Do Boomers Misinterpret Millennial Ownership as Entitlement?

The back and forth about the awfulness of my generation has been going on longer than I can remember. As a working millennial on the cusp of turning 30, I’ve learned to tune out just about every ridiculous assumption about my generation. At this point, I feel like I’ve heard them all.

There is one thing that bothers me though, and I can’t seem to tune it out no matter how hard I try. Are you ready for this? Because you’ve probably said it before:

“Millennials are entitled.”

This statement gets thrown around a lot, and I believe in my heart of hearts that it is a misconception — especially about millennials in the workplace. What does that mean for organizations? Let’s continue the conversation.

“Millennials Aren’t Entitled — They’re Just Better Than You.”

Tucker Max made this bold statement in a recent article at Thought Catalog. He backed it up with observations about millennials’ response to the instability of the job market and their preference for charting their own course professionally.

“Millennials see this broken system for what it is,” he wrote. “They see how miserable their Baby Boomers parents are, working jobs that don’t matter, for companies they hate. They see how meaningless their lives are, and how they try to use the markers of status and prestige to pretend otherwise.”

Of course, it’s not actually a contest — neither millennials nor boomers will “win” and claim a trophy. (Not even a participation trophy.) But the bottom line is that millennial entitlement might not be as simple as it looks. Let’s unpack this situation together.

The Career Paths For Millennials Differ From Baby Boomers

First and foremost, there is a huge difference in the way that millennials and baby boomers choose careers. Taking a cue from the Thought Catalog piece, the career path for baby boomers might have looked something like this:

  • Step 1: Study what looks good on a resume.
  • Step 2: Find a safe job with a clear, structured career path.
  • Step 3: Work hard for your company well into your 60s.
  • Step 4: Hope that your hard work pays off and you get rewarded.

For a long time, the boomer career plan made sense. In a stable economy, where it was possible to start at the bottom and work your way up the ladder, retiring after 30 years, this path was good course. But on the other side of the Great Recession, things have changed. Millennials, who now make up the majority of the workforce, have seen that it doesn’t make sense to count on employers to be loyal.

If I had to write the millennial career plan in four steps, it would look something like this:

  • Step 1: Study what interests you.
  • Step 2: Find a job with meaningful work that makes you happy.
  • Step 3: Grow and take advantage of opportunities that make sense for you.
  • Step 4: Make a positive difference in the world though your work.

Don’t Confuse Entitlement With Ownership

Simply put, millennials have a different definition of success, and that is often misinterpreted by baby boomers as entitlement. It’s not that millennials want to be promoted a month after being hired. Instead, it’s that they own their career. They know that starting at the bottom and hoping that someone else will reward you “when the time is right” isn’t a good bet.

Millennials see a world where you can work at a meaningful job without sacrificing decades of your life to it. We’re hardworking and can make a positive impact on companies, but we don’t live to work.

So what does it mean? Try to take this perspective into account next time your managers, executives or you roll your eyes at millennial entitlement. Look past the surface and examine whether your organization is taking the realities of the new career plan into account.