Are They Worth the Trouble?

Posted on: 01/10/12 5:26 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I find it funny how much disagreement there is about the generation most commonly knows as the Millennials. The professional world is still trying to figure out whether this group of young people is worth the hassle! Ministries wonder if they make good volunteers.

What about you? Would you want them on your team?

Millennials, also know as Gen Y, born roughly between 1980 and mid to late 90’s (that means they are roughly between the ages of 16 to 32 right now, but most often refers to college students and young professionals), are often known for their attitude of entitlement, their lackadaisical prowess, and their dire need for a wireless connection. They’ve been described as narcissistic, uncommitted and ultimately unreliable.

Is this stigma fair?

As a guy who spends a good part of my week researching youth culture, attitudes and trends, I often find myself going to bat for this age group. Recently, a friend of mine read me a paragraph from a well-known Christian book about emerging adulthood, and I heard much of the same descriptors: lazy, uncaring, selfish. I can’t say that I agreed with much. I constantly come across research to the contrary about this generation who, in a recent study by Metlife, was 8 percent more likely than the general population to work extra hours and take a second job.

My dad and I have spent quite a bit of time studying this age group for our seminars about volunteerism, detailing a lot of our findings in THE NEW BREED, our book about recruiting, training, and even firing today’s volunteers. We find GEN Y precarious at times, and definitely fragile… but well worth it.

Maybe some of us are critical because we don’t understand them. Half of them would choose a smartphone rather than a car. No, seriously. An automotive analyst for Gartner did a study on 18-24 year olds, summarizing, “The iPhone is the Ford Mustang of Today.” That’s the thing about this generation. They will wow you one moment, and then leave you scratching your heads the next.

Funny… I was just sticking up for Gen Y this week, citing new research about how involved they are in social issues, and how their tech-savvy minds stretch us to think outside the box. Then just this morning I received an email from a youth worker who is bringing me out to teach a workshop to a bunch of Gen Y volunteers. They asked if I could move the workshop from 9AM to 10AM because 9AM is too early.

Soooooo Gen Y.

Ya gotta love em’…or you’ll probably shoot em.’

My dad just wrote an article titled, Why Are We Dissing Gen Y Volunteers When They Have So Much to Offer? in that article he quotes the head of human resources for a large corporation:

“You are not going to diss on Gen Y are you? We are getting so tired of people tearing them down. If you are going to do that, we don’t want you to speak to our group because we are finding that they are some of our best workers. They are creative, hard working and energetic compared to the cynical long-term employees who are just marking time until they can retire.”

We were glad to hear someone stick up for that group. He was pretty excited to hear that we were pro-Gen-Y. (In the article, my dad goes on to cite an MSN article describing Gen Y’s workplace strengths, according to a CareerBuilder writer. Fascinating stuff.)

Today another article dropped in my inbox (ht to about GEN Y, comparing their work ethic to Gen X (my generation). In this article, the author argues that Millennials want what she called “Work-Life Blending,” compared to Gen X, who wanted work-life balance:

Gen X workers introduced the mantra of work-life balance. They wanted their employers to give them flexibility in their job so they could still devote time to their families and personal wellbeing. Millennials have morphed that idea into work-life blending. Instead of switching between professional mode to personal mode like Gen Xers, Millennials are always in both.

At work, Millennials want to have the freedom to access social networks, take personal calls, chat with friends via IM, use their own tech devices, etc. Outside the office, they’ll take work calls at home, check their work email as often as their personal email (even during off hours), and view coworkers as friends. (Click here for the rest of that article from Ypulse).

Gen Y is definitely a mixed can of nuts.

But I always say, when life gives you peanuts, make peanut brittle. (Okay… I actually have never said that… until now.)

What has your experience been?
What has your experience been with this younger generation of teenagers, college students and 20-somethings who seem like they have to check their Facebook status from their smartphone every 8 minutes? Are they your next volunteer… your next employee? What have you learned managing this bunch?

17 Replies to “Are They Worth the Trouble?”

  1. Great article here! I am a millennial myself, 27 years old, single, video gaming and iPhone carrying youth minister from Dallas, so I can speak from experience. I’ve matured quite a bit from the status of lazy and careless….mostly because I had to make a choice….was I to rely on stuff to come to me, or creatively use what I know and have to be a blessing to others. I started growing bitter about what all it took for me to get in both in ministry and in broadcasting ( my degree is Broadcast Journalism ) especially after working 4 jobs in college, late overnights and weekends at an NBC affilaite in OKC and mistreatment as just a volunteer in the youth department of a small church….thankfully things changed! I think what you can anticipate for many of us millennials to take a great climb…a sudden drop….and then a gradul recline again as far as mindset, work ethic and more. All of this will likely be in play as we grow up more, pay our own way, volunteer more and mature in all areas from Faith to Finance to Politics. Hope that helps….I know I’ve learned and changed a lot from my earlier years…even just within the last three years.

  2. I like Kendall am a millennial, but 25 years old and married with a 16 month old kid. But I have got the iPhone and into all kinds of electronics and media. I carry a 1.6 K/D ratio in Call of Duty, I can beat pretty much all of the kids in my Youth Group. I am a hard worker but I am also a hard player. And my family is a big priority to me. In my senior year of college I was in class from 9am-3pm, and then would work from 4pm-1am most days. Worked with a weekend Youth Ministry and was a techie. And then upon graduating I hit the ground running, taking on a full-time ministry position at a church of 500+, working with 40 students my first year, down a little to 30ish my second, and a much smaller and younger group this year of around 25 because of so many graduates in the past two years. But I balance work, family, play, and my relationship with God very well, or at least I think I do, and a lot of times all four of those areas will bleed into each other. On the flip side, there are others in our age range who are the exact opposite in all areas, and they are the ones that have the feelings of entitlement and an easy life. The thing is, I think that they are rather the minority instead of the majority. But thanks to new coverage, surveys, and other press they are made out to be a much larger portion of our generation than they really are. So, we do get a bad rep at times. I even have some friends and old classmates that fit the bill, and it bugs the crap out of me. They will sit there and complain about so much, and then not do a thing about it. And we all know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and attention, while the rest of us who are not like that get over looked or have comments made about us that we are the exception to the rule. The only thing we can do is to keep doing what we are doing and help to change our image in a few people’s eyes, then hopefully it will catch on.

    1. Josh, I think you’re right about the news- they always seem to focus on the minority. All Christians are like Westboro Baptist… right? Thanks for your feedback.

  3. As someone who falls into this category myself, my experience with my peers has been mixed, but I do commonly see the Life-Work Blending that YPulse refers to. I fit that almost exactly myself. I think it mostly applies to Millennials who enjoy their work and what they do, though. Otherwise, I wonder if there’s almost the opposite affect where they’re even kind of ignoring work while at work?

  4. I have two Godsons right on the cusp of this generation..they will be 16 in April. They love their phones, games, ect..I do find that they seem to be extremely lazy when it comes to doing ANYTHING else. If you ask them to take out the garbage you get a sigh. If you ask them to help in the yard it will take them 30 minutes to get outside and then they stand around watching you do the work. However..I don’t blame them. It is not their generation that is at fault. It is my generation that should be blamed. Their parents have taught them by never making them do anything and always doing for them. We are blaming the wrong generation.

    1. We need to be careful not to mix up “lifestage” with generational differences. In other words, Boomers, Xers and now Millennials probably all struggled with not taking out the garbage when they were teenagers. The real question is, what differences do they have aside from their typical “teenage” lifestage qualities that all generations went through. For example… I’ve noticed that this younger generation seems to be a little more socially conscious with a desire to make a difference somewhere. But at the same time, they seem to have a little less self-discipline (they would describe it as being a little more “chill”). Those are generational differences, not lifestage differences.

      1. I see lifestage and generational stages going hand-in-hand. If a child is not motivated during their lifestages then I rarely see them being very motivated to do much as they get older to help the environment, ect. It is usually the kid who is motivated to get out and help when they are in their teenage years in service projects and/ or help out around the house that grows into the adult who becomes active in environmental issues.

        1. Janie… I hear what you are trying to say. You are trying to say that parents need to teach and model self discipline and character. I agree. But just understand that this is something that all generations dealt with in their teenage “lifestage.” Now, interestingly enough… a true generational difference might be if one specific generation was overly lenient with their kids. Then the kids of that generation might grow up with discipline problems. Hypothetically, of course.

          1. I got ya (or at least I think I do) You are speaking generationally, yes? No, I do not think the generation in which you are referring is very responsible. They do not seem to have the work ethic of the generation prior. As technology has become more available to do jobs that we used to have to do ourselves, it seems that people have become lazier and lazier. The generation you are referring to has a difficult time picking up the telephone and communicating. It worries me for the future.
            Am I getting totally off the topic?

  5. They said the same things, not quit, about Gen X being lazy. I know some amazing young people in this age group. I’m not worried about this generation. I’m more worried about “adults” who keep insisting on this bunch coming of age are lazy. Get over yourselves. You needed time to mature as well.

  6. It’s probably also worth mentioning that this is the generation which produced most of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who have bravely gone and continue to go to war in Iraq and Afaghanistan (90,000 still there by the way). I know only 25% of them are even eligible to serve and they only represent less than 1% of the culture at large, but I have personally witnessed Service Members from this generation do things that no lazy, uncaring, or selfish person could ever accomplish. In fact, today I had the priveldge of seeing two of them get purple hearts pinned on them by a general. Outside of the military, I recently had the priveledge of officiating the wedding of a couple who began dating while I was their youth pastor. The mother of the bride made a point of calling to my attention to some things I knew about that group I pastored for about 4 years, but never really spent much time thinking through. They include 1 seminary student, 1 Bible College grad in full time ministry, another Bible College grad who is a teacher, 6 more current Bible college students all planning on full time ministry, 1vollunteer youth pastor and several others who are now raising children and active in their church. I don’t mention this out of some warped sense of pride. I mention it because I’d say it proves they’re worth it. Show them something real to believe in and they can accomplish some amazing things.

  7. I am a mother of two Gen Y and a Sr High youth leader at church. My experience with this generation is that they need lots of encouragement and motivation. Life can be tough on them with few jobs and all the drama in High School. Yes, they are on their phones all the time but hey, they are communicating with one another. As far as being lazy, I do not see that where I live. I have seen them work hard to accompolish a goal. I can relate to what Dave said because I was in a military community for over 25 years and I know several service members who sacrifice every day for our country. My child currently serves in the Army and has strong work ethics.

  8. I’m a youth leader and as such, have a lot of experience with Gen Y’ers. I’m a Gen X myself and I really do see differences, even with my youngest sister who’s 11 years younger than I am. Sure, I recognize some of the characteristics, both the positive and the negative ones. But what I try to keep in mind is this: what we tell people about who they are will impact them enormously. If we keep telling Gen Y’ers they’re lazy or selfish, it almost becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. I’ve seen Gen Y’ers step up and do amazing things, like my sister for instance who has spent months in Uganda as a volunteer teaching school kids about hygiene and sex. We need to inspire this generation, challenge them, impress upon them that they’re wanted, they’re needed, they’re valuable and that they can make a change. I believe that if we do that, they just may surprise us in ways we’d never thought possible…

  9. I’m Gen-X. To tell you the truth, I’ve never been one to pigeon-hole a generation. In my experience, I’ve certainly seen a lot of my teens break the Gen-Y mold. I think that Jesus is the wild card– he can change even the laziest, most apathetic student.

  10. As a mom of 4 girls and 2 in college I have to agree with some and disagree with others. When our girls are motivated to accomplish a goal there is nothing (like sleep) that will step in the way. Both of our college girls are highly motivated and work several jobs and do well academically as well as serve in their communities and churches. They don’t get lots of rest during school sessions but keep on going like the everready bunny and accomplish tons that most adults would only talk about doing. When they come home they aren’t as motivated and have an opportunity to gel and rest and yes their room is a mess and they don’t help out much on the home front but it’s a haven for them and respite from the rest of it. Their friends are all very similiar and together they are a formidble force. They are and will accomplish great things and this tends to be a norm for them and their friends not an exception. I am greatly encouraged by what I’m witnessing.

  11. We’re servants, right? Aren’t we supposed to love them and treat them like…umm, human beings? Stuff the labels. Try taking each person one at a time, without prejudice. I feel like saying “DUH!” Didn’t you read the red words in your new testament?

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