The Return of the Happy

Just before the great recession of 2007, not a day went by without some calling for “work/life balance.”  That was the complaint that expectations stemming from being paid too much were interfering with Millennials’ God-given right to enjoy themselves and have a seat at the bar for happy hour.  Then jobs disappeared and the only seat they could afford was on mommy’s couch in the basement.

Is it back?  At What About Clients?, Dan Hull gets teary eyed for Justin’s needs.

Read or skim in Entrepreneur this month the article “This Is How Millennials Want to Be Managed“. It’s a “happy workplace” piece and you can get its gist and message in a flash. We’ve all seen them before.

Finish it? Good. Thanks for reading. At the risk of sounding old, mean and cranky, let me make two quick comments.

So the Slackoisie got jobs, and they’re back to demanding that the world revolve around them?  Some dope started, built and succeeded in creating a business, only to be told by some happiness consultant its survival depends on adapting the business to meet the feelings of its newest hire?

Tammy Erickson, author of Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work and an executive fellow at the London Business School, co-directs a leadership program for senior executives. “I’d say 90 percent of the Gen X managers I work with are exasperated by Millennials,’’ she says. “They say, ‘I had to wait my turn; you need to wait yours. I had to follow rules. So do you. You’re asking for something quite different than what I had to go through.’”

Either she works with morons, or she’s created a strawman for the benefit of morons. We’ve heard the lies they tell themselves before.

Nobody, not even Gen X managers. says kids have to wait a week or two to get the corner office and billion dollar salary just because they did. They do, on the other hand, tell them they have to wait because they don’t deserve it yet because they aren’t competent. Same thing, Tammy?

“Most people think the problem would be a 52-year-old who can’t relate to a 24-year-old employee, but that’s not typical,” she adds. “The biggest friction is with the 35-year-old Gen X middle manager who resents the whiney Millennial who needs hand-holding.”

So Tammy, is the answer to bend to Justin’s whiney will?  Would the babies still buy the iPhone if it didn’t work, but every kid with two weeks tenure was a senior VP making big bucks? Hull says not likely, and offers his solution.

a. Get off your knees, you guys.

b. Ignore well-meaning writers and consultants who would have you manage people based [on] a north star or “trend” other then your own vision and instincts.

c. Employees are important but they are “third”–after customers (#1) and the company or division you’re managing or building (#2) to serve them. In service professions, clients are more important than any employee–and more important than the firm or company itself.

Tammy’s assumption is that there is no way around the slackoisie, so we must capitulate to their demands.  When Justin says “jump,” his boss must ask “how high?”  While Tammy is right that it’s not easy, she focuses on the wrong task.

The trick isn’t to succumb to the slackers’ demands, but to identify the Millennials who aren’t slackers, the ones who want to work, want to do well, understand that the world wasn’t created for the sole purpose of making them happy.

They are out there.  Granted, they can be hard to find, as so many of them present as self-proclaimed geniuses who know everything despite never having accomplished anything.  But they’re there. I’ve met them. Hull’s met them. They exist.

How can you tell one from the other?  Feedback is a dead giveaway.

But for Millennials, “feedback is getting a tip. It’s coaching, and they want it multiple times a day.”

Because their boss has no work to do, and can spend all day holding their hand.

“The biggest complaint from Millennials about managers that I hear is, ‘My boss cancels my one-on-ones all the time,’” Orrell says. “They conclude, ‘Oh well, he doesn’t value my time.’ And the No. 1 reason Millennials leave companies is that they don’t feel valued or respected.”

Why do they want “one-on-ones”?  So you can tell them how fabulous they are and give them a vigorous tummy rub with their new official title.  Hull, cranky guy that he is, disapproves.

I’ve been through the “we work better with constant feedback” thing with younger employees over and over again. Nearly 90% of the time–not all of the time but most of the time–that request means something quite different. It means that the requesting employees would like constant kudos and encouragement–think happy drumbeat or cheerleading–without negative criticism.

If you happened to notice one theme that runs throughout, it’s this expectation that life will only drop little turds of happy on their delightfully coiffed heads.  It’s not that big boys and girls don’t want to be happy, but that happy isn’t a constant and is something earned rather than owed.

They’re out there.  Millennials have been ruined by their helicopter moms telling them that their poopy smells like roses and teachers fearful of harshing their fee-fees.  But if they want a seat at the conference table instead of the couch in the basement, they’re going to have to put down the ducky and grow up.  Fortunately, I’m deeply encouraged by how many Millennials have learned this lesson.  But not all.

34 thoughts on “The Return of the Happy

  1. Scott Morrell

    I completely agree with your analysis, having run a large business with hundreds of employees. My biggest challenge was the Millennials, no matter if their position was a bus boy, waiter, bartender or general manager. Their sense of entitlement was unprecedented. I would resist as much to give in to this attitude and some would feel like I was too tough on them. However, my main concern was the care for my customers and their needs, which would obviously filter down to my employees needs. Without that focus, the rest of my very hard workers would be out of a job due to lack of business.

    This attitude unfortunately came from their parents. For instance, when Johnny was in a competition at school, and he came in 19th place out of 20 of his peers, his parents would say “You were 19th away from the best” rather than one away from the worst. This excessive coddling is the root cause, IMHO.

    1. LTMG

      15 or so years ago my son had a t-shirt on which was silkscreened “Second Place Is First Loser”. While I don’t completely agree with the idea, it’s a motto worth tattooing inside the eyelids of some millennials.

    2. Chris Bradley

      At 34, I am on the tail-end of the Millennial generation. Some might say I’m not a Millennial at all. But here’s my point, for what it’s worth: Some of us Millennials with children are seeing some things being done right, despite the hand-wringing. To wit: Cub Scouts. Take the classic derby race car challenge. Only one kid got the trophy last week. My son didn’t win anything because his car wasn’t fast enough.

  2. John Barleycorn

    Nice Ducky mix. Glad to see your depths ever expanding.

    Branford, who has appeared on Sesame Street on more than a few occasions coincidently, also has something to say about the poopy. (Poopy did you really use the word “poopy”? -never mind-)

    P.S. BTW, I am not as pessimistic as you, Dan, or Branford. It could have something to do with my familiarity with the cheap seats and the paths under the bleachers, as well as the habit for all variety of festivals I can’t seem to break.

    But I have had the fortune of crossing paths with a reasonably large cross section of Millennials both those with and without a college education.

    They are out there and I dare say a solid minority of them have their poppy together. And within that minority some of them are pretty hungry and potentially dangerously -in a good way IMHO – more aware and ready to do the work than they are sometimes given credit for.

    Time will tell…won’t be too long before they are wiping to poopy from our behinds. Might as well enjoy the ride.

    1. SHG Post author

      I have some doubts whether they will ever wipe any butt but their own. More likely, they’ll dump us on an ice floe and set us adrift.

      1. John Barleycorn

        I’ll bring a few drums of diesel fuel and the whiskey if you pack enough planks, from a few of the ships that are soon find the rocks, to get a worthy bonfire going.

            1. John Barleycorn

              That’s a hell of a lot of verbiage when a simple FU SHG 😉 with your thumb on the scale would have done the trick and balanced out the snark scales.

  3. CLS

    Oh no. That Entrepreneur article defines Millennials as people who grew up in the “early 1980s.”
    I was born in 1980. Does that make me a (gag) “Millennial?”

    I’ve seen this attitude, and I can sort of see both sides of the ideological spectrum. I don’t know why my attitude is different than peers in my respective age group. I suspect the reason that I’ve been given positions higher than some comes from this bizarre notion I was raised with that in order to be successful, you showed up early, busted your ass working hard, did what you were told without questioning “why,” and understood no one in life owed you a damn thing. My folks (specifically my mother, who did her best to raise me as a single parent) taught me that success wasn’t based on the amount of “attaboys” you got from your employer, but from how well you actually…y’know…did your job.

    I’m 34 now. I see where the parenting shift came in, having kids of my own. We tell our kids they’re unique, special, and there’s big, amazing things planned for them. Then they get in the world and they realize they’re not special, they’re not unique, and the world doesn’t automatically bend to their whims. Some go to their parents, and instead of Mom & Dad giving them the cold, hard, truth the parental figures say “It’s okay, Justin. They just don’t get how great you are.” I guess I was lucky enough to have parents who said “We think you’re special, but the rest of the world doesn’t see that. Now instead of complaining, go out there, work hard, and show the world why you’re special.”

    My only hope is that I can do the same for my two kids and hope they get the message.

    1. SHG Post author

      Some expect that it builds self-esteem when they’re young, but that as they grow, they’ll realize better. Instead, they carry unwarranted self-esteem into their prolonged adolescence.

      But for someone like you, it’s a gift. You get to stand out and succeed because of your work ethic and attitude without all the competition.

  4. John

    I remember reading another article about how kids these days expect such high pay for so little work… Wait, that was written in the 14th century. Let me see… Ah, yes, how they were lazy, self-centered, lost without new technology and could not… Oh, crud, that one was from the 1890’s. Alright, really this time, an article, oops, 1990. Getting closer, huh?

    Yeah, I hear it from older people and my own age group that this generation is different and current gripes are not like those from the past. I have yet to see anything quantifiable about their work ethic or about their productivity to convince me that this is not the same “kids these days” grousing we have seen since, oh, forever?

    1. DW

      Finally someone that isn’t a bitter curmudgeon. Most of they under 30 folks I’ve worked with in the last couple of years are perfectly component and normal human beings, not significantly different than myself a decade ago.
      What I have noticed is that my peers, and those above me, seem determined to have a problem with them. Scott likes to talk about how they need constant approval and “poopy wiping”, I see this completely differently. I see a bunch of young people that are trying to do a good job and advance, and can’t tell if they are doing a good job or if they need to change their process. The radio silence from management is distressing because they’re in debt, not making much money, and critically aware that they are easily replaceable. Supposedly mature people whine about millennialls significantly more than millennials whine about anything.

      1. SHG Post author


        Ironically, if all this was so, there wouldn’t be a thriving consulting business, with its concomitant posts, about the peculiar management needs of Millenials. Yet there is. Perhaps you ought to ask yourself why so many see a problem that eludes you. Maybe the problem isn’t all the other people, even if it makes you feel better to characterize them as “bitter curmudgeons” to make yourself feel less oblivious.

        1. SHG Post author

          Whoa. You don’t get to be a curmudgeon (bitter or sweet) until you put in an application and receive a vote of approval. It’s not that easy.

    2. SHG Post author

      Kid demands quantitative proof to his satisfaction that his generation is made up of entitled narcissists. QED.

  5. Dan Hull

    The concern with GenY is not “generation-bashing as usual”. I’ve heard this one before, too. As hard as it is to observe, analyze, accept and called by it right names, the problem Scott and I have discussed on our blogs since 2007 is (a) real, (b) unexpected on a level where words like “astonishing” and “shocking” are fairly called to mind and (c) unprecedented. At a minimum, owners and managers would be well-served to at least admit the problem exists.

    Customers and clients? They have already noticed.

      1. John Barleycorn

        All that reading to get way down here pretty much makes that assured.

        Congratulations, you win the gold star for the most subtlety delivered snark in the back pages of SJ this week esteemed one.

        P.S. My money is on Dan. The tenacity and thoroughness test does not produce reliable results if it is too overtly deployed.

    1. John

      I read your response, Dan. I was impressed by this sentiment back in high school in the 1980s when I learned my generation was so much lazier, more criminal, lower IQ (the dumb ones breed faster, ya know) , overly dependent on technology, promiscuous and full of crack babies and terrible mothers. Then I began reading historical writings because I am weird that way. Now I have the perspective that I read this over and over and over and have become quite disillusioned with this talk. I am like the teacher whose new batch of students are claiming they have it worse than before just like the last 10 years have. *Yawn* Unimpressed.

      1. SHG Post author

        Your response, that every generation thinks the one after it is lazy, stupid, etc., is one that has been made many times. It’s also been shown as a facile rationalization, a generic excuse that fails to address any actual issue raised, and fails to recognize some salient distinctions with millennials that distinguish them from others.

        That you don’t buy it is fine. It’s not all about you. The irony is that you seem to think that writing “unimpressed” makes a difference one way or the other. That’s the entitled narcissism that plagues many millennials, and your inability to see it in yourself is what makes this far more humorous than you appear to grasp.


    I’m glad my profession doesn’t have to deal with this. You either make money or lose money trading.
    That’s about as close to perfect feedback as I can ascertain.

  7. Todd E.

    My wife is a 9th and 10th grade English teacher, and she struggles constantly with the fact that they are no longer allowed to fail students.

    Her classes are mostly filled with students who won’t do the work, who write at a 3rd grade level, and don’t care. They don’t expect to go anywhere, other than maybe internet famous, or broke and pregnant. And at the end of the year, no matter how little work they’ve done, she’s required to pass them.

    I don’t know how this looks in states other than Arkansas. But the parents are mostly involved, and the kids aren’t looking toward any discernible future. So, fun for everybody…

      1. Robert Beckman

        Being left to my own devices won’t be such a problem, for at least two reasons (though I can’t speak for other millennials).

        First, as soon as the Baby Boomers are old enough to stop voting we can dump them on your ice floes by cutting social security, which is really a form of taxation without representation, since we’ll be the ones on the hook to pay for their retirement.

        Second, as a millennial in senior management it’ll be easy to deal with others not willing to pull their own weight – I’ll cut them. This is where the big shocker will come from, when I can get better work product at a lower cost elsewhere, I have no reason to buy a worse product here. Of course, those who didn’t fall victim to the entitlement phenomena will prosper, while those who did will pump my gas (and to be clear, nothing wrong with that, it’s an honorable profession, as is Ny form of work).

  8. Jack

    Reading this shit (not you, the entrepreneur article) hurts my brain real bad.

    To companies: Hiring people is hard work and finding qualified people requires you to wade through a morass of incompetent people (from every generation). Spend money finding qualified people and these “issues” are non-existent…

    To millenials: If you don’t make enough money, it’s because you are incompetent and most likely an asshole. Just because that other 24 year old is making 150k a year doesn’t mean you deserve to make the same. They are making 150k a year because they are competent, can actually innovate (without quotes), and companies like working with them because they aren’t whiny little shits like you. Eat your humble pie and stop bitching – a College degree !== competency and experience.

  9. Bruce Godfrey

    In fairness to the Millennials, they did not invent narcissism; that word comes from a language, culture and (ahem) millennium that few of them have studied.

    Would that these unreflective young fools (those who are fools, certainly not all) learn a different Greek word: ἀρετή/arete, excellence not by being a “special snowflake” but by being a worthy instance of generally accepted values and virtues. We do not revere General Patton because he was a “special snowflake”; if anything, Patton’s admitted tendencies towards being a prima donna were his hamartia. We admire him because he embodied military virtues of character, intelligence and fearlessness with arete and because he and his Third Army in fact slew Nazi armies when slaying was desperately needed. He earned and wore medals, but his eyes looked ahead to enemy positions to crush, not to his own accumulation of brass.

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