When Millennials are the Solution

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A couple of years ago I had the humbling and terrifying opportunity to lead a Habitat for Humanity affiliate in suburban Houston. I was at the right place at the right time and when the woman who hired me for a family services position decided to take her career in a different direction I found myself applying for a job I never thought I’d want.

Our affiliate was at a pivotal juncture. My predecessor had raised enough money to open the organization’s first ReStore – a business venture that would profit our organization’s affordable housing efforts. The next leader of our affiliate would be charged with getting the business to a grand opening and into its first years of operation. Having seen a ReStore open at a previous affiliate, I knew in a slightly uncomfortable way that I was supposed to lead this project. After a brief interim period as Executive Director I was offered the full time job and got to work opening the store.

A month or two before we the Grand Opening I attended a luncheon that was hosted by a  local credit union. At the time, AMOCO was gaining network traction by hosting quarterly luncheons that brought business leaders from various backgrounds together to connect. The luncheons were always great opportunities to meet current leaders in the community and once people sat down to lunch we were always entertained by a public speaker who would discuss some important topic of the day.

At one particular luncheon a human resources guru came to speak about the changing 21st century workplace. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this speaker, already trying a too hard to get a laugh from the crowd, was planning to spend his entire session ripping on the millennial generation. His primary message seemed to be that the current generation of twenty to thirty five year olds were in one fell swoop bringing down the American economy with their lazy, entitled attitudes towards work.

I’m willing to take one on the chin for the habits me and my generation have that are less than admirable. Every generation has its glaring flaws. That being said, I couldn’t let the speaker off the hook because his incessant nitpicking about the 25 year olds in our workplaces was so off putting. I angrily pondered his words all the way to my next meeting which was to be held at our newly acquired 30,000 square foot ReStore. As I walked in I realized why the entire event had rubbed me the wrong way. Brian, my newly hired store manager in his late 20s, was running around the space with his staff. All five of them, each around Brian’s age, were working with volunteers on various projects that would allow us to host a Grand Opening in the coming month. Some were building cashier stations. Another crew was unloading donations in the back of the warehouse and organizing them on the sales floor for pricing. Another group was building and painting a lighing display case for donated light fixtures that we would sell. I knew immediately why a lunchtime speaker on millennial laziness bothered me. From what I was seeing, his comments were simply not true!

This all came to mind as I read this article this weekend about millennials in the workplace. Shortly after I left the ReStore that day I called the public relations firm that we had hired and asked if she could send a press release to Houston new outlets. I wanted them to cover the new area business that would be opened and run by millennials the following month. Sadly the story never got picked up. If it had, I hope some of the points that were made in this article would have been included.

I realized in working with this group of people that we were starting a business in a very millennial way. We were passionate about the mission and we were constantly connecting via phone, text, and even by social media to get the store opened and the word out that the ReStore was coming. The staff used Pinterest and Facebook to solicit ideas for re-purposing store donations for resale. And yes, at the end of a hard day’s work, the staff closed up the store and played ulimate frisbee together or got a drink at the new vietnamese pub that had opened down the street.

I’ll never forget the sense of accomplishment we felt when we opened and made $17,000 on our first day. The entire process was one of the most enjoyable accomplishments of my early career and while we hadn’t planned to hire a staff of millennials at the outset we certainly didn’t go wrong by doing so in the end. My generation, myself included, has a lot of work to do. We need to understand what Spirit led commitment to people and places looks like. We also need to figure out a more life giving way to handle the fact that we all now walk around with computers in our pockets. Those computers help us open businesses more efficiently but they can also get in the way of true connection with others. Every generation has its difficulties to address but unlike the speaker that day I sense that mine is up to the challenges we face. We are passionate about doing good in the world and we’re not going to let the negative press tell us who we really are. I think that is something work celebrating.

I’m interested in what other people think! What’s your assessment of the millennial generation? Do you agree with the negative hype? Where do you see this generation rising above the negativity shaking up the bad press? 

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