Making the Most of Millennials

I do wonder what will they think of us in a couple of hundred years. I personally live in hope that humans will still exist and they will think well of us. I also hope our generation will be remembered as a huge turning point in awareness and that the current axis of evil comprised of climate change, single-use plastics and Donald Trump’s hairstyle will be long forgotten. But how are we committing ourselves to this shiny future? Specifically, how do we treat our future i.e. youth? One of the most vivid images of maltreatment that we have looking backwards (thanks in a large part to Oliver Twist) is of Victorian times and Victorian workhouses. We tend to assume that things have improved; but have they? More importantly, can we realistically be better?

Firstly, shamefully, children still live in poverty. A huge topic with an embarrassment of fingers pointing in many directions. I have spent some years looking at this in relation to the sociology of crime, and plan to return to this discussion soon, but it is not the topic for today. Today I want to talk about doctors, lawyers and accountants. Okay, granted, not your usual suspects but bear with..

These ideas bubbled to the surface after someone mentioned a video that I had sent them some months back with the comment ‘I agree, Millennials are such an entitled bunch! A friend of mine at a law firm said that the young lawyers didn’t want to do filing!’. Now, I can’t remember the exact reason why I sent that video link over but I am quite certain it wasn’t fishing for that response. Why do we, as people, always swallow the judgemental bait before the compassionate one?

I was baffled.. ‘But why should they be doing filing? Nobody in the developed world should be doing it’. Okay, yes, legal firms are notorious for their reticence about taking on technology but filing, really? Many years ago I was the key person for a litigation case with tens of thousands of physical files. This sheer inefficiency of this as a forensic measure (the amount of time I spent trying to retrieve – not always successfully – important files from others) should not be inflicted on anyone in this day and age. But it is. Crazy. Scan it securely in. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is already good and gets better every single day. Those lost and forgotten files are a thing of the past, and you can do word, name and pattern searches. This is just scratching the surface.

People say to me that the young should ‘pay their dues’. But for what reason? The previous generation defined themselves by their ability to run forever on the Great Hamster Wheel of Work. Did it make us happy? Everyone will have their own take. Perhaps it was necessary then – I doubt it – but is it now? From my point of view the youth should be given the opportunity to define themselves more meaningfully. We should help them to be them, not us. In doing so, hopefully they can avoid and/or undo our more colossal errors.

As a result of a connection to Cambridge University, I have been fortunate enough to spend many years with some of the finest and most driven young minds on the planet. As everyone knows, this work starts at least a decade before University. A recent study guide recommended 4-5 hours of study a day, outside school hours. If they are starting at 8.30 and finishing after 4pm, then with the extra time that is longer than a working day and they are children. People have described their children regularly in tears of exhaustion and stress.. from as early as the age of 11. Modern workhouses anyone? Also, due to the ever increasing competition to get into the University and on the University itself to compete on the international stage, the pressure on these young people just increases.. and can only be described as beyond intense and many suffer serious mental distress. I am often moved by their incredible discipline and their real desire to contribute positively once they leave the hallowed halls. In short, I believe that they have paid their dues by the time they have gone through all this.

There is the issue of entitlement. It wasn’t my path, but in England most students arriving at the top tier universities (rightly or wrongly) will have had over a hundred thousand pounds spent on their education. It takes a village. They don’t just think they are entitled, they just are entitled. It’s not a dirty word, it’s a fact. So why seek to treat them in a way that doesn’t celebrate those decades spent refining their minds? Please, let’s celebrate and utilise it..

Coming back to the issue of their minds, Psychological Science reports that working verbal and visual memory working tasks plateau in our 30’s. These are key factors in all of the expert professions, so why are we wasting these sparkly brains on filing? Someone else may be in a life position to do these things better. Where they are more content to slow down a little. Why not bring in two empty-nesters to job-share and scan those libraries in? They will be happy, reliable and probably grateful to get out of the house. They won’t frolic (god forbid) and they are more likely to stick around.

Other people have laughed at the fact that the youth want to make an impact. I don’t see why they shouldn’t at least try, and why we shouldn’t help them. Otherwise, how can things change? And things will change, especially with AI breathing down our necks.

I think what most people are really reaching for is the fact that they want the younger ones to respect the older generation. Speaking from my own experience, my respect was not earned by making me work stupid hours (for one case I averaged 14-18 hours a day, seven days a week for up to four months at a time.. I was ill for almost a week afterwards). A good example of respect was a senior lawyer coming in and looking at the tower of paper containing multiple rebuttals that I had prepared for him. He simply asked me ‘Is there anything substantive?’. I thought a moment and said ‘No’. I gave him a brief rundown and he agreed. Smarter not harder. Efficient. Respect. I went home at the previously unheard of time of 4pm that day. Yay, daylight on my face!

The key ingredient in all of this is the nurturing role that the existing staff can have. I am thrilled to see the uptick in mentoring being requested of me, and on general offer. As I have said before, I was blessed as a young person to receive amazing opportunities to contribute to (sometimes globally) important issues. This all happened under an umbrella of spectacular mentoring and guidance from senior staff, all whilst I was in my twenties. The light that these young people bring should be directed, not extinguished so that they can burn out, hate their jobs so much by their mid-thirties that their only goal in the working week is to be able to get away for golf on Fridays. What a waste.

Yes, I fully understand that it is physically difficult to unwind the large and unwieldy legacy systems that we have but I wonder how long it will take to unwind the legacy thinking and bring these young professionals out from the workhouses into the light?