OVERTAKEN BY EVENTS? I recently picked up Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies are Losing Billions in Turnover to This Generation and What To Do About It at a secondhand bookstore. The previous owner, who left an airport coffee rewards slip in the book, made a few marginal notes in the first few chapters but left the remaining pages unmarked (and unread?) I got all the way through it and will write Book Review No. 43 before putting it in the box for the next trip to the secondhand bookstore. Imagine a breathless book-length infomercial for Key Group, complete with the usual business-guru format, including the obligatory "maximize your human resources" (otherwise known as "disguise your innumeracy by displaying it promiscuously.")

The book suggests that employers are hurting their businesses by not adapting their workplaces to the Millennial propensities (stereotypes?) of lots of positive feedback, lots of ability to work in teams, and lots of information technology. The generation most-medicated for attention-deficit disorder also has the most instant distraction. Discuss. Business gurus are apparently hyping the next management fad: a cursory search turns up Not Everyone Gets A Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y, which sounds like more of the same, but I suspect I'll not be tempted next time I'm detained at an airport.

On one hand, I welcome serious efforts (as opposed to airport-book infomercials) by employers to offer a variety of job descriptions rather than the one-size-fits-all we'll pay you a lot of money but you don't get to have a life that seems to be the working professional's reality: it matters not whether you call it Millennial-adapted or family-friendly or responding to the backward bending supply curve. On the other hand, when a book notes Millennial participation in the election of President Obama, but says nothing about the recession, there's a possible omission from the formulation. Two anecdotes: during the summer, I spoke with a former captain of a sports team here, now employed with a Fortune 100 company, who griped about the entitled attitude of many of the company's younger hires. Twenty-something going on curmudgeon ... Then comes "I don't have these graduates in Europe and Asia telling us they want to live with mom and dad or they don't want to relocate to Asia," via Newmark's Door. Key would tell the latter manager to change his ways: the reserve army of the unemployed (particularly among younger workers) provides a different incentive.

The generational analyses in these managing Millennials books also strikes me as odd. Perhaps for expository purposes, it suffices to group everyone born before 1945 (or per The Fourth Turning, before 1942) into one Mature (or in other examples of the genre, Traditional) cohort. That's not strictly accurate. Most of the GI era senior managers (born 1901- abt. 1925) are retired. The Silent Generation senior managers (born abt. 1925 - 1942) are retiring, although their last act may be to destroy all of health care over the same focus on government-as-manager that turned civil rights into a spoils system, diluted higher education, and impeded any serious reform of Medicare and Social Security. The Millennials will have to pick up those pieces, and somehow workplaces that allow text-messaging in place of written memoranda and provide flextime strike me as irrelevant to those challenges.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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