Mind the (generation) gap

Brand New School's managing partner discusses subverting the bad rap for Millennials in the workplace

They’re lazy. They’re entitled. They’re in need of a medal for every accomplishment. A generation of over-educated slackers more concerned with the amount of likes their Instagram post gets than hard work. Sound familiar? Banal? Trite? It is.

The Millennial generation has endured plenty of jabs levied against them, and while there is truth behind some of these stereotypes, the vast majority of these claims come from a place of insecurity from preceding generations. The Guardian’s Eleanor Robertson goes on at length about how Millennials have accepted these claims as gospel, and the mental toll it’s taken on the generation at large.

But as a Millennial myself, barely, at 33 years old, and as someone who hires and employs Millennials, happily and excitedly, I can attest that our generation is just as driven as our predecessors. Every generation has its fair share of people who sponge off of society — just look at the hippies and beatniks — and these less-than-motivated types give a bad name to the rest of their contemporaries. Prior generations use these outliers as examples of how those coming up from behind are hardly fit to take over the throne.

I think that part of what makes hiring other members of my generation so attractive is the contemporary mindset and fresh perspectives that Millennials bring to the table. If you spend enough time doing any one thing, you are inevitably bound to become jaded. But the people in said age group are still forging their paths in this industry and they have a genuine enthusiasm for the work. Over the past year, we’ve hired recent grads from forward-thinking design institutions like CalArts and Hyper Island, and their energy is infectious. To them, the job is more a privilege than a chore.

The leaders in this generation have an earnest ambition for new challenges and experimentation. One of the members of our team has taken an interest in 3D printing, and recently built a time-lapse motion-control rig made of parts he designed to capture footage for one of our Fortune 100 clients' campaigns. Millennials are using these experiences as opportunities to learn and grow in their chosen professions, and because of this are ascending to leadership positions, whether as directors, creative directors, chief strategists, or executive producers.

Millennials have overtaken Baby Boomers and Gen Xers as the largest contingent in the American workforce, making up more than one-third of workers in the 18-to-35-age bracket, according to the Pew Research Center. Since this generation is part of that coveted demographic, it’s no wonder that those doing the hiring in advertising are turning to Millennials. They are quickly gaining ground as the dominant demographic in the business, and their age often forces them to serve as focus groups of sorts. They are also early adopters of social media, mostly due to being in the right age group, at the right time, during the inception of many of our major social platforms. This skillset, of course, makes them indispensible as brands and agencies place a greater emphasis on social marketing.

The nomadic freelance culture has been embraced by Millennials in a way that previous generations have not. Many want to have free rein over their schedules, with most using their free time to work on personal projects or travel, which can lead to more informed work in the long run. I’ve found that long-term job security, a value held by Gen Xers, has less significance to those in the production industry, and that is beneficial for brands, agencies and production companies. Rather than being wedded to a long-term employment contract with someone who has an extremely focused skillset, individuals can be brought in on a per-project basis. This increases productivity and bottom lines, while still allowing collaboration with the best artists and technicians in the industry.

While the members of my generation may get a bad rap, we are not necessarily as atrocious as our predecessors have made us out to be. Besides, these things are cyclical. I’m sure we’ll be having this same conversation again in a few years, when Generation Z starts nipping at our heels. I reserve the right to pass judgment when that time comes.

Devin Brook is managing partner of Brand New School.

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