Participation Trophies at Work

Found this post while cleaning up my drafts and decided to publish it. I wrote this almost two years ago, yet didn’t need to change a thing.  

I have yet to meet a millennial that enjoys being called a millennial. I often hear from my fellow generation that they are often called out in meetings for probably being too young to understand a reference, or too young to remember such and such event or some other ridiculous comment. When there’s only one or two young folks in the meeting room out of twenty, this can be very uncomfortable and slightly embarrassing. We are often talked to like we are responsible for an entire generation of people, for example “your generation is lazy because you all received participation ribbons.” or “you have never lived without technology and that’s ruining you all.” I usually listen with a nice warming smile, but I’m screaming at you in my head. I don’t want to take responsibility for how my generation turned out (mostly because your generation raised us)!

I don’t understand the uproar over the participation ribbon phenomenon because we didn’t give them to ourselves. This particular topic is one that will send any boomer or gen xer into an uproar even though it can be linked directly back to them. Going back to the time we were all running around a soccer field as tots to now. Why up until now? Because they are still handing out participation ribbons. That problem employee that you wish had a better attitude, you aren’t correcting it and you’re still signing a paycheck for that person every week. That entitled employee that thinks he knows everything isn’t being counseled by you because you don’t feel like dealing with him, but you’ll sign his paycheck every week. That employee that’s late every single day isn’t getting written up because you don’t have the time to sit down with her, but you still sign her paycheck every week. That employee who is only grasping half of her job isn’t receiving any further training because you can’t deal with her millennial attitude, but you can still sign her paycheck every week.

We don’t live in a perfect world so the stereotypes will always exist. The next generation to enter the workforce will endure their hazing that every previous generation has endured in years before them. They will listen to the snarky comments and smile when being called out for being to young (or incompetent) to understand what every one is talking about. We can’t get rid of the stereotypes overnight, but what we can do is try to fix the problem instead of contribute to it. If you don’t like what your “millennials” are doing, then talk to them about it. Stop going to seminars (led by people who are not millennials) about how to work with millennials and how to talk to them and just treat them like human beings. I can tell you right now how to talk to millennials:

Step 1) Find a millennial

Step 2) Open mouth

Step 3) Say words

Bam! Easy enough? And you saved a couple hundred bucks. We are not super secret, hard to understand human beings. We are employees who come to work just like you do and need guidance and feedback sometimes. We are the future of your organization and we will be responsible for the generations after us, just like you should feel responsible for us. We will carry on the legacy of our chosen fields and the organizations that we work for. You will one day pass the torch on to our generation and we hope you can do so with words of wisdom and encouragement instead of crappy remarks about how we conduct ourselves. We aren’t all the same and we know that everyone in your generation isn’t the same.

Here’s what I really want to know: What are you doing at work to address your “millennial problems?” Are you still complaining about participation trophies, but letting your workforce go rewarded for poor performance?

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