Growing Up: Millennials In The Workplace



Taken as a group, I am a fan of the Millennials. Make that a BIG fan.  Their combination of optimism, high expectations, and eager participation is a breath of fresh air among the prevailing curmudgeons and worry warts.  I love it when millennials raise their hands with the tough question everyone in the group was thinking but few had the guts to express. I love the skeptical attitude toward arcane practices that really don’t work for anyone anymore.  Fearless; we need a few more of the fearless. If you don’t think you can change the world in your twenties, you’re in trouble. We’re all in trouble. So, put me down as “ Go Get ‘Em” for the Millennials.

My enthusiasm for our newest workplace generation is tempered by the size of my groan when I read Anita Hofschneider’s column “Hiring Millennials? Meet The Parents” in the September 11 edition of the Wall Street Journal.  Ms. Hofschneider describes emerging practices to involve the parents of millennials in the workplace. Here is where I draw the line. The workplace is the last chance to finally grow up and be your own person. Don’t give away this golden opportunity to be your grown up self.

I’m glad many millennials have great relationships with their parents. But every great relationship needs boundaries, and the workplace is one of them. You might ask what’s the harm in Bring Your Parents to Work Day.  Here’s the harm. Some parents get confused about whose job it is and whose workplace it is. Some employees believe the workplace has hired “Team Kelly” instead of just “Susan.” And, what about the new employee whose parents say, “It’s your career, honey. We’re here to support you, but it’s your job.” How does she explain that she’s the solo venture in an environment of career partnerships? What about the new employee whose parents are deceased or live a long distance away.  Or, consider the employee whose parents make minimum wage and can’t afford the day off to see Johnny’s cubicle? How included do they feel on “Parent’s Day” at work? It’s fine to have Mom and Dad pop in to see where their precious little one works and meet the professional significant others in their life. But a day set-aside just for Mom and Dad has unintended consequences that last far beyond a day.

Don’t even get me started on the emerging employer practices to invite parents to interviews, send home copies of job offers and performance reviews, write notes to Mom about meeting goals or (GASP!) ask the boss do home visits. No. No, Never, Don’t Even Think About It.  But don’t just listen to me. Ms. Hofschneider quotes Lauren Bailey, a millennial new to the workplace who said if she were given a letter from her employer to bring home to her parents, “I’d almost feel like I was back in high school.”  Or, if her parents participated in an interview or recruiting event: “I’d be worried that they are speaking for me.” My advice is to hire millennials like Lauren.

I’ll end where I began. As a group, I love the millennials. I welcome your enthusiasm, “sky is the limit” confidence and willingness to challenge the status quo. But you can keep all of these attributes and enter the workplace as an independent, prepared professional. And, you must be to affect the change you expect.  Others of your age have done this. The Freedom Riders were college age adults who got on buses alone to fight for Civil Rights in the American South. Martin Luther King was 26 years old when he championed the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Michelangelo created The Pieta at age 24 and painted the Sistine Chapel at age 29.  The list of lasting, adult achievements at a young age is very long.

Be our next hero. Make Mom and Dad be proud of your success – what you achieved by your own grown up self.


Three Simple Ways To Write To A Better You



Working through a rough patch? Tangled in a tough problem? Stuck? One of the most powerful strategies to sort things out is literally at your fingertips.

Numerous social scientists, including Tim Wilson of the University of Virginia, James Pennebaker of the University of Texas and Robert Quinn of the University of Michigan, suggest that our narratives shape our outlook then our outlook shapes our behavior. Our behavior shapes just about everything under our control. These three social scientists, among others, believe that to change our outcomes, we start by changing our stories.

The first step is to get the narrative out of the running dialogue in our heads and into the light by writing it down. If you would like to try, the three exercises included below are a good place to start. There are simple ground rules:

1)   Find 20 to 30 minutes in a place where you will not be distracted or interrupted.
2)   Do the same exercise for a minimum of four consecutive days.
3)   Be honest.

That’s it! You don’t need to show your writing to anyone, don’t need to proof read, don’t need to buy anything. It doesn’t matter if you write or type. The only thing that matters is that you do the exercise consistently for four days. Ready? Read more.

Pennebaker Writing Exercise

James Pennebaker is a psychology professor at the University of Texas and a pioneer in  “Writing to Heal.” His research suggests that short-term focused writing provides benefits for those suffering trauma. His results include improved immune systems, better grades and clearer goals. Read more here. His basic instructions for working through nagging “stuff” follow.

Write about your problem in an uninterrupted fashion for at least 15 minutes a day for a minimum of four days.  Pennebaker suggests writing at the end of the day. Write in first person about something emotional or important, but deal with topics that you are able to handle right now. Write for yourself: no editing or sanitizing.

Wilson Best Possible Selves Exercise

Timothy Wilson is a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. He’s used the Best Possible Selves exercise with a set of students to determine its effect on outlook and optimism. Compared to a control group, the students who completed this exercise reported higher levels of satisfaction and optimism that lasted for weeks, and had significantly fewer visits to the University Health Center. Seem good to you?

Follow these instructions for four consecutive days. (Wilson also suggests evenings).

“Think about your life at a certain point in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Write what you imagine and what you did to make it happen.”

Quinn Lift Exercise

Robert Quinn is an Organizational Behavior professor at the University of Michigan. He is a cogent thinker and prolific writer about creating positive organizations. In his book Lift, he defines “lift” as a psychological state in which we are 1) purpose centered 2) internally directed 3) other focused and 4) open to ways in which we can improve. Quinn makes the case that when we experience these states; we feel uplifted and lift others. In other words, lift begins with us.  Start by responding to the four questions below.

  1. What result do I want to create?
  2. What would my story be if I were living the values I expect of others?
  3. How do others feel about this situation? (Emphasis is on feelings of others.)
  4. What are three (or more) strategies I could use to accomplish my purpose for this situation?

personal development
I am reminded of the Buddhist proverb: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  My intuition tells me there is a reason why I was drawn to writing about writing today. I’m on the second day of the “Best Self” exercise; think it will help me sort out some near term uncertainty.

Have you tried writing to change your stories and your outcomes? What happened?



Wilson, T.D. (2011) Redirect: the Surprising New Science of Psychological Change. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Quinn, R.W and Quinn, R.E. (2009). Lift: Becoming a Positive Force in Any Situation.

San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler