This story is part of QnotesCarolinas’ special project “OUTlook: Finding Solutions for LGBTQ Labor and Workplace Equality." It is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network.
To learn more about solutions journalism, visit solutionsjournalism.org.
If you are alive right now you have no doubt heard some discussion or read something about a particular generation in the workforce: those folks born between the years of 1981 and 1996. Known as millennials, these often-misunderstood people (in 2022) range in age from 26 to 41 years old.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau poll taken in 2020, the United States’ population [50 states and the District of Columbia] is more than 331 million. Of those residents who were employed, thirty-five percent are millennials with over ten percent of all millennials (employed or not) self-identifying as LGBTQ. It is a fact that the millennial generation is growing, influential and shaking things up in the world and workforce.
Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are often defined by some specific characteristics that dominate social media, stereotyping and generational conversations.
A quick and shallow internet search of the word will generally yield results with bullet points about how they are staying home (living with parents) longer than other generations, slower to marry, tech savvy and even the persona of being entitled-behaving brats. Or so it would seem.
If you search a bit more specifically around “Millennials in the Workplace,” you are most likely to read about a workforce generation that is defined as disloyal, cavalier, and once again, entitled. The propensity to up and quit jobs by this generation is estimated to cost employers over $30 billion each year. A common perception is that these employees expect to have as much say as their CEO or supervisor, without the years of experience.
To be fair, many of those articles and essays have been written with bias and lack of insight by Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who haven’t had the greatest time understanding and navigating the complexities of working with a generation they have literally given birth to.
Though it is true that millennials have grown up in an era where instant gratification has often thwarted their ability to hone certain social or interpersonal skills like being able to engage in a ten-minute conversation without checking or scrolling through their phones, they aren’t necessarily hopeless. Considering how large and influential their generation is, it would certainly behoove the generations that came before them to at least listen to their points of view in an attempt to find some common ground while nurturing our gatekeepers to the future.
In the workplace, could their new ideas around employment and labor actually be better at finding a work-life balance? Can work-from-home and “gig work” remove the often-harmful power dynamics and discrimination that have plagued our workplaces for generations?
Jessica Inlaw is a remote employee who provides road-side assistance to motorists in need. Uncharacteristic of many in her generation she has found satisfaction in a job that she’s kept for more than three years. She has previously held jobs as a customer service representative and multiple manager positions for food outlets like Jamba Juice and Which Wich and seems to have found her happy place in remote work.
Inlaw shared how her choice to go fully remote was about “the convenience of it and not having to deal with many people” was a big draw. She added, “I’m also a bit of a germaphobe and it just so happens that I landed a remote job right before COVID, so I was definitely happy that I’d made the transition beforehand.”
She concludes with a point of personal satisfaction: remote work affords her a flexibility in work-life balance that leaving her home for an office or food service management position just can’t compete with. “I can take a break when I need to or feed my dog. There’s still stress, but I’m able to have that balance of being at home in my comfort zone.”
For LGBTQ workers in particular, traditional workplaces can also involve uncomfortable situations for someone who isn’t open about their sexuality or gender identity. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s “A Workplace Divided” report, 25 percent of LGBTQ workers feel distracted from work because of unwelcoming environments and 28 percent lie about their personal lives. “The workplace, where we spend most of our daily lives, is full of seemingly innocuous chit chat,” states the report. These types of conversations may go unnoticed by non-LGBTQ counterparts but consider the amount of workplace chatter that revolves around children, social life and relationships.
Another millennial, Nikki Redman is a Loan Officer Assistant, musician and staunch LGBTQ ally with a seven-year-old son she proudly supports when he chooses to use “they” pronouns or go to school with glitter in his hair. While pondering the state of millennials and how her generation is received in the workplace and in general, Redman offered some keen and candid insight.
“We’re fed up and tired of being treated like children. I’m pushing 40 and still have people speaking to me in an infantilized way. We’ve had a huge broken promise being told, if you do ABC, you get XYZ. We did our part. We went to college, did the extracurriculars and got thrown under a bus. We were told college would make a difference and it didn’t. Instead, we were/are sacked with huge student loan debt.
“So, when it comes to anything we have any type of agency over, we’re gonna do everything we can to do that. And occasionally you’re gonna get a little attitude.
“Millennials are not one size fits all,” Redman continues. “There’s a wide range of experience between elder millennials who grew up without technology (adapting to technology later) and young adults who grew up with it.”
In Redman’s current work environment, her manager is also a millennial. He is a year younger than her, and she describes him as “a very unique soul who gives back a lot.” For Redman, it is a situation that has worked out wonderfully.
She admits that she is thrilled to have a manager like the one she does and enthusiastically shares a few experiences she hopes more employers will take note of, while emphasizing that the company CEO is a Baby Boomer.
“My manager wouldn’t still be here if we didn’t have the atmosphere we did. Our company is run by Boomers and our CEO walks around every day asking employees “Are you ok, do you need anything, anything I can help with?” It’s a very supportive working environment that is atypical.”
In case you’re wondering what is so atypical, know that it is more than the congeniality of the CEO. Redman works for a company that actually encourages employees to take time off. There is a company policy that pretty much states, employees don’t have to request time off. “Unless you are M.I.A for more than half a day, we don’t care – as long as the work is getting done. I request from everyone on a regular basis to tell me what their time off is going to be so I can put it on our shared calendar.”
Wrapping up her thoughts on the topic, Redman asks a question and offers some advice to managers who are GenXers and Baby Boomers. “Why is it like that? If you can’t come up with a really good reason for why something is done a particular way and it can’t be done any other way, then you need to be ready to have a discussion about it and be open to change.”
So, there you have it: millennials, like all generations, are not a monolith. They are changing the workforce in numerous ways with independent short-term gigs, working remotely and working at jobs that allow them more freedom and autonomy. Either way, these jobs and workstyles are likely here to stay.