The Debate Over Millennial Employees

Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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190 Responses

  1. Christopher Carr says:

    “My biggest fear about Bernie Sanders’ message to the youth of our electorate is that he seems to be playing on their insecurities and anger with his brand of populism. He sympathizes with them, promises them a lot of things and doesn’t seem to say much about the importance of starting from the bottom.”

    Ah, I was wondering where this was going. (And kudos to you for burying the lede. It’s an effective writing strategy that demands readers both engage with and follow your argument patiently. More writers should do it more often.) The point about OWS and Sanders is an interesting one. I haven’t been paying so much attention to the Democrats because they bore me compared with the Republican circus, although my millenial brethren do seem to be flocking to him.

    I’m somewhat skeptical of generational stereotypes, or even the existence of discrete generations, so I won’t comment on the articles you quote, except to say that I don’t really put much stock in them.Report

  2. Zac says:

    Wow, dude, this is a great post. As someone who until recently had only sparse post-secondary education (and still lacks a degree) for the vast majority of my working life, I definitely agree with you re: your bit about college-educated employees, as this mirrors my own experiences in the workplace. I don’t have much to say beyond that, at the moment, but I just want to add that I’m glad to see you posting again.Report

  3. Damon says:

    Yeah, “pushing boundaries” is all good and nice, until those boundaries being pushed are some other manager’s dept and he starts pushing back.

    “I was raised to believe I could change the world.” And you went into “business”? Hopefully it’s some cutting edge tech business, ’cause you ain’t changing the world in any other industry, least not fresh out of college as a grunt. Maybe you should be working in a non profit where you’re “saving the world” every day vs trying to make the quarterly earnings target?

    And my best advice: Is this the hill you want to die on? Now get back to work.Report

  4. This post deserves a better comment than I have time at the moment to give, but I really liked it. I think you’re on to something about your college-educated millenials anecdote.

    That said, I work with many undergrads at my job. They don’t have BA’s yet, but they will soon. They are all of them good, conscientious workers, who realize that even though it’s a “work study” job (well, not technically “work study,” but it’s for undergrads at my university), they have to put in the time and do well. It probably helps that they are disproportionately first-generation college students.

    I suspect much of what’s being discussed in the two essays you cite (and I’ve read only the excerpts, not the essays themselves) is the time-honored tradition of older people complaining about kids these days and of younger people claiming that the elders just don’t get it. Not to say that things never change and that some generations (or social classes within generations) have more, or less, “entitled” perspectives on what is owed them, but that’s just a dynamic that in a sense is always with us.Report

  5. Oscar Gordon says:

    I agree that young people need to be patient & learn, but at the same time, especially among the white collar set, employers have to make sure that young employees are allowed & given the resources to grow in their career. My lead at big aerospace was too busy with his own stuff to ever take the time to reach me, which made it difficult to grow. My current employer is much better about that.Report

    • SaulDegraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Mentorship seems to be largely dead. A partner from a big firm called Kirkland and Ellis wrote a book a few years ago about what ails the legal profession. He talked about being mentored as a junior associate in the 1970s and bemoaned its death. The problem is that his group killed mentoring because it cut into their billable hours. You can’t charge clients for mentoring.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to SaulDegraw says:

        “This seed corn is just sitting here not doing anything when we could be monetizing it.”Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

          Good business people know how to bring services in-house to reduce costs.

          Really good business people start whole new companies to make profits from others instead of just reducing costs for the initial business.Report

          • Good business people know how to bring services in-house to reduce costs.

            It probably depends on the business and the industry. Sometimes “in house” services actually cost more and can be a long-term drain on a business.Report

          • Mike Dwyer in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            “Good business people know how to bring services in-house to reduce costs.”

            If that were true my company would not exist. Most companies are good at building their product. They are not good at managing their supply chain. It becomes a drag on their organization because it’s not their core competency. That’s where we come in. Likewise, they might be really good at designing and building engines, but not good at casting iron parts to go in them. So they use a vendor. In both cases it saves them lots of money in the longrun to outsource that work.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to SaulDegraw says:

        There is no mentorship, only mentors…and most of us don’t have them.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to SaulDegraw says:

        This was one of the things my wife spent a lot of time doing at Big Aerospace, trying to convince executives that they have to stop demanding that every minute be billable to a program, and that they have to suck it up and allow some general overhead for mentoring.

        Not sure how successful she was at that.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          It’s not Big Aerospace, it’s the customers. You see the news about how Deathlaser Inc. got a ten-billion-dollar contract, but you don’t see how one billion of that is spent tracking where every last penny of the other nine goes–and making absolutely sure that it doesn’t go to frivolous, non-program-related things like employee training.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to DensityDuck says:

            This is what happened in law especially when dealing with clients who work on the billable hour. When money was flush, the clients did not mind having junior lawyers working on stuff but this stopped during the crisis and now clients are demanding more cost-effective solutions than training junior associates.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to DensityDuck says:

            This is absolutely true, especially with regard to government contracts. Government expects employers to eat that cost as overhead, which honestly they should since ideally the employee will work on other things besides the government contract.

            But, as you say, when you spend 10% of the contract budget just tracking the costs as the contract requires, you want to make sure you get as much as you can out of it, so you encourage OJT to happen on a billable program, which doesn’t always work as well as you expect. Especially when that attitude translates to every other program, gov contract or not.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    ROI is not enough for me.I spent Sunday thinking about how I can make a difference to our customers. Now it’s Monday morning, what do I hear? Stock price. Billing. ROI. …Suddenly, my Monday power playlist seems useless. I’m sitting in a conference room listening to you drag on about cash flow. You say I’ll get a raise in a year if the company hits a certain number? So what? I need something to care about today. Talk to me about how we make a difference, not your ROI report.

    To be honest, she has a point with this… a small one.

    I have been told any number of times that when I give my reports to management, I need to not think like an engineer when I’m telling them about something but think about what it is that they, at their level, need to hear. Don’t tell them about the problems you ran into with the various patches because various services needed to be turned off first. Say “we installed X patches across Y systems totaling X*Y patches installed. It was transparent to the customer.”

    Tell your immediate supervisor about the tweaks that needed to be done to the install script. Tell him about the various problems that Adobe always, without fail, causes. Tell him the rambling story about how you thought the problem was software or OS but once you explored it, it turned out to be that someone jiggled the cables for the external drive as they worked in the rack yesterday and you just removed it, blew on it, and reseated it and everything worked like you thought it would. Don’t bother telling such things to his boss’s boss.

    In that same vein, management could stand to do a little better with telling the engineers things that are most pertinent to the engineers.Report

    • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

      Adobe is indeed vile and deserves to die.
      Can’t follow the fucking specs for anything.
      Tried to copy better design, and then realized it broke their damn software, which relied on images loading slowly (no, I don’t know HOW they made Photoshop so damn broken).Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      “Consider your audience” is always good advice.

      I used to work with a guy who was very ambitious, and always pout the best spin on anything reported upwards. If eventually you’re going to make it all work, why tell them any of the problems you ran into? Just say “We got it done in two weeks, which is well within our estimate.”

      Once we were working on a new monitoring system, which, when we first turned it on, showed zeros across the board: temperatures zero, pressures zero, fluid levels zero, just everything zero. I cursed a bit and started trying to figure out what the fish was wrong. Our manager called and asked him how things were going, and he answered “Great, except that Mike’s not completely happy with all of the readings.”Report

      • Heh, at least he didn’t throw you under the bus.

        When I was a young lad, I used to write to management about various “problems(tm)” that I needed help resolving. I thought I was being helpful by stating the “challenges” as lucidly as possible… with numbered bullet-points, listing the issues in hierarchical order of difficulty or importance, sometimes identifying people in the process, but always with ideas for fixing or resolving the matter.

        It seems the emails were so lucid that rather than taking the information and “surfacing” the resolution ideas upwards, they just forwarded the emails. Well, I learned my lesson quickly… its not as fun as it sounds, having a memo named after you. {And, management will always use you as a foil to deliver bad news, if possible}

        A much wiser brother of a friend who is a corporate executive at a massive automotive company clued me in to the “Neutral-to-Positive” school of emails. Its cynical, but…

        Now our joke is that the worst we’ll put in writing is that we are *very* neutral about this proposal/problem/issue/thing.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Mike Schilling: “Great, except that Mike’s not completely happy with all of the readings.”

        That’s funny! After I got done beating the guy with a hose, I’d probably have a nice chuckle.Report

  7. Roland Dodds says:

    I teach middle school students, so they are are literally children, but I see the foundation building for what O’Donnell describes. There is a sense by some (both students and parents) that if something is not fun and flashy, it really is not worth doing. There is a move towards having school act more like a video game, something I am very opposed to.

    I don’t think education (or eventually a job) should be drudgery, but not every act completed is going to “fun” in the youthful sense.

    I blame that rock n roll music.Report

    • Kim in reply to Roland Dodds says:

      Good video games aren’t fun all the time. They’re work, and interesting work at that.

      That said, I’m still in favor of people teaching C/C++…Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Kim says:

        Because you hate them? C/C++ isn’t for beginners — not enough handrails, so to speak. There’s better languages for them to learn if the object is just to teach them the basics of programming.

        Starting with something that enforces OOP, rather than allows it.

        Then again, I really don’t think people need to learn programming unless they plan to be a programmer — or go into a science, engineering or math field wherein being able to do basic coding will be a useful skill.

        Computer literacy, the basics of personal computer security, sure. Programming? Kind of pointless for a lot of jobs.Report

        • Kim in reply to Morat20 says:

          So’s calculus. and Geometry. Yet we teach those in school.

          (and of course C/C++ doesn’t need to be beginning programming.).Report

          • Morat20 in reply to Kim says:

            Basic math is far more fundamental than programming. And I say that as a programmer.

            It’s literally a useless skill to a wide swatch of potential careers, and I see no reason to make it a fundamental skill. Math yes. Programming? No.

            As I said, you’d be better off requiring classes on basic computer principles with a heavy emphasis on “use” and “personal security” than programming. It’s just not necessary. Anything fundamentally useful a required programming class would get you is covered in algebra and geometry. (The basics of logical, ordered thinking and problem solving). Because virtually everyone will USE a computer and will NEED to know things like “How to make a good password” and “Not using the same password for everything” and “How to recognize a phishing attempt”. They don’t really need to know switch statements and if/else branches and the like.

            Seriously, WHY do people need to learn programming if they’re not going into a field where it might crop up? Why should we make it required? Yeah, it’s a darn useful skill for engineers and scientists, which is why they’re generally required to learn the basics.

            But I still don’t see why we should require it for everyone else.Report

            • Will Truman in reply to Morat20 says:

              Learning how to code (as opposed to learning the latest important language) teaches good analytical skills and problem solving trees. It’s useful whether you code professionally or not.

              I support it more in the liberal arts vein than a strictly vocational one.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Will Truman says:

                Math gets you the same thing. If you can do algebra and geometric proofs, both taught in HS, you’ve got that. Even more so if you take calculus, but basic geometry and algebra are required for pretty much every degree.

                And that covers analytical problem solving.

                I literally don’t see anything different in terms of subtle gains (that is, gains besides ‘learning how to do simple coding in Language X’) you’d get in a programming class that you wouldn’t also get learning to do basic algebra.

                I’m a programmer. I love programming. it’s what I do for a living. And in terms of “One class and done”, a single programming class won’t teach you (other than ‘How to do simple problems in Java or whatever’) anything that your college algebra course didn’t. It’s simply a pointless addition to the curriculum of non-engineers and scientists.

                Seriously, really better off with a good computer literacy class for a pre-req. Heck, cover smartphones too. Teach that in HS and make it required, because if you want to live in today’s world you need to recognize phishing attacks, create and use decent passwords, etc.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Morat20 says:

                Math gets you the same thing. If you can do algebra and geometric proofs, both taught in HS, you’ve got that.

                Not really. Learning Pascal – an utterly useless language vocationally – made me a better thinker. Straight up. Didn’t have to be Pascal, of course, but that’s what they happened to be teaching. And I took a fair amount of math.

                My wife took even more math. But for her undergraduate degree, she had to take a class in C, and has said that it taught her ways to think about things that other classes didn’t.

                It’s where the abstract meets the applied. And useful far outside the realm of technology.Report

            • Michael Cain in reply to Morat20 says:

              Chances are good that at some point, they’ll have to do spreadsheets. In some cases, long and involved spreadsheets. Spreadsheet programming is so bad there’s an entire academic body of literature that’s grown out of it (including conferences). Billion-dollar errors have been uncovered. The Reinhart-Rogoff flap went on for years.

              Granted, as a programming environment, spreadsheets break a lot of anyone’s best-practices rules. Still, some sort of training would be nice.Report

            • Troublesome Frog in reply to Morat20 says:

              I think debugging is a far more valuable skill than programming. It reinforces using the scientific method to solve problems. I’m always stunned at the number of people with “engineer” in their title who have no idea how to debug something that isn’t working. They’ll start doing a test and I’ll ask, “So if the results are positive, what will we know versus if the results are negative?” and they won’t have an answer. Then why are you doing the test?

              It would be interesting to use some sort of mechanical contraption to teach problem solving skills. If a kid learns to figure out which part of a multi-part system isn’t working correctly using simple experiments, that’s a skill that’s applicable everywhere.Report

  8. SaulDegraw says:

    1. Every generation complains about the younger generation.

    2. The two posts have a lot in common. They both show an absolute contempt for anyone who wants life-work balance. The Millennial wrote about spending Sunday working and she shows complete contempt at Donna for wanting a nice lunch and a break. There seems to be a dedicated number of people in the U.S. who can do nothing but work, who enjoy nothing but work. These people seem enraged at anyone who wants differently. Who values spending time reading books or playing sports over coming up with business opportunity.Report

    • And to think, these young folks will put off starting a family so they can put time into some company pushing papers around like any of this work is important. That’s the true curse of the modern capitalist age: we accept these jobs as something vital and valuable, rather than just a place we go to make some money and live our life.Report

      • SaulDegraw in reply to Roland Dodds says:

        To be fair, I never got into the whole B.S. Jobs line of thought either.

        I wonder about the psychology of ambition and whether really ambitious people have nothing but contempt for the less than ambitious. One person might be content with a solo law practice. Another might want to grow and take complex takes. Another might dream of starting the next big law firm. No group seems to comprehend the other.Report

        • I am all fine with ambition, it is when it is directed towards the menial, pointless jobs that populate most of our workplaces. I am reminded of my brother who spent years working 60 hours a week selling shoe soles. What a shame.Report

          • Roland,

            I have come to believe that no job is menial in terms of career development. Every job will teach you something…if you let it. And no good manager will allow a pointless job to exist. If they do, then either the employee should be figuring out to make their work have a point or be looking for something different. Or just milk it for the paycheck, in which case, kudos for playing the system.Report

            • Oh, I am sure there is some skills you can learn in any job. It is that most of our consumer economy has an endpoint that is entirely worthless (and often destructive to our societies fabric). Sure, my brother learned some things selling shoes for 60 hours a week, it’s simply a shame those skills were applied towards something so pointless.

              Maybe millennials want a “fun” work environment because they have realized how pointless the eventual ends to their labor are.Report

              • But I don’t see how selling shoes is pointless. People need shoes…right?Report

              • It’s pointless to ask a man to give long hours, taking away time from family and community, for something as base as this. Our current work culture instils this belief that you need to be working longer and harder for the company, even if the company is just selling people shoes.

                He wanted to stay employed, and thus the expectation was to work longer and longer for the good of the company.

                He wasn’t working to stop an ebola outbreak: he was selling shoes for crying out loud. We need to stop treating these jobs as ones that require a life commitment.Report

              • I work some long hours away from home sometimes. And sometimes it really sucks. I’m also not fighting Ebola. I’m a technical writer for a logistics company. It’s not a sexy job but I take a lot of pride in my work. Work-life balance is important in any profession but also, it feels pretty insulting to imply it’s worse to long hours if the job is deemed unimportant.Report

              • Is it bad to say working long hours on something of little overall value to society is a good thing? That seems quite rational and obvious to me.Report

              • I meant to say “Is it bad to say working long hours on something of little overall value to society is a bad idea?”Report

              • Glyph in reply to Roland Dodds says:

                If that’s what you meant to say, then shoes are a bad example. I can think of way better ones.

                Are you wearing some shoes right now? Do you kind of need to? I mean, I assume you aren’t living in a treehouse somewhere (but if you are, please post pictures, I love that stuff).

                Do you have more than one pair of shoes – say, one for recreation, one for formal dress, and one for when you need to dig a ditch?

                Do “shoes” (and therefore, the sales thereof) have little overall value to society?

                To me, the societal cost/benefit ratio of “shoes” seems pretty tilted in shoes’ favor (though of course any given pair may be frivolous).Report

              • I would guess that your brother impacted more people in a year than most people do. Worth is all in the eye of the beholder.Report

              • I think you guys have fallen down the rabbit hole here. It isn’t that any job or labor is shameful, it is the workplace mindset (you should always give more to the company) that comes along with such a job. There is no reason manual labor gigs should be expected to 40+ hours unless the company just wants people to build a cult of the workplace.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Roland Dodds says:

                Was your brother forced to work the additional hours?

                Was he compensated for those additional hours, either directly via commission/hourly wages, or indirectly via raise/bonus/career advancement?

                Again, I don’t know the particulars, but it seems to me that if he didn’t want to work more than 40 hours, then…he shouldn’t have. Clock out, holmes; permanently, if need be.

                Maybe I’ve just been blinded by the cult of the workplace though.Report

              • Roland Dodds in reply to Glyph says:

                He was salaried, and was expected to put in longer and longer hours. The man wanted to keep his job, so he did. He regrets those hours he put in now, but it has made me realize that this has become accepted in many fields and it needs to be resisted.

                I can understand putting in longer hours in certain situations (I work about 50 hours a week at the moment, but it is my own design, not boss expectations). I think it is terribly unfair for those in lower paid gigs to now be expected to pull 50+ hours because the company says “we need all this done!”Report

              • Glyph in reply to Roland Dodds says:

                I think it is terribly unfair for those in lower paid gigs to now be expected to pull 50+ hours because the company says “we need all this done!

                I agree with this, if it becomes the norm (I have no objection to doing it temporarily at crunch or crisis times). And if it becomes the norm, it’s up to employees to say to the employer, this is unacceptable.

                There’s a gal I used to work with (she’s still at the company, but we are in different areas now). Smart, works hard. She resisted attempts to promote her.

                She told them, “I come in at 8:30, I leave at 5:00, I don’t work nights and weekends.”

                Has she ever gone above and beyond that? She has, on occasion.

                But she set expectations, and has been able to get them to stick, by being firm and clear and consistent from the get-go.Report

              • Roland Dodds in reply to Glyph says:

                Good for her. I work longer hours when I want to (which is often) but not because I am expected to. God bless my union. Remember those?Report

              • Glyph in reply to Roland Dodds says:


                (Never worked in a unionized job or field.)Report

              • aarondavid in reply to Roland Dodds says:

                Ha, union? My union will say “well, contract says that we need 24 hour notice of hour changes, so in 24 hours we are on manditory 10’s.”Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Roland Dodds says:

                This is currently happening at my old (non-union) school. Duties are increased and prep times decreased, in part to make up for fewer assistants being employed. All of this was made known after contracts were signed, putting most teachers in a bind. And admin does it because they know they can get away with it. At least until people (like myself and many others recently) leave. Though the tendency then was to bad mouth us on our way out the door rather than say, “Why are so many people leaving?” They’ll eventually end up with the cog-in-machine setting — which is fine if that is what they want — but will create a decidedly different end product.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Roland Dodds says:

                In my experience, the problem with the job selling shoe soles is that you do a really bang up job and it leads to nothing but more hours selling more shoe soles. I think most of us would be thrilled to work the menial jobs if, after six months, we moved up to the second rung from the bottom. Again my experience has been that you put in the extra effort at the menial jobs and the employer is thrilled that someone is willing to do the menial job forever.Report

              • Does anyone have any good statistics on whether the average workweek has actually gotten longer for full-time, salaried individuals?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

                I heard a rumor once that the workday was 9-to-5 and people got a paid lunch.

                Now it’s 9-to-5:30 (or 8-to-4:30 or whatever) because they no longer get the paid lunch.

                Is the 8 hour thing true? Did we once live in that world?Report

              • Lyle in reply to Jaybird says:

                Actually when I started at a big oil company in 1976 it was 8 to 4:30 with no paid lunch. But back then the times were honored, everyone left with a minute or two of 4:30. Over time this changed partly because I moved into system admin which meant more off hours work.Report

              • I don’t know if it’s gotten longer, but it’s longer than 40 hours per week, and has been so for the last 15 years:


              • Glyph in reply to Roland Dodds says:

                Eh, sign me up with Mike on this one (and Mike, nice piece, and thanks for opening comments, and FTR I identify far more with McLeod’s POV than O’Donnell’s).

                Full disclosure: I put myself through college by selling shoes – there were some other retail-ware stints, but the bulk of it was shoes.

                I liked selling shoes best because, as Mike points out, people need them AND they can be relatively affordable; so if someone walks through the door, there’s a good chance you can sell them some (unlike big-ticket, luxury items, which are big payoff, but hard sells).

                I worked on commission, so if you were willing to hustle, you could make good money in relatively few hours (and if you need more money, move faster or work more hours – there was a certain amount of scheduling and income flexibility you could control). Plus, no tedious constant re-hanging/re-folding of clothing.

                Obviously I don’t know the particulars of your brother’s situation, and anyone who feels that what they are doing is pointless or destructive to their lives or to society should stop; but people need shoes, and depending on your brother’s situation, I assume that he was compensated for those extra hours (even if he was salaried, hopefully his overtime effort was rewarded at bonus/raise time).

                Maybe we need to stop treating such labors as “base” and “shameful” and “pointless”. I’m not saying your brother or I deserved the respect for our labors that an Ebola doctor does, but the “Al Bundy” jokes I had to endure…

                There was – and apparently from your comment, still is – an unwarranted disdain for certain types of labor, and there is no real reason for it that I can see other than to make ourselves feel superior (and maybe, lucky).Report

              • dhex in reply to Glyph says:

                yes but what about all the shoe based jokes? added value.

                glyph: can i help you today sir?
                customer: no i’m just browsing
                glyph: maybe we got off on the wrong foot.

                customer: do you have these in blue?
                glyph: i’m sorry sir, i meant to order some last week but forgot. you caught me flat footed.

                customer: do you have a restroom i can use?
                glyph: i’m sorry, it’s for staff only. i’d let you use it but my manager insists we toe the line.

                customer: do you have a favorite film?
                glyph: it’s a tie between the wizard of oz and my left foot.

                customer: do i really have to have my foot measured?
                glyph: sir, this happens to be one case where size does matter.

                customer: wow, you guys are really busy.
                glyph: sir, we’re two associates short today so i had to jump in with both feet.

                glyph: (greeting customer warmly) it’s great to see you today sir!
                customer: such nice service!
                glyph: thank you sir, i like to put my best foot forward.

                customer: can you turn down the volume on that radio? it’s too loud.
                glyph: i’m sorry sir, i just love sole music.

                customer: what’s your favorite song?
                glyph: taps.

                instant gold(toe).Report

              • Glyph in reply to dhex says:

                …do you have a shoe joke book or something?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Glyph says:

                This are all from Ed Sullivan, on nights when he had a really big shoe.Report

              • dhex in reply to Glyph says:

                no i am just magical.Report

              • Roland Dodds in reply to Glyph says:

                “Maybe we need to stop treating such labors as “base” and “shameful” and “pointless”. I’m not saying your brother or I deserved the respect for our labors that an Ebola doctor does, but the “Al Bundy” jokes I had to endure…”

                It’s not the labor that’s shameful, it’s the workplace mindset that asks someone doing said shops to give far more than is required. I want Americans to stop thinking these demands are healthy or good.Report

              • If you are talking about all jobs, sure, there’s a conversation to be had about work/life balance. But you implied it was only a problem if the job was a lousy one.Report

              • You are right in that it is bad thing for any company to dominate someone’s life, but I do think it is even more problematic in lower-skilled jobs. When I worked for a private education firm, I worked very long hours and hated it. I did do it for some time because they paid me very well for that work. The turnover was high in the gig, and everyone basically did the same thing as I did: worked for 6 months and then took that cash to transition into another gig or travel.

                When we start expecting people making 30 grand to put in those hours because “that’s what this job is about,” we have done a terrible thing to the working-class/lower middle class. We have normalized a working environment that makes it even more difficult for working people to have families and build community.

                Maybe that is not everyone’s experience, but it definitely is one I have observed in the last 15 years.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Roland Dodds says:

                I was glad to see Paul Ryan tell the GOP that he would not be putting in crazy long hours doing fund raising crap, that his family time was too important to him.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I wonder the degree to which his list of demands was made with the intention of it being unpalatable.

                I think Ryan has long-term Presidential ambitions, and neither wants the yoke of speaker of the House, nor the label as “guy who refused to step up when his party asked him to” — both of which would be pretty damaging to those ambitions.

                Making demands that that allow him either have out for not taking the nomination or to be able focus on non-speaker duties as speaker (while clipping the wings of that part of the party that is most likely to make him look bad to independents) seems pretty damn shrewd to me.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:


                My view is that he was sincere in his initial demands (no Hastert Rule, two year commitment from House on Speakership, weekends off) since h really didn’t want the job unless he had control of the proceedings. His big mistake came later, when he conceded on some of those demands. Now I don’t see how he gets outa taking the position with his political skin intact.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

                I agree. But I also think there were no good options for him by that point.

                It would have been one thing if his name were just tossed out by a few guys as test balloons, amid a bunch of other test ballots being raised by others. But after it became an instant consensus that Speaker Ryan was the Party’s Only Hope and without him They Were Doomed — and for one second, can we all stop for a moment and contemplate how truly bizarre it was that this not only happened at all, but also that happened almost instantly and near universally, without any effort at all by Ryan himself? It’s like one of those instances of vast mobs suddenly and without explanation acting with a single mind that no one can really explain that you read about in Soc-101 classes — he really had nowhere to go and still expect to get the party’s backing for a 2020 or 2024 White House bid.Report

              • Y’all are all wrong or off-base.

                There is a very specific reason that Paul is the only hope.

                There is no indication that he wants the presidency, and many indications that he does not.

                His demands were not an effort to tank the prospect but rather a response to all that proceeded it.

                In almost any other circumstance, he should be disqualified from consideration as his critics are as much right as they are wrong.

                But because of that first thing, to be named later, he is the only man for the job right now.

                If I hadn’t had a string of ophthalmic migraines, I’d have a post about it written. I hope to by Monday.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

                Did you just turn Paul Ryan into Obi-Wan Kenobi?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Obi Ryan; the force is strong in him.Report

          • James K in reply to Roland Dodds says:


            In the interests of time, perhaps you should provide us with the complete list of what is and isn’t pointless.Report

  9. Brandon Berg says:

    Ironically, our younger employees that are not college-educated are also the ones most willing to take things slow. They know they need to keep developing their skills. They bide their time, adding experience month after month.

    IIRC Tod has said in the past—apologies if I’m mischaracterizing this—that college teaches some important skills that most people can’t acquire in any other way, creating a fairly sharp distinction between college graduates and high school graduates, with the latter being strongly preferable.

    I’m curious as to what causes this apparent difference between the way the two of you view high school graduates. If you two are up for it, I would be interested in seeing you talk it out in the comments or another post.Report

    • Brandon,

      As a college graduate I agree with Tod that college does teach you certain skills, probably the most important of which is to become a lifelong learner. Where I draw the distinction today is that I often see college graduates still waiting to be taught the next lesson in a more obvious way, while the non-college graduates seem to be better at seeing the lesson hidden in the experience they are gaining. Again, this is anecdotal and may just be part of the culture at the company where I work. We are big on promoting from within and we develop our people probably better than most.Report

      • Lyle in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        It may partly depend on how the person was taught. I would agree that a Phd program is partly about learning how to teach yourself, because ultimately no one else knows as much about the area you are working on as you do. A good bit of this can be done in a masters program, as well as seminar classes where readings are assigned to groups to report on to the class. (All be it this was in the Earth Sciences)Report

  10. LeeEsq says:

    Haven’t employers always complained that employees are lazy and want to get paid for nothing? During the 19th century, there was a lot of outrage over the fact that factory workers and miners thought that eight hour days were more than enough for work while employers wanted their employees to labor ten, twelve, or even fourteen hour days. People who employed domestic servants would complain that would laze about and consume their drink and food rather than cook and scrub and clean despite any reality to the difference.

    To employers, labor is a cost. They want the most work from the least amount of people at the lowest pay possible for the longest time possible. That’s how you increase profits. Employees tend to have more varying needs but generally want to get rewarded decently for their labor. If they put in long hours, they want more money for their additional work. If they put in a bit or lot of extra effort, they would like some emotional compliment.Report

  11. Will Truman says:

    I find myself really annoyed by both essays, but the anti-Millennial (O’Donnell) one more than the Pro (McLeod).

    McLeod comes across as entitled. Maybe given her peculiars (she seems very passionate about doing a good job, may be especially educated, etc), she has every right to be. She seems to be a very particular type of employee and expects everything (including, to be fair, her coworkers) to conform to that. But this is all minor.

    O’Donnell, though, I want to agree with her and do agree with a part of it. But look, if employees want perks and you’re not giving it to them, either (a) they have the leverage to demand it or (b) they don’t. Either way, there is no sense of morality or justice involved. Give it to them if (a) or don’t if (b).

    But the big thing is you know all that stuff Dwyer rightly says about patience? That applies to employers, too. O’Donnell’s aversion to training seems indicative of a problem on the employers’ side. And if you want them to do a job and they’re capable of doing the job on Day 1, then I don’t understand the slightest the indignation that the employees start making a demand. You’ve already disclaimed the notion that you’re helping them advance their career. Or helping them in any way imaginable because you already imagine them as perfectly qualified individuals the second they walk in the door. That means that you have to pay them for the qualifications you expected them to get before they came, and treat them with the respect of someone that took it upon themselves to meet your qualifications.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Will Truman says:

      Those are very good points, that the same charge leveled at young people could be made at employers, that they want it all and they want it now and don’t want to pay a lot for it.

      I think these essays also show how conflicted and complex our attitudes towards work are.
      On one hand we describe it in purely mercenary, transactional terms. Leverage, bargaining and self-interest.

      Yet we also view it within a context of moral norms and virtue- industriousness, thrift, loyalty.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

      @will-truman ‘s thoughts echo my own with regards to extrapolating the Millennial perspective. The writer herself wrongly assumes that what she wants is universal — at least to her generation. She wants a particular type of work environment and culture and seems to have landed elsewhere. It is wrong of her to demand that all workplaces, employees, and employers conform to her vision. But her vision isn’t wrong in and of itself.

      While I don’t think any of the employer’s criticisms are wholly off-base, I also think that particular brand of Millennial/youth bashing is overplayed. There is more going on than a bunch of spoiled, entitled, overpraised young people who can’t function in the work place. And the employers that can best adapt to the very real generational differences and/or best incorporate new employees into their companies are going to be the ones that do best. But that has always been true.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman says:

      O’Donnell’s aversion to training seems indicative of a problem on the employers’ side.

      This. It jumped out at me, reading the excerpt.

      There is a modern genre of jeremiad by the employer who wants highly skilled employees, and wants to pay them burger-flipping wages, and is shocked that qualified candidates aren’t lining up, hat in hand–it clearly is Obama’s fault.

      Notice in the instant case that employees are urged to go get that training on their own nickel, so as to make themselves “worth more to the employer.” What is missing here? Any suggestion that their higher worth will be compensated with higher pay.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        This, alongside the periodic wailings about a “labor shortage” which must, absolutely must, be remedied by the importation of more workers.

        In those cases, the proponents of “price signaling” and “market clearing” are nowhere to be found.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          Oh yeah. That crops up a lot. “We can’t find enough qualified people!” If you ask “have you tried paying more?” you get this blank look because apparently that’s unpossible.

          It’s particularly fun in fields like teaching, where the standard stereotype is that teachers are overpaid, overeducated, useless louts who should be in it “for the kids not the money”, so don’t dare ask for a raise.

          It is true — teachers are in it for the kids. Because once you’ve taken a look at the actual pay, you can’t possibly be in it for the money. (When you include benefits, there was a REASON my wife worked as an admin assistant rather than a teacher before we were married. This through a temp agency, in fact. After we were married, and used MY benefits — using her degree and teaching was something she could now afford to do).Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Morat20 says:

            This is a common theme at my current employer.

            “We need to hire people with wide and varied skill sets & we have a hard time getting them in the door.”

            “Have we tried offering them more money? Or a solid 401K match?”

            “I’m sorry, what did you say? There was all this static in my ear. They should want to work for us, we are a leader in our field, doing exciting & cutting edge work!”

            “With almost all of our offices in some of the most expensive cities in the country. It’s hard to make ends meet when you pay on the left side of the national bell curve and live on the right side.”

            “I know, office space is not cheap in these places!”


      • DensityDuck in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        “it clearly is Obama’s fault.”

        That, or it’s the Entitled Mentality Of The Modern American Worker. Or the Excessive Focus On College Degrees While Denigrating Trades. Or the Lingering Housing-Crisis Debt Preventing Labor Mobility.

        As you point out, hardly anyone seems to say “yeah, we’re having trouble filling positions. We’re going to raise the salaries we offer and see if that helps”.

        (on the other hand, there may be dozens of people saying that, but that’s not the story that the writer wants to tell us and so we don’t hear from them.)Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to DensityDuck says:


          Who is insulting the trades? Can you point to anytime in history when professionals encouraged their children to enter trades?

          This is an endless right-wing talking point about how modern society disrespects trades. No one on the right-wing seems to talk about how a lot of trade jobs come with serious health and safety hazards in ways that office work does not. You can theoretically be a white-collar professional into your 70s. Much harder to do with trades. Tradespeople are exposed to more deadly materials. Look at all the HVAC guys, steamfitters, pipefitters, etc who got sick or died because of exposure to asbestos from the 19th century until the 1980s. Since asbestos-related diseases have long latency periods, we are going to see people develop mesothelioma for another 20-30 years because of asbestos exposure. Deep Sea Welding has high rates of injury and death. Linemen get electrocuted, etc.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Who is insulting the trades? Can you point to anytime in history when professionals encouraged their children to enter trades?

            Weird. You asked a question then answered it.

            The hostility to the trades isn’t exclusively a left/right thing (tho it’s primarily a left thing as you proceed to make clear), it’s a class thing, and primarily a class-identification thing, which is primarily a left thing.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

              And adding to that: If there’s anyone who’s demonstrated that their views of the trades and the culture of the trades aren’t grounded in actual experience, and even more than that a disdain for gaining any of those types of experiences, it’s you Saul.Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to Stillwater says:

                To my mind, there are three main kinds of work: physical work, brain work, and people work. These days, pretty much every job has at least two different types of work in it. Different people like different things. Personally, I tend to prefer jobs that maximize brain work. People with similar preferences might want their kids to get similar mainly-brain-work occupations.

                Beyond the level of preferences, there are downsides to physical work (wear and tear on the body, mainly) as well as upsides (being able to end the day saying “I fixed that car” rather than “I…went to a bunch of meetings?”). People work also has downsides (jerks) and upsides (getting to interact with people and seeing that you made their life better in some way). Brain work…well, you either like it or you don’t, but as one who likes it, it’s hard for me to see a downside, other than that the results of your work can take longer to be clearly seen.

                The trades are generally a mix of brain work, physical work, and people work: for example, you need to know how to find out what’s wrong with a car and how to fix it, you need to actually fix the car, and you need to convince customers they can trust you to fix their car.

                There are definite class biases: people who class their work in the “mainly brain work” category can find it easy to look down on other jobs: both because they forget that “brain work” is a big part of the trades as well, and because they place too little value on the importance of other kinds of work.

                To add another factor: in terms of averages (or medians), people with university education make better money than people who studied the trades. Any most people want their kids to do at least as well as them, financially speaking.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Who is insulting the trades? Here’s a list of criticism of the trades.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

              I said they were reasons parents might not want their kids to go into trades. Do you find my reasons wrong and invalid? If yes, why? Do you think it is immoral or unethical for parents to want their kids to avoid careers with high-risks of physical injury and death? If yes, why?

              At no point did I insult trades. I admire people who can do things like carpentry and HVAC repair and being a mechanic. This does not change anything about those careers are or can be very dangerous physically.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                It’s a healthy respect for something that you don’t want your children near.

                See also: Diversity and School Districts.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

                When have I ever said anything about the kind of school I would send my hypothetical and non-existent child to?

                You haven’t answered my questions which were broad based. You are just attacking and going into your dada routine. I asked very specific questions. They have answers.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                You are absolutely right. I should not have used you as a stand-in for my broader criticisms of the cultural elite.

                I regret the comment and would cheerfully withdraw the second sentence.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Saul, merely encouraging your kids to not go into the trades expresses hostility to the trades. That’s it, really. Now, you don’t have kids, but you do consider yourself a professional, yes? So…Report

              • greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

                Wait, so if you don’t’ want a child to go into the infantry or EOD in the military means you are hostile to the military???? Howe about if you tell your child some jobs often take a serious physical toll on the body or are prone to boom and bust cycles? Does that express hostility?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

                Yeah, I’m sticking to my guns on this: if you encourage your kid to not go into the military (rather than let your kid make up his or her own mind!) you’re expressing hostility to the military.

                Course, there are types of hostility in play, and some of em are culturally based. A miner, from a mining family, might steer his kids away from that lifestyle without that view deriving from a class-based judgment about choosing that profession. A person who’s been in the military might do the same wrt their kids choices.

                Frankly, I don’t believe Saul when he says that professionals encourage their kids to not go into the trades because they’re unsafe. That doesn’t conform to his history of comments here at the OT, and it certainly doesn’t conform to my experiences with parents who are professionals.Report

              • greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

                Have you had training with those guns? Hostility is hyperbole; way over the top. “Listen son/daughter don’t’ go into ( dangerous or harsh job).” is not hostility. Is there some snobbery around work; of course and goes various ways.

                People want their children to do well and often for working/middle class folk better then they did. What is better has cultural pressures but that is not all. I’ll bet their are a lot tradesmen who are telling their kids to learn computers now and for the last 15 years. It isn’t because they hate the work they do. Heck i’ve known quite a few of them.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

                Oh man, the meaning of “doing well” and “wanting them to do well” is a big ole canaworms. What’s at issue is what professionals mean when they say “I want my children to do well”. And my guess is that most of em, just as Saul said!, don’t think “doing well” includes a career in the trades.Report

              • greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

                Of course “doing well” is a Can O’Worms. But not wanting your child to be cannon fodder or go into a job where chronic back problems are a frequent issue are not hostility. I’ve heard military parents say they are fine with the kids joining the military but not the infantry, try something like electronics or be an officer. Same with parents who were roofers; its learn computers or if a trade something that won’t break your body.

                It can be weedy to separate out various concerns, but there can be valid and snobby concerns mixed at the same time. At the level you are at every parent, probably ever, has been hostile to many or most jobs.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                “I don’t want my child to work at a job where she sits all day long! That’s the best way to get heart disease!”Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well yeah, plenty of parents get on their children about exercise and diet. How else are they going to harangue them?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                I doubt I’ll get a response and, if I do, it’ll probably be to lay off but… here goes…

                @sauldegraw… You have talked extensively about the professional frustrations you’ve endured. You seem stressed, disappointed, and unhappy with your chosen profession… at least insofar as where it has led you to this point (and understandably so!). So… assuming you got advice that steered you away from the trades and towards where you are now… how’s that workin’ out for ya? Maybe… just maybe… all paths have risks and rewards.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Congratulations, you cooked and ate a red herring.

            My post presented examples of wrong reasons behind “The Employment Crisis Doesn’t Exist, There’s Plenty Of Jobs But No Applicants”. People point to everything under the sun except salary.Report

            • There’s absolutely no shortage of applicants.

              When my parents were my age, you could walk out the door, hand out some resumés, and have a job in a week or two, with no postsecondary education. (I know, because it’s what my mom did for a few years. Work in an office, quit, travel for a while, work in an office, quit, travel. No worries about finding another job after travelling. No university or other training. Pretty good pay, hence the travelling. And all this while living downtown in a major city, because housing was tons more affordable then.) And back then, there was no Internet, so most employers were limited to people who lived in the same city where they operated.

              Now? Employers have never had it so good. There are a massive number of well-educated people (as well as less-educated people) looking for jobs and not finding them. Employers can find and hire someone from the other side of the country if they like; they can even find a person who hasn’t applied to them, thanks to networks like LinkedIn.

              If any employer cannot get good people to work for them in this environment, the problem is with the employer, and only the employer. But they’ve gotten spoiled. They’re no longer willing to do things like find a smart person with a good work ethic, and train them. They want someone who has exactly the skills they want, exactly the right training, and who will work for cheap. And then when they don’t get it, they whine to the government to fix things.

              Who are the entitled ones, again?Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to KatherineMW says:


                “If any employer cannot get good people to work for them in this environment, the problem is with the employer, and only the employer. But they’ve gotten spoiled. They’re no longer willing to do things like find a smart person with a good work ethic, and train them. They want someone who has exactly the skills they want, exactly the right training, and who will work for cheap. And then when they don’t get it, they whine to the government to fix things.”

                I think this depends a lot on the market. In Louisville only 25% of our workforce are college graduates. We struggle to get quality employees. In Atlanta we have graduate students driving forklifts.Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                What are you paying? Are you willing to hire people based on a telephone (or Skype) interview? Do you have a strong online recruiting presence? Some of those forklift-driving graduates in Atlanta might be able and willing to move to Louisville for a good job, but can’t afford to fly across the country for an in-person interview.

                Employment plummeted during the 2008 recession and hasn’t picked up since. I’m skeptical that someone with good skills, an education, and student debt to pay off would rather be long-term unemployed in the big city than employed in a good job in Louisville. Not everyone is mobile, but young folks are more likely to be.Report

  12. Doctor Jay says:

    I quite like Elizabeth’s essay, and I’m not remotely a Millennial. #ManWithoutADemographic It reminds me of what I wanted (and often got) from a workplace.

    Meaningful work, autonomy, and people who notice when you do something will trump perks. At least it will for the people who you actually want to work with you. Generations don’t matter. That’s a veneer of manners.

    Make their work mean something. Put it in a broader context. Notice when they do well. Be direct, but not shaming, when they mess up. This will work for everyone.Report

  13. Chip Daniels says:

    I recall reading the O’Donnell essay.

    It was 1970, I think, and quoted Jim Morrison (“we want the world and we want it now!”) as it described how privileged the hippie protestors were, how spoiled and ungrateful.

    But this essay seemed a bit more thoughtful and reflective because it it asked where test children could have acquired these traits, and asked if a generation raised by parents who spoke of miracle drugs didn’t teach children that all of life’s pain couldn’t be eased by a chemical, or that years or a culture that glowing praised instant this and on-demand that didn’t destroy the value of patience.

    McLeods essay can be read as the parochial viewpoint of a very young person who could stand a bit of broadening.

    The other one is just stock self aggrandizement couched in moral lectoring.

    Where are these noble patient hard working adults she speaks of?
    On Wall Street? In government? Sports?

    Where would a young person learn these kinds of virtues and skills?Report

    • “Where are these noble patient hard working adults she speaks of?
      On Wall Street? In government? Sports?”

      I imagine she is talking about the Wall St. gangs that robbed this country blind. No one worked harder than them.

      (I know this is unfair, but I just couldn’t help myself)Report

  14. Kolohe says:

    My last job had a lot of talk on ‘how do we hire and manage millennials?’ which I thought at the time (and still do) was mostly bunk. The only relevant difference between millennials and Xers is that there’s a lot more of the former, which does have macroeconomic effects. The Xer’s did benefit from being in the shadow of the humongous boomer generation and so (we) were able to get entry level workforce experience a bit easier as the boomers aged out of that niche.Report

  15. Jesse Ewiak says:

    Leaving this here – a Newsweek article from 1993, about Gen X.

    The only difference between now and then is both employers and employees have blogs and tumblrs to bitch about each other. 🙂Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      Ten years before that, I was reading the complaint about new hires wanting to jump straight to the top. This is standard “get off my lawn!” boilerplate.Report

      • This seems right, though at the same time I found it remarkable the level of entitlement a lot of my peers had getting out of college (around 2000). It may not be a new thing, but it’s a thing.Report

        • Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman says:

          Oh, it’s certainly a thing. The Kid grows up seeing Dad, in his established position in life, and regards that as normal. Sure, Dad started in the mail room, but that was before the Kid was born. When the Kid graduates college and finds himself in an entry level job, the transition is a bit of an adjustment, and it is perfectly natural for the Kid to want to get past this phase as quickly as possible, to get back to (what is for him) normal. Then reality sets in, and the Kid, no longer a kid, does the grind to work his way up. Having done this, he looks at snot-nosed recent grads and bitches about how they want to jump straight to the top, rather than putting in the time like he did. And so the world turns.Report

        • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Will Truman says:

          I mean, @will-truman, one could make the argument that 2000 was the height of when somebody getting out of college could be entitled and expect a good job right away, at least in the two income period. We’d just had the 90’s boom, college debt wasn’t too terrible, and we hadn’t had two recessions in a decade.

          (Not to say there weren’t problems with society writ large in 2000)Report

          • I guess this is where specificity counts. It was between 2001-03. The economy had passed its peak. Which, to be fair to my peers, probably accounts for some of it: We entered college in one economy, and left in another (albeit one not as bad as the new millenials). But the souring of the economy, though it sucked, is reason to adjust expectations downward. There was a remarkable amount of reluctance to do so.Report

  16. Autolukos says:

    I’m trying my best, but I can’t really muster much sympathy for O’Donnell.

    Do you want employees with more skills than you can find on the market? Do something about it. Finding the employees you want? Seems like training isn’t much of an issue.

    Feel disrespected by someone who wants control of their hours? Tough; either accommodate the request or don’t, but employees aren’t there for your emotional well-being.

    Angry that your perks aren’t boosting satisfaction as much as you’d hoped? See above.

    Maybe I’m just being uncharitable, but the whole thing strikes me as whining that not all millennials fulfill employers’ ideal, and that this makes employers feel bad.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Autolukos says:

      I think a lot of employers are still kinda stuck in some weird 50’s nostalgia where employees were loyal to the company until the end, no matter how fracking bad the company could be.

      Those days are just long gone. GenXer’s & Millennials are not interested in that dynamic.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        And part of the reason those days are long gone is because companies seem to see employees much more as cogs in a machine as opposed to members of a “corporate family” so to speak. I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg, but I have seen and heard of companies that basically mow through employees and then wonder why turnover is so high.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

          I don’t consider myself anti-business and most people would not put me in the pre-fabricated camp, but if the chicken vs egg thing could be isolated and determined, I would bet a lot of money that it didn’t start with the employees.

          (That being said, the ship has sailed and I don’t think either side could culturally change things back.)Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Whenever there is discussion about the value of college, people like to complain about how liberal plans for low tuition will just make a college degree more meaningless but a lot of employers made it clear that they are not interested in on the job training for the most part except for maybe in-house rules and ways of doing things and they want to see a college degree to show competence.

        The interesting implication here is that people don’t seem to think corporations will change unless forced to and the only way to force them is by ending all subsidies for college education and this will cause massive decreases in enrollment.

        I doubt the wisdom of this tactic.Report

        • Mike Dwyer in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          A college degree demonstrates the ability to absorb information and draw conclusions. That should (in theory) mean that person can get a job, observe and learn. O’Donnell’s 1st point is that Millennials shouldn’t need their hand held.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


            Part of the issue is that not everyone learns (or learns best) through observation.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

              But, by the time they are done with college, they should be self-aware of how they learn best, and they should convey that to their employer, and the employer should be willing to work with them to make sure that if the learn better by doing than by watching, then it’s time to let them get their hands dirty.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Ha! Self-awareness! That’s a good one!

                In all seriousness, yes, they should know this about themselves and the employer should support them. The reality is that most folks don’t know that about themselves and that most employers, as evidenced by the piece above, would see such a request as a disrespectful demand from an entitled young person.Report

        • I find myself favoring a look at Disparate Impact as it pertains to requiring college degrees. Seeing what we can do with that.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          I recently suggested elsewhere that improving incentives for employer reimbursement of college tuition might not be a bad alternative.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            The only time I have ever heard of this as a perk was for public service commitments or people who worked at the top firms in any given field and the top field jobs tend to go to the crème de la crème.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              Lots of tech companies, big & small, offer tuition reimbursement for classes taken while employed (with the veto power Jaybird mentions).

              Some, however, are also offering to pay off student loans in exchange for a time commitment. This is what I think we should incentivize more. If employers are insisting on degrees, they should (especially if they just can not stomach paying more) offer to pay off loans.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Some, however, are also offering to pay off student loans in exchange for a time commitment.

                If *THAT* is what we’re talking about, I am immediately freaking out and thinking about all of the things that could possibly go wrong.

                Credit checks for applicants. (Already happens in some industries. I’ve had jobs that I was credit checked for.) Not just for jobs where people handle money or expensive equipment but for *EVERYBODY*, now. Two people who are otherwise equal… would you rather have the guy who has less college debt?

                Employers saying “we’ll pay off STEM! degrees!”

                Colleges saying “woo hoo! An untapped revenue stream!”

                This seems like it has the best of intentions… but I don’t think that that this policy will result in the outcomes we want. In the short term, it might be good… but we’ll hit equilibrium before incoming freshmen graduate.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

                Suck a cynic, Jaybird!Report

              • Chris in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                This is definitely going to be my new go-to exclamation.

                “Oh go suck a cynic.”

                Just in time for college basketball season, too.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chris says:

                You did catch the origin, right?Report

              • Chris in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Yes, that’s what makes it so perfect.Report

            • Lyle in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              Back when I worked for a big oil company it did have a tuition reimbursement program for employees, I just checked and they still offer a 75% tuition reimbursement for approved programs.

              A number of folks used this to get MBA’sReport

          • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Every place I’ve worked had awesome reimbursement of tuition but they wanted veto power over my classes.

            Which is perfectly reasonable, of course… I understand why my boss wouldn’t want me to get that degree in marionette arts… but is the bottleneck for why we don’t have more people with Master’s Degrees in Information Technology the whole “they don’t want to drop five figures” issue?Report

      • Autolukos in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        What makes me unsympathetic is less the things O’Donnell complains about than the reasons she gives for complaints.

        To her credit, she highlights the cost of training for her first point. But her argument against flexible scheduling has nothing to do with any business hardship it might create; instead, she focuses on feelings of disrespect. The same with perks: she argues not that there is a business problem with offering perks that don’t improve satisfaction but that employers feel unappreciated when employees aren’t appeased by them.

        I can’t claim any expertise in how to deal with disengaged millennials at work; I’m just a millennial code monkey without management experience. But it does seem like getting emotional about how young people just don’t appreciate what you’re giving them is the wrong way to go about it.Report

  17. Patrick says:

    Some thoughts.

    Elizabeth sounds like she wants to change the world and that is pretty awesome, but she doesn’t sound like she understands that companies are also really hard to run. Yes, talk about cash flow can be boring…until you don’t get a paycheck because the cash flow disappeared.

    Context is really important. When someone indicates that they aren’t interested in a context that is outside their immediate job, it’s pretty likely that they are either (a) not that great of a long-term employee and they’re destined to stay at their immediate job or one very much like it, or (b) they need some help learning why that other context is important.

    Every company I have ever worked for has an Elizabeth and a Donna. The rest of the employees fall somewhere in between.

    This is something that many folks coming into the workforce simply don’t understand.

    Moreover, they also don’t understand that there are lots of Donnas that look like Elizabeths. Maybe Donna really is just not a morning person, and she rolls into work 15 minutes late every day, and she chats people up at the water cooler, and she takes long lunches… but she’s also brilliant at very small process improvements and threading and she can go through a pile of 100 files three times faster than everybody else in her department. That IT gal who always seems to be browsing the web when you drop by her office is also the one that set up the network topology such that you haven’t noticed that there have been major service outages three times in the last year but you were able to keep working because the failover was designed perfectly. Sometimes Elizabeth is the one that arrives early and works through lunch and stays late… but they’re a communications black hole and they add latency to every single decision that has to go through them, making a two minute fix require fifteen minutes of emails spread out over three days.

    Keeping your intensity when everyone around you is slacking is a lesson that isn’t learned overnight.

    Focusing on improving things rather than your own immediate universe helps. If Elizabeth is holding up your ability to do things, she might not be doing it because she’s bad at her job or she’s slacking, it might be because she doesn’t understand what the hell you do and how her actions impact you.

    Company culture is changed at the grass roots level and in my experience even one employee can impact dozens of people around them with the right attitude. This is how movements start, even within big companies.

    Yes. But it requires a type of courage and a commitment to failure a lot of folks don’t have.

    An employer pays us to do a job. We are service providers. Expecting extensive training and professional development to do the job doesn’t make financial sense.

    Anybody who has this attitude about their employer, or any employer has this attitude about their employees? Get the hell out of there. If a company doesn’t expect to develop its employees, the corollary is that they also don’t expect to retain their employees.

    If you’re an employee, think about that for a second. You are literally disposable to them. Find somebody else to work for.

    The biggest thing lacking among Millennials, from my vantage point, is old fashioned patience.

    I don’t think that this is exclusive to Millennials, I think it’s a characteristic of being in your twenties. Anybody starting a career track lacks patience. This is actually sometimes a feature, not a bug… folks who lack patience are also the sorts who will get stuff done by figuring out how to avoid intraorganizational road blocks. They can break up internal log jams that folks who have been there for a long while assume are intractable. The trick is harnessing that for good, not evil.

    That actually takes management.


    1. Every generation complains about the younger generation.

    This is just as much a reflection on the fact that the younger generation keeps making the same mistakes as it is the older generation gets crotchety in their dotage.


    In that same vein, management could stand to do a little better with telling the engineers things that are most pertinent to the engineers.

    And there’s the real thing.

    The problem isn’t with the Millennials as a group, or with young folks as a group, or with older folks, or people with quirky work styles, or any of all of that.

    Our problem is that our management cadre, by and large, just sucks.

    They do not possess the skills necessary to actually manage their employees. They’re not good at mentoring, or they’re not good at taking information that is accessible to their team and expressing it in a way that is expressible to their Director (or vice-versa), or they’re not good at going to bat for what’s necessary for their department to work, or any one of a number of other things that managers actually really need to be really good at in order to get the most out of their employees while also contributing the most to the way the organization actually works. They’re not good at getting the most out of Donna while explaining to Elizabeth what Donna does, to prevent Elizabeth from resenting Donna. They’re not good at providing mentoring to Elizabeth without also messaging to Donna that opportunities are available to her, too. They blame the organization for problems that they need to fix, but can’t. I could go on. I can’t count the number of folks I’ve met who have the title “Manager of Something” who inherited their job and do their job without ever considering how they *should* change their job. That’s not being a real manager.

    If you’re not really all that different from the folks you manage in skillset… if the difference between them and you is that you have a nicer title and a bigger paycheck and some formal authority… you’re not really cut out to be a manager.

    And that’s most of the managers in the country.

    Now, admittedly, this is a problem of supply. The skills necessary to actually *be* a good manager are skills that can be learned, but a number of them require you to bust down a lot of your own biases, and getting a BA in biz and then an MBA is not always the greatest path to that end. We, as a culture, do not venerate the manager. We venerate Steve Jobs (who, by the way, was a terrible manager). The manager is always, always, always this guy. Business, by and large, doesn’t value good management, because it doesn’t train good management and it doesn’t try to retain good management.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Patrick says:

      Patrick: Business, by and large, doesn’t value good management, because it doesn’t train good management and it doesn’t try to retain good management.

      Business also has a problem where they expect managers to double as HR reps. If you are a manager & you spend a significant amount of your time doing HR administrative duties, someone needs to hire you an assistant. When I was a manager, I was so glad I had an assistant who did 90% of the HR work for me, so I could focus on technical, tactical, and strategic issues. To often, in tight times, or when quarterly numbers are low, admin assistants are first to go, and they rarely come back.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick says:

      Steve Jobs was a wonderful manager. Just ask Margaret.Report

  18. Don Zeko says:

    Chip Daniels:
    Those are very good points, that the same charge leveled at young people could be made at employers, that they want it all and they want it now and don’t want to pay a lot for it.

    I think these essays also show how conflicted and complex our attitudes towards work are.
    On one hand we describe it in purely mercenary, transactional terms. Leverage, bargaining and self-interest.

    Yet we also view it within a context of moral norms and virtue- industriousness, thrift, loyalty.

    But these conflicts tend to be a one-way street. Employees are expected to treat the employee/employer relationship as a commitment of shared values and mutual loyalty, while employers treat it as a mercenary arrangement that can be altered or terminated according to the vagaries of the market.Report

    • Suckh Such a cynic, Don. It’s like you’ve been paying attention or something.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Don Zeko says:

      I’m going to zoom the focus out a bit.

      Don’t we see this throughout our culture, the conflict between wanting the virtues of Bedford Falls and the pleasures of Pottersville?

      Its seems as if every commercial I see on tv is exhorting me to get it all, right now, as much as I can, without any cost or effort.

      Where would I go to hear exhortations of patience, hard work, thrift, self-denial and modesty?

      This isn’t some top-down evil from The Man. Instead, its the stories we tell ourselves and each other, the things we praise and emulate, the things we scorn and ridicule.

      If some virtuous Millennial were to practice patience, wouldn’t she refrain from buying a new Iphone, and put that money away in a retirement account? Wouldn’t a Millennial who practiced loyalty stick with one brand of toothpaste, and shun the new and improved model?

      One of the worst sort of lies we tell ourselves is the notion of self-reinforcing virtuous systems, where the well designed legal or regulatory apparatus can produce a virtuous outcome without our having to make choices or sacrifices.

      Classical socialism was one example, but so is the spontaneous order of the marketplace. This is why I am becoming much more skeptical about systemic or economic explanations of the world, which leave out human choice and complexity.Report

  19. Stillwater says:

    If there’s an actual debate over millennials’ work ethic/expectations, it only seems to make sense by pretty much bifurcating behaviors and business practices into two camps that are antagonistic to each other. I’m not sure that’s the case, so I’m inclined to think there really isn’t anything of substance to debate here.

    That doesn’t prevent me, tho, from identifying two distinct groups – millennials entering the workforce and businesses comprised of employees with established cultures and practices – and then draping some collective properties on each of them to tease out what might be important – and conflicting – differences in culture, employment expectations, internal motivation, and so on. So I don’t think the exercise is without value. It’s just that I think the value of the exercise is determined by the types of properties we drape on each group to reveal relevant differences. And because of that it gets really close to just begging the question.

    My own guess is that millennials DO have different expectations about their work-life than previous generations, and that that’s probably a good thing even tho it puts employers in a difficult situation wrt accommodating those expectations and it puts any particular millennial in the position of being perpetually disappointed. (I have my own complaints about millennials (old man stuff, similar to what you expressed in the OP) as well as some of the soul-crushing aspects of wage/salary work which they object to, but my own judgments about those things strike me as irrelevant to this topic.) Either way, tho, it’ll all shake out however it does. It’s not like my judgment is gonna change anything, you know what I mean?

    As for the worry about Sanders’ politics incentivizing the worst aspects of young people’s views on work and work-life, I’d have to disagree, tho I see your point. Personally, I don’t think the views you object to result from the political-culture of nanny-statism, but rather follow from our economic culture, and the material successes of that culture, more generally. Kids today have stuff, and they want more stuff, and that includes a good paying job they enjoy and find rewarding. That doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable view for any particular individual to hold, tho collectively it seems like an impossibility to achieve.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

      In case it’s not clear, what I’m suggesting in that last paragraph is that millennial’s expectations are shaped by the successes of our non-nanny-state economy.Report

  20. aarondavid says:

    As someone who has jumped back and forth over the managment/labor divide, I would start by say that Ms. McLeod needs to grow up. If you don’t like how the company you work for does business, move on. Or, start your own firm. I am sure you know all the ins and outs of that world you chose. And if you don’t, you will find out. Or fail. But you will also find out that, in order to make that business succed, you will need to put every bit of yourself into it. Nights, weekends, all of it. And cash flow is Mas Importante.

    As for O’Donnell, much more sympathy, but not all. You can treat employee’s like shit, but they might not stick around. Or word gets out and the good ones don’t come knocking at your door. So listen. And listen closely.

    No job is “base,” all work is needed. Otherwise it would have disappeared by now. If you are stuck in a crap job, look at yourself and see what is needed to move on. Sometimes you can’t for a while, but that is OK because you can see what is going on and learn from it. And be ready to jump when the time is right.

    As a wise man said, you are your own boss. No one else.Report

  21. Tod Kelly says:

    Apologies in advance for going a little stream of consciousness and a wee bit apoplectic.

    What I find interesting about this post (and the two articles it quotes) is that I could go back every decade of my adult life and find identical articles/arguments/judgements about every decades of 20-somethings. To watch a bunch of Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers make these arguments about Millennials with seemingly no self awareness of how the exact same things were said about them is really interesting.

    * * *

    As far as this goes…

    Ironically, our younger employees that are not college-educated are also the ones most willing to take things slow.

    That may indeed be an indicator of wisdom and patience. But there’s another phrase that’s often used to describe this habit of some young people who don’t go to college and who spend their first decade post-high school taking it slow: lack of ambition. Which one is it, really– wisdom and patience or lack of ambition? In truth, the answer — to the degree that it’s actually either one or the other — is dependent entirely upon each individual, and not a generation.

    * * *

    Here’s what I suspect happens with all of these conversations that pop up about the inherent suckiness of every younger (sub)generation:

    Older people hear some argument about “kids these days” that hinges upon their generation being inherently superior to the one(s) that follow it. Their memory betrays them, and when they look back at who they were when they were 23 or 26 they color in their current level of life experience and wisdom within those memories, and they find themselves tut-tutting a myriad of flaws, poor decisions, and immaturity that they themselves displayed when they were young.

    Then, afterward, every error in judgement made by a young person is catalogued as proof that the slightly older generation is inherently better than the younger one. At the same time, every case of case of good judgment by a young person either doesn’t show up on the radar at all, or it shows up as “the exception to the rule” about that particular shiftless and spoiled generation.

    And then, it potentially gets worse: Things like professional mentoring and coaching — which tend to be offered by companies that have pretty consistently higher-than-industry-average employee retention rates and higher-than-industry-average service reviews from customers — gets folded into the arguments about how younger people are the worst. And — presumably — that older generation then fights the very idea of mentoring and coaching in the workplace, potentially hurting their company and their own careers.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      No argument with the rest of the comment, which I endorse, but a note about this:

      But there’s another phrase that’s often used to describe this habit of some young people who don’t go to college and who spend their first decade post-high school taking it slow: lack of ambition. Which one is it, really– wisdom and patience or lack of ambition? In truth, the answer — to the degree that it’s actually either one or the other — is dependent entirely upon each individual, and not a generation.

      In truth, most likely, it’s neither (which I think is what you meant when you said “to the degree that it’s actually one or the other”)

      … but ten years from now, somebody will look at the *current* state of that person and say that “you could tell ten years ago that they were going to be a wise and patient leader/slacker, they just had that quality”.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Patrick says:

        which I think is what you meant when you said “to the degree that it’s actually one or the other”

        It was indeed.

        “but ten years from now, somebody will look at the *current* state of that person and say that “you could tell ten years ago that they were going to be a wise and patient leader/slacker, they just had that quality”.”

        Very true. Equally true, is that people will look back in ten years on the ambitious, volunteer for everything, come in late and stay late employee and say “you could tell ten years ago that they were going to be a go-getting leader/asshole, they just had that quality”Report

  22. I’m just glad to see one piece where everything isn’t all the baby boomers’ fault.Report

  23. Brit says:

    I’m going to cautiously try to join this conversation. I’ve read through all the posts up to now, but will just try to put down my thoughts on the OP – some does chime with what some have already said I think.

    Bear in mind I’m British, but I recognise the situations being discussed here, so I think there’s little difference that I can see caused by that. As context of where I come from, I have now spent most of my working life in management, and most of my time in management in senior management.

    My big takeaway is that I don’t think this has much to do with generational difference. I think it has more to do with particular individuals in particular situations. I’ve seen McLeod’s and O’Donnells throughout my working life. I think the technology that now gives us much greater flexible working has shifted just what we are capable of doing (in times past my habit of working through my emails late in the evening would just not have been possible – to have access to all my systems effectively 24/7 is a dramatic change I have seen in my own working lifetime) but not the attitudes to the merits or otherwise.

    I see myself in McLeod at a young age. on her points:
    1.I’ve learned more wisdom in terms of understanding how people are different and work differently with different skills, and I don’t think I was ever so judgmental on numbers of hours worked, but there is some truth in an uwillingness by many to tackle poor performance
    2.It’s good to be young and think you know better than all those stuffed shirts in management. And definitely, it sounds like McLeod’s managers lack the ability to communicate vision and passion. But the day-to-day stuff does matter.
    3. This is absolutely true. And while I agree with someone upthread who says you can influence it bottom-up, it is vital that management show the way. And not with “values statements” and strategy documents, but by living the values of the company. Want staff to believe in your mission? Show you care passionately. Want staff to not swing the lead, but work hard? Treat them with respect and truly value them. If you refuse to provide them training or help them develop, or make their environment one they want to be in, then you don’t value them – and they won’t value you.
    4. See 3. This is where McLeod is spot on, I think.

    For O’Donnell:
    1. Employers aren’t parents. Agreed. But O”Donnel doesn;t seem to realise this goes both ways. Parents care and provide for their children. In return, children (ideally) love and respect them and want to do their best for them. That’s not the employer-employee relationship of consenting equals. But O’Donnell seems to think that the employer owes the employee nothing (true) but that the employee should still do their utmost for the employer (Why?). The employer is free to offer the employee nothing. But don’t be surprised it the employee first complains then leaves. You have to give loyalty to get loyalty.
    2. Fine. Just be aware you’re restricting your labour pool. You don’t have to hire someone who actually wants to raise their kids with love and attention, and they don’t have to work for you. And I think you’re limiting your company unnecessarily. Flexibility cuts both ways. Where I work, I’m able to be flexible and eg take time to be with my kids, and equally when there is a need I’ll work long and unsocial hours.
    3. No, it’s not. You are under no obligation to provide any enjoyment to your employees. And they are under no obligation to work for you.

    Really, O’Donnell reads like a caricature of a poor unimaginative manager unable to see their staff as people worthy of respect. I find Mike Dwyer’s attitude in response interesting as it seems to be that people should grow up and realise that life is all about being exploited and it is noble for one to just knuckle down and get on with it. I have a strong work ethic and believe in working hard for what I get – I certainly don’t think the world owes me any kind of living. But just as the world owes me nothing, I owe the world nothing. My labour is worth something and if someone wants it they can make a bid for it. It’s not “entitled” for me to decide the offer isn’t enough and take that labour elsewhere, or threaten to. It’s just market forces.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Brit says:

      Good analysis, Brit.

      I think the elephant in the room is that a lot of this is class based.

      There are endless number of articles on the differences between a career and a job. A career is supposed to be something of a calling with a good degree of passion and desire on the part of the career holder. A job is something that you do for sustenance and then you get emotional satisfaction and happiness from other parts of life: mates, loves, family, hobbies, etc. I have also seen countless arguments about whether there is something morally or ethically wrong about having either the career POV or job POV. Unsurprisingly there are political ideologies involved in determining which attitude is proper.

      The other observation I have seen countless times is that middle-class and above parents teach their children to see teachers (and other potential authority figures) as being somewhat equal. From what I’ve read, working-class parents teach their children to see teachers as authority figures and this might track for life.

      You can even divide it further, at least among the upper-middle class. I grew up with professional parents but was sent to public (state in the UK) school and this involved a bit more natural hierarchy. My friends who went to private school went to the institutions where you called the teachers and admin by their first names. This has to have some kind of social and psychological effect that pays dividends through out lives in terms of how they hold themselves and demand to be treated. I’ve seen corporate offices where equals refer to each other by first name but people in lower positions are supposed to say “Mr.” or “Ms.” I have also seen offices where everyone is on a first name basis regardless of position (I prefer this).

      There are all sorts of ways parenting effects this. Professional parents generally expect their kids to enter professions. Among the people I know who grew up working class or blue-collar, their parents seem to have been split. Some had parents who worked very hard to give them college-educations because they did not want their kids to go into back-breaking labor. Others had an attitude of “Doing X has been good for me, it was good for my dad, it is good enough for my kid.”Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Brit says:

      Wow. This is an awesome comment.

      I certainly don’t think the world owes me any kind of living. But just as the world owes me nothing, I owe the world nothing. My labour is worth something and if someone wants it they can make a bid for it. It’s not “entitled” for me to decide the offer isn’t enough and take that labour elsewhere, or threaten to. It’s just market forces.


    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Brit says:


      “I find Mike Dwyer’s attitude in response interesting as it seems to be that people should grow up and realise that life is all about being exploited and it is noble for one to just knuckle down and get on with it.”

      I would say that’s pretty uncharitable. There’s a huge gap between ‘exploited’ and understanding that work is what you make of it. Perhaps I am naive but I am a pretty big believer that you get what you give. Most people, if they put forth the effort, can come to like their job, even if they don’t love it.

      As you said, people are welcome to take their services elsewhere, but until they stop expecting their job to check every box on their wishlist, most are probably going to be unhappy. That seems like a pretty lousy way to spend the majority of your adult life.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        But Mike, doesn’t ALL of that run both ways? Don’t employers get what they give? Give crap, get crap. Shouldn’t employers stop expecting every employee to check every box on the wishlist?Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Brit says:

      Thinking about this, any youth who finds themselves not feeling like they have the opportunity to grow & advance should probably join the military.

      Of all the places I’ve worked, that was the one place where the moment you demonstrated even a shred a skills competency, they’d try to toss you into the deep end.

      Makes the modern civilian workplace downright relaxing most times…Report

  24. KatherineMW says:

    Let’s imagine you ran a company that didn’t have any employees; everything was done by robots.

    Those robots would require maintenance to ensure all of their mechanical parts and software kept working. If you refused to spend anything on maintenance on the basis that it was a waste of money, all your robots would eventually grind to a halt. The robots don’t keep working unless you invest time and money in ensuring they have what they need to function. That’s an inherent expense of having the business. That’s taken for granted. When you have employees instead of robots, that maintenance is called “lunch” and “breaks” and “work-life balance”. If you don’t maintain the robots, they stop working and you need to get new ones; if you don’t allow your employees to have a life beyond work, they get burnout and you need to find new employees.

    Same with training. Every business accepts the need to upgrade their computers and software periodically. That’s an inherent expense of business. Some skills employees can learn on the job; other skills, it’s more efficient if they’re trained and supported so that they can learn those things faster. That’s an expense – that’s an investment – by the company, because investing in it makes your employees better at doing what you want them to do. Training isn’t an expense that you should expect your employees to incur out of their own time and money, any more than you should be telling them they have to pay for the next Windows update on the work computer out of their own pocket.

    Companies know they have to invest in their buildings, in their utilities, in their software, if they want it to work properly. If you never maintain a building and it starts falling apart, a reasonable person doesn’t conclude that it must have been a crappy building in the first place. It should be equally obvious that companies need to invest in their employees, even if you choose to completely ignore the fact that these are human beings with inherent value. Instead, employers are arguing not that they should be able to treat their employees like things, but that they should be able to treat them worse than things.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to KatherineMW says:


      Define the skills employees should have coming in off the street. Business-specific knowledge for a recent college grad? I think that’s something they should get in-house. How to use Excel and PowerPoint? They should probably learn that on their own time. But we see more and more candidates applying for admin jobs expecting to be taught those basic things after they are hired. Somewhere there is a disconnect.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Define the skills employees should have coming in off the street.

        It depends on the company and the position they’re hiring for. Being an office assistant shouldn’t require a college degree, yet it often does. (Admin assistant programs are one of the most common college degrees among women.) Working as a cashier or stocking shelves shouldn’t require job experience or high school graduation, because you can teach someone to do it pretty quick.

        If strong skills in MS Excel are integral to the position, hire someone with strong skills in MS Excel. If you just need someone to do data entry in a spreadsheet, give them whatever basic orientation they need. If someone’s an otherwise good employee whose Power Point presentations are amateurish, give them some tips. (I had university professors who couldn’t put together a decent PowerPoint presentation, and still used it for all their lectures – I wish the university would have encouraged some of them to take a half-day course.) If someone has good general computer skills and otherwise fits what you want in an employee, but isn’t familiar with the particular program you use, teach them to use it.Report

    • My first full-time job was with a large oil company, as an entry-level programmer. I was constantly pushed to take courses: not just technical ones, but effective speaking, time management, written communication, pretty much any soft skill you can think of that would make someone a better employee (and promotable.) These were all in-house; the company would bring in an instructor, and you’d spend a half-day or so with them instead of at your desk. Of course, this was at the tail-end of it being true that improving your employees’ skills would pay off because they were likely to stay around for a long time, possibly even until retirement.Report

      • Lyle in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Agreed although I was in the upstream research end between in house technical courses, outside technical short courses (typically 1 week), as well as the business writing and courses about how management works. (as well as the usual diversity etc government required courses).This continued when I moved over into the IT department as well. Of course I started in 1976 and left in 2004 so times may have changed in the last 11 years.Report

  25. One thing that’s underdiscussed in McLeod’s essay (which I’ve read only the excerpted portions of) is that the “Elizabeths-the-high-performer” benefit from and depend a lot on the “Donna’s-do-nothing.” High performance can be measured on an absolute scale, but it’s a lot easier to measure it on a comparative scale. If Donna was much higher performing, Elizabeth would have to do a heckuva lot more work to as higher performing. Of course it’s not necessarily a competition and everyone should ideally work for the benefit of each other and lift each other up. But in many ways it is a competition.

    I’ll also say this about McLeod. I don’t know precisely how old she is, but when I was in my early-20’s, I would have felt lucky indeed to have one of those boring jobs that involved meetings where we got to sit down and talk about things like cash flow and whatnot. It sure beats being on one’s feet all the time and being at the beck and call of sometimes rude customers and waiting for your register to be balanced out at the end of the day and hope that you didn’t make some big mistake in one of the scores of transactions you’ve done that day.

    Office jobs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and a few months worth of those meetings along the many ways performance is measurd will show anyone that those jobs come with their own stressors, and in some cases those jobs aren’t necessarily better paying. But sometimes it helps for people to know where they’re lucky, and McLeod doesn’t seem to, or at least not fully.Report

  26. David Ryan says:

    The Montauk Catamaran Company is hiring.Report