they are.
Long-term relationships and loyalty to an organisation or entity are, apparently, a thing of the past.
We have to learn to cope with this, we are told.
But, is it just about coping or is it about understanding? I mean, where did they come from?
Where did the Millennials come from?
Back to my farmer on his tractor.
What he was referring to by ‘good jobs’ were jobs where people were respected, appreciated, and where they and their lives were valued by the companies to which they belonged. Where people mattered.
“Now they don’t,” he told me. “Work is designed and organised so that people can be taken on for the shortest period possible to avoid any longer term commitment to them.”
As evidence for this, he told me about the construction of a new centre for a large social media company – one that will attract those millennials both as employees and as users. Large-scale equipment on a gigantic scale is being used and equally large tranches of work is getting done but in segments of two weeks. Workers are either let go or rehired for the next tranche of work. Squeaky clean, zero commitments and no strings attached. And, in case I wasn’t already sufficiently horrified he added that drones are being used to monitor the people while they are at work.
Is this a means to cope with self-interested millennials or is it this that leads to self-interest in everyone, in the first place?
Is it a result or a cause?
Is a good thing or a bad thing?
And if, perchance, you think it is a good thing, who is it good for? The Company or Society?
What’s bad for Society is bad for Everyone
The trouble is that, if it is bad for Society then it will ultimately be bad for the Company and for every company.
Work and people will be commoditised as will the contribution and service that workers provide.
And, when this happens, everyone suffers.
At present, in Dublin, Ireland, we are having strikes by bus drivers over pay.
Now, of course, like all or most pay issues, there are relativities involved and it is complex.
But, if we leave all that aside, what is happening is that a company, Dublin Bus, is unable to engage its drivers in providing a truly valuable service to the people of Dublin and do so in such a way that they, the drivers, feel proud to be part of something so meaningful and feel adequately appreciated and rewarded for their part in providing that service.
Is that asking or expecting too much? I don’t think so at all.
Doing this would involve highlighting the meaning and value of the work, of the service, and of the people providing that service.
Take away that meaning and you are left with nothing but haggling over percentage increases.
Take away meaning and you rob workers, people, millennials included, of what they most long for and need.
Help, not Cope!
Yes, companies can improve the bottom line, be more competitive and ultimately increase shareholder value to more and more short-term contract work and less and less commitment to long-term relationships.
But ultimately they and all of us will pay a big price for this short-term, narrow focus.
There are some companies who are choosing not to go down this road.
We can join with them in learning, not how to cope with millennials, or with any grouping for that matter, but how to help them and all of us to relate and manage as full human beings in healthy and truly productive relationships.
That way we can prove my farmer friend wrong around how long it will be before we see good jobs again. Work and people, human beings, will be intimately linked and both of them valued and appreciated.
Can Companies afford to do all that? Can they, and we, all of us, afford not to do it?