Keeping the 20-somethings from Driving You Crazy

By Terry Portis

Sometimes people forget that a key word in the term “middle-aged” is the word middle, as in “stuck in the middle.” We find ourselves in the middle of various other generations, sometimes living and working with up to four different age groups. On the positive side, this gives us a unique perspective; on the negative side, we can be frustrated by how people view themselves and the world.

I find that people in their 20s are an increasingly important part of my life and work. Those in their 20s are part of a generation known as the millennials, born between 1980 and 2000. The millennial and baby boomer generations are equal in size and will be the dominant adult groups as this century moves forward.

If we understand some of the broad characteristics of the millennials, it can help us get along with them better, and perhaps reduce our frustration level. We can either balk at these characteristics, or we can use what we know to build better relationships. Building better relationships ultimately allows us to share our experiences and help them take over after we have moved on.

The need for continuous feedback. More than any other group, those in their 20s want ongoing feedback on how they are doing in work and life. One supervisor sent a newly hired young adult into the archives of a company to pull files that were needed for reference. The person quit because of having worked for four hours straight and no one had checked to let him know how he was doing. The middle-aged supervisor never dreamed this would happen.  

They feel a need to be constantly connected. Millennials have grown up constantly connected, especially by cell phones and social media sites like Facebook. Connection to people can be and often is achieved within seconds at anytime day or night. While many of us like to disconnect, disconnection for a millennial can cause feelings of anxiety, if not outright panic. If you doubt this, ask to borrow their cell phone for two or three days and see what kind of reaction you get.

Life and work should be flexible and mobile. A recent study by Cisco found that 56 percent of recent college graduates would not take a job that did not allow them to access Facebook during work hours. This same study found that 70 percent of today’s college students think that being in an office on a regular basis is unnecessary. In other words, relating to people, accessing information and being productive does not require being tied to a desk at work or home. Technology allows communication and work to be done anywhere and any place.

Learning and Hoping. A good characteristic of many millennials is that they are more hopeful than other generations. Those who are more cynical may suggest that this is because they have not had a lot of life experience yet. Still, staying hopeful despite world conditions is not a bad place to be.

Another characteristic is that millennials have a love of learning. They already consider themselves lifelong learners. They go into a job expecting it to be a place where they can learn.

We might ask ourselves if millennials are that different from us, or if the realities of the world they grew up in are different. If we grew up knowing nothing but rapidly improving and easily accessible technology, wouldn’t we want to have it with us at all times? If we grew up in a world where you know about every news story within minutes of its happening, would we be satisfied with a printed paper that had news that was 24 hours old?

In the book The Millennials, authors Thom and Jess Rainer write: “For certain we are convinced this generation will make its mark. How will we receive them? How will we channel their ambitions and impatience? How will we work with them in greater service and healthy reconciliation? We better be ready.”  

Dr. Terry Portis, director of the Center on Aging at Anne Arundel Community College, holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and can be reached at [email protected]



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