If anything sums up how weird these times are for young people economically and otherwise, it’s the fact that several of this year’s commencement speeches to newly graduating American university students dispensed with the convention of being 100% encouraging. Adam Savage, co-host of a popular television show, Mythbusters, told the graduates of Sarah Lawrence, a small liberal-arts college just outside New York City, “You will, at some point, probably move back in with your parents. Sorry, but it’s true, it’s cool, and it’s only temporary.” Writer and journalist Wenguang Huang, author of the Chinese Cultural Revolution memoir The Little Red Guard, made a similar remark to the graduating class at the University of Illinois Springfield.
Adults born after about 1980–called the Millennial generation in America because they came of age in the new millennium—face a unique set of challenges, according to Robin Marantz Henig and her twenty-something daughter Samantha Henig, who co-wrote a book on them. Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?, released in November of this year, is a thoughtful, insightful treatise on this privileged yet beleaguered set. There are many books of its genre; this one distinguishes itself by offering not just an analysis, but also practical advice both for Millennials and for those who—for good or for ill—have to deal with them.
Robin Marantz, who is the author of eight other books, explained to Quartz the phenomenon of the Millennials moving back in with their parents, arguing that slackerdom has little to do with it: “Each generation is supposed to make more money than their parents, but the economy is tougher now. Things [Millennials] might have expected, like a house, just cost proportionately more.” What exacerbates the delay, she added, is that younger people marry at much older ages than did the previous generations. “In my generation, there was an expectation that you would be in a two-income home.”
Once Millennials do get jobs, their attitudes can cause conflict and misunderstandings in the workplace. A common stereotype of Millennials is that they feel entitled and exempt from dues-paying: Whereas previous generations had to get coffee for their boss, younger people seem loath to do that. Samantha, who is a web editor at the New York Times Magazine (for which her mother also writes), said this is unfair. “Not paying dues doesn’t necessarily indicate a sense of entitlement or being spoiled and ungrateful,” she said. “For managers, that’s something I would caution. If you’re a good manager, you can inspire people to work hard and prove themselves. The way dues looks now is different, and managers need to recognize that.”
Samantha referred to the notorious unpaid internship as an example of what modern-day dues-paying looks like. She added, “The ladder [for Millennials] is different. There is the argument that if you start at the bottom, you’ll never work your way up.”
When asked about why Millennials do things that irk some managers—constantly looking at Facebook, listening to music while at work—Samantha said, “There is a real disconnect between what a young person counts as productive working, and what looks to a manager like business. Being on Twitter is part of the job. Listening to music doesn’t keep [young people] from being productive.”
At least one manager embraces the exuberance of Millennials: Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts, who said at a Harvard Business Review event in New York on Nov. 27: “Most companies tell them to get off Facebook. I love when they have four different things open. That’s how they live.”
As for the slacker image, Samantha objected: “These kids are available around the clock! There is much less a boundary [these days] between being at home and being in the office. Older people [might arrive at work earlier], but they also might count longer lunches as part of being in the office. Young people might come in later, but might not have a lunch break.”
Her mother agreed: “Managers need to rethink the signifiers they’re accustomed to. [But] you still have to respect your bosses and your job and play by the rules. Even if you think there is a more efficient way to do it, you do what your boss wants.”
Samantha, while defending her generation, still strongly believes that they have to compromise, and that being young is not an excuse for bad manners. For example, she is not a big fan of those who constantly interrupt face-to-face conversations to check their phone. “I think it’s atrocious,” she said.
Robin, in turn, thinks her own generation has to compromise with the younger generation, too, giving a disturbing but honest admonition: “The younger generation is always right because they’re going to be in charge, so we need to get used to it.”