Millennials Lack Soft Skills: Same Old Story, New Buzzwords

Team working at a start up

In the media (as well as in our offices, conferences and other professional settings), it is common to hear complaints about the entitlement of rude Millennials (or Gen Yers) unwilling to pay their dues. A quick search of the Millennial's encyclopedia -- Google -- renders such article titles as:
  • "A Big Chill: Millennials Learning Harsh Reality of Workplace"
  • "Employers Don't Think Much of Millennials' Work Ethic"
  • "Why Gen Y Workers Have No Idea What Their Managers Expect From Them"
Soft skills (also called "emotional intelligence" or in some cases just "common sense") are all things non technical but required in a workplace.

They are the skills that cannot be easily tested or vouched for with a degree. Depending on the source, soft skills may include general personality traits, the ability to communicate effectively (whether in person, over the phone, or in text), social graces, and the observance of and/or respect for authority and order. In other words, soft skills = professionalism.

Why should it be shocking that Millennials, the youngest people in the workforce, the least professionally experienced, could lack professionalism? They're young! (Generally significantly younger than those complaining...)

Please note I am not arguing that many Millennials don't lack soft skills. However, this issue is not unique to this generation. Older generations have always complained about the young whippersnappers in the workplace. Millennials lacking soft skills is not a new idea, just a reworking of the same old story with new buzzwords.

It is no secret young professionals require training beyond their schooling.

There isn't a license or certificate for professionalism. It has to be gained on the job, often much to the chagrin of older managers and colleagues. Soft skills are like growing pains, only they can be uncomfortable for everyone involved and might require a business suit.

There were many Gen Xers, Boomers and beyond who lacked desirable soft skills upon entering the workforce. However, these individuals were called "slackers", "idealistic", "intense" or even "easy going". They were born too early to be considered entitled or narcissistic. Those titles are reserved for my generation's perceived deficiencies.

But what about the functional Millennials in the workplace? They are simply not interesting enough to garner much public attention. By paying their own rent, not defaulting on student loans and not bringing parents to interviews, these Millennials are boring and easily dismissed as being the "exception" despite perhaps more appropriately being the "norm".

In my humble opinion, the main difference between the underrepresented Millennials and their media-darling counterparts is how early in their lives (and careers) they learned these "soft skills".

For better or worse, soft skills are a hard lesson learned.

Not unique to this generation, successful young professionals first need experience and the ability to learn the hard way. They have to realize they can't afford to play the "young professional" role for very long. They must strive to just become viewed as "professionals who just happen to be young."

A little advice to frustrated Gen X and Boomer managers: Have more faith in the Millennial "exceptions" in your office to continue to step up. If you'd like to prevent them from stepping out, don't be afraid to show them they're valued.

Six months of great work may not warrant a corner office but a little recognition never hurts. (And it may help push the other young professionals in the right direction.)
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