If you’re a more experienced manager, like me, you may sometimes feel yourself slipping into the “grumpy old man (or woman)” phase of your career.
This is comparable to sitting on your porch and yelling at kids to get off your lawn, but in a work context, it manifests itself as griping about the new generation of employees. They’re all so entitled, you say. They want the world without paying their dues. They won’t work hard, and they don’t respect their superiors.
I understand that feeling, and I may have even muttered something similar on occasion. But overall, I believe the rising generation of workers is going to do incredible things, accomplishing more than I can imagine and reinventing where and how people work.
If you’re wondering why I’m so confident, I can sum it up in one word: Emma. Emma is my oldest child. She graduated from high school in June, and she’ll be off to college in August. And wow, is she amazing.
I know this is going to sound like the bragging of a parent, but she accomplished more during high school than I did in college. She participated in her school’s International Baccalaureate program, earning the diploma. She landed top scores on standardized tests, becoming a National Merit Finalist. She participated in theater productions. She was active in her church and community. And she worked a part-time job in the food service industry.
Did I mention she’s amazing?
Speaking of that food service job, she loves it, and I think that’s largely due to her attitude and to her manager’s flexibility, even with the teens who make up so much of his workforce.
“I like that I get to interact with a lot of different people,” Emma says. “I like that I can almost always find something to do. If I’m not busy helping customers, I can always go clean something.
“And I like the flexibility that it offers. I worked through my senior year, and I would have to take several weeks at a time off completely due to my participating in (theater) shows. … My general manager was really willing to let me do that.”
I love what she’s saying here. She works hard at a job she enjoys, and she works with her manager to build the flexibility she needs. Can you see why she gives me hope?
But that’s not all.
Like so many of her friends, Emma has ambitious goals. She wants to earn a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, then go on to graduate school to earn degrees in structural engineering and architecture.
“I like buildings, and I like sculptures a lot,” Emma says. “I’ve been obsessed with Frank Lloyd Wright for a big part of my life. When you work in architecture, you’re given the opportunity to give people something to build their lives around, whether it’s an office building or a house or a mall. You are creating a space in which people will make memories and have experiences. I think that’s important.”
That last sentence is key to the next generation of workers, I think. Many of them seem focused on finding careers that will help them do something important.
You can write that off as the idealism of youth, but Emma seems to be going into this with her eyes open to the realities of the world. She wants to achieve her career goals, but she also wants to have a family and strong personal life. She knows that’s going to be difficult, but she sees changes occurring that convince her she will be able to do both.
My wife works as a freelance writer and editor, and I’m also (obviously) a blogger from home, in addition to working a full-time job in an office. Emma says our example shows that, even now, you can have a fulfilling career and still have time for spouse and family. And in the future, she believes advances in technology and attitude will make that goal even more realistic.
“New forms of communication are being figured out every day,” Emma says, adding that video communication and virtual chat rooms are already changing how people work.
And when it comes to attitudes, she says, “I think people are getting a lot more understanding of the ideas of work-life balance, that people need to not just have their work. Like, being married to your work isn’t quite something that people want you to do anymore. I think that along with the changing technology … that will allow me to continue to do the work I want to do in my life, even as I have a family and children and a mortgage and stuff.”
Not that she thinks offices will be a thing of the past. Rather, she believes they will evolve, and she wants to help design new spaces to help people work.
“I think that having a central point is important, plus I just like buildings,” Emma says. “Even though you can do things like Google Hangouts where you’re all together collaborating on things, having a physical space to directly interact with people will still have value. That being said, I think there will be a lot more working from home (in the future) and that people will be a lot more open to that idea.”
She also believes that companies will pay more attention to what helps individual employees be most productive. That should lead to less emphasis on the typical 9-to-5 schedule, allowing people to complete tasks when and where they can do their best work.
I sincerely hope Emma’s dreams of her working future come to fruition. And while I won’t generalize about her entire generation—she warned me against that, in fact—I do see good things in the youth who will be entering colleges and universities this fall.
“I have all of these friends who work so incredibly hard to to do the things they believe in,” Emma says. “And I also feel like the future belongs to those who are going to be shaping it. It seems to me that we are going in a pretty good direction so far.”
I agree, Em. And with that, I think it’s time for me to stop yelling at kids to get off my lawn. Instead, I should talk to them and pay close attention to what they’re trying to build. They have big dreams for themselves and for the future of work, and I have high hopes that their dreams will create an even better reality.
Photo credit: Greg Kratz. Emma Kratz watching a performance of “Hamilton” in New York 2016.