The Pandemic Paradigm: Five ideas to navigate the Millennial challenge

If you were  born between 1982 and 1996, then you may be facing a unique conundrum right now. 

As a Millennial, other generations merely assume you are the best equipped of the workforce to handle the new work from home paradigm that the Covid-19 pandemic has foisted upon us. But if we consider this a little more carefully, that’s an unfair assessment. There’s a lot of judgement out there about Millennials being homebodies, antisocial and narcissistic - the result of technology access and indulgent parents.

But if you look at the real research around this generation, those assumptions couldn’t be more wrong. And that’s why the quarantine environment we’re currently facing is going to be a tough one for what is becoming our largest workforce.

A lot of our assumptions come from the fact that navigating technology is easy for this generation. They were born with technology already inherent in everyday life. And their influence has been lasting and formative in how we continue to develop technology without borders - voice technology not just at home, but in your car, in hotel rooms… IoT devices like smart watches and Google Glasses. New digital channels are continually changing the way we engage with each other and the world, and Millennials are a powerful part of this.

But just because you get technology, doesn’t mean that you’re so easily quarantined. Here are some facts to consider about the Millennial workforce from recent surveys of that demographic:

  • 74% prefer collaborating in small teams
  • 57% say their workplace friendships make them happier
  • 50% say these workplace friendships motivate them
  • 39% say they’re more productive when working with friends
  • 69% of Millennials stay with a job between 13months and five years - this is on par with Gen Xers, who are at 70% 

“Individual contributor” and “solitude” are not values that come up in these surveys. The words “work culture” and “collaboration” do.

The word “quarantine” does not.

This is a demographic that strongly prefers a happy, collaborative work environment and feeling like they are contributing to meaningful work. 

And now, they are faced with having all of the benefits of their job taken away. 

If you are a Millennial, how do you stay focused during this time? 

  1. You have to socialize.  We have all heard the qualifier by now… it’s physical distancing, not social distancing. Keep that in mind and keep your social channels open. You will have friends and family who are not at all concerned and happy to pop over to visit. You will have other friends and family who are highly anxious and not leaving their rooms. Regardless of who’s in your orbit, use the tools you know so well to ensure you’re getting your daily dose of social contact - use Insta, Snapchat, and IMs. Take advantage of video conferencing when bandwidth permits. Don’t worry about taking ten minutes out of a 60 minute meeting to check in and see how your team members are doing. These are weird times. We need to check in. Through all the channels.  And yes… call your mom or post a photo on FB (you know she looks there). It’s good for everyone, including you.
  2. Establish rules with your roommates. Millennials are getting married later, so their cohabitation is just as likely with friends as with significant others. And given the cost of housing in major cities, there’s often more than just two of you. You’re all in the same boat with this quarantine, so address any concerns or potential issues up front. Need a bath/shower schedule so everyone gets hot water? Make one. Want to ease the burden of kitchen duties and clean up? Assign cooking days and share your meals. Concerned about not getting enough personal space in cramped living quarters? Brainstorm it - figure out some outdoor activities (after all, we’re not totally house-bound) that get you out alone, request specific times where you get to hog the one  TV i65” screen in the house, set a boundary that between 2-3pm everyday you’re meditating and request quiet. This is a time to negotiate for a happier living environment for all.

    And use this time for point #1, too. Maybe you don’t know your roommates all that well. Check in with them. This is a forced opportunity, yes, but still an opportunity to get to know them better, and to maybe discover new things about each other even if you’ve been friends since second grade. Support each other. Agree that every day you take a lunch break.  Pretend the coffee pot in the kitchen is the water cooler.

    These people may not be your first choice of people to be stuck on a desert island with, but, well, here we are. Make the best of it and you could have an awful lot of fun.
  3. Establish rules with your family. Millennials are a generation that are also leaving home later, so if you’re not living with roommates you could very well be at home with the ‘rents. This can be a particularly challenging situation because you may have multiple dynamics going on:
    1. Your parents could still be working, which means they’re now working at home. Like the roommate situation, suddenly everyone is in the same space eating up all the bandwidth. This is a negotiation - and a delicate one. But the fact that they’re your parents doesn’t mean you don’t have negotiating power. Have the same conversations with them as you would your non-parental roommates. Figure out new routines and schedules that accommodate all of you as best you can. 
    2. Your parents could be not working, which means they may be more used to being home but not used to having you there. Day two into home quarantine, a Millennial I know texted me, “Just being home is so much with my folks is hard. They drive me crazy, then I feel bad that I’m not nicer. But my mom is going off the walls watching the news and coming into my room every time the market drops.”  Anything in that scenario sound familiar? As much as your parents may be invading your time and space, remember that you’re not usually home, so you’re also invading theirs. It’s important to have a conversation about boundaries. Decide what’s important for your personal space to do your work, and decide when you can take breaks to check in on them and let them know how you’re doing, too.  In a house where everyone is working, even when living together you may not have seen each other much. Take a moment to be grateful that this is an unusual time and at least you’re in it together.

      Keep in mind also, that if not for the pandemic, you might not have this time with them. Circumstances could have had you quarantined apart, in which case it’s still unknown how soon you could hug your mom.

      This is also an opportunity to do something novel: make it a point to learn from your parents. Their experience in the workforce is certainly different than your own - technology was different, office culture was different, there was no work-from-home… but they did have office politics, career paths, and technical skills that still apply today. Only they have 20-30 more years of that than you. Ask questions, listen to the stories, see what applies to today and how you can use their insights.

  4. Talk about your concerns. We are all a little sick of talking about coronavirus. The memes about the lack of toilet paper are getting tiresome. But the social impact is now, with canceled events like graduations, concerts and family vacations. And the economic impact is just beginning, and we don’t know how long or how hard that will hit. We can’t predict it either - so worrying about it and carrying the stress won’t solve anything. But it doesn’t mean you can watch what’s happening and talk about it, so that as our world changes, daily, you are able to create and adjust your plans for making the best of it.

    If you’re a Millennial living at home, consider this: your parents could be worried about losing their job. You may be worried about yours, too, but from the parental perspective, they feel the burden of wanting to be able to take care of you. You might be well able to financially take care of yourself, but that is irrelevant to your parents. If you’re living with them, they still *want* to do this for you. It is an added level of stress for them if there is fear that they can not. This is not a guilt trip. This is simply a fact. If you’re sensing tension around job security, be sensitive to that. It could be that financially things are stable and will be ok, but if a parent feels there might be a dip in the quality of life they are providing you, at any age, they will stress about it.

    No matter where you live, though, you could be worried about losing your job. For some of you, rather than your parents worried about taking care of, you may be worried about taking care of them. Financially and emotionally. If you’re just starting your career, or are mid-career, that’s potentially a new and unexpected stress. If this is the case, and you’re quarantined to boot, now is not the time to play the strong, silent type. Talk to your parents. Talk to your roommates and friends. Tell them what worries you, talk through options. Talk to your manager, director or someone else at your work whom you trust. It could be through official or unofficial channels, you get a sense of the company’s health and plan to weather this storm, and that could shape any decisions you make. Losing your job at any time is not ideal, but it’s understandable that now, as you’re getting your career really going, moving your life to where you want it to be, or making a big dent in your student loans, that it’s a particularly painful derailment. And with the economic impact, finding a new job could be even more difficult - at least in the short term. We couldn’t foresee the pandemic we’re in today, but we can do our best to positively plan for the potential future scenarios. And the best way to do that is to rely on your network - family, friends and coworkers - and get help for the best possible plan.

    Keep in mind, there is a difference between discussing and planning, and just plain wallowing. If you are lamenting every day the current quarantine situation, if you are making yourself anxious about your job security and not eating, not exercising or biting your nails down to the cuticles, then you need to find other ways to cope. This is a time to be thoughtful, observant and purposeful. You can not do that if your energy is being drained through incessant, non-productive complaining and unhealthy behaviors.
  5. Take care of yourself. This is generation-irrelevant… we all must do this. But if you’re not accustomed to working from home, or just not accustomed to having everyone at home, then know that your habits are going to change. Paying attention to the self-care aspect is critical to your mental and emotional health, not just your physical well-being. One of the biggest risks when you’re new to working at home is time management. One of the unhealthy habits work-from-home novices fall into is the “at the computer in my pjs at 7am” which turns into “still at the computer in my pjs at 7pm”.  It is so, so easy to become an unintentional workaholic. This behavior contributes to feelings of isolation, however, and doesn’t necessarily make you more productive. There are more tips for scheduling your day effectively here. Do pay attention and remember that self-care is important whether or not we’re in quarantine… but especially in quarantine.

While the Covid-19 pandemic is disruptive and chaotic, it’s teaching us one thing: Millennials have it right. Collaboration and teamwork contribute greatly to happiness - both at work and at home. And today, we need to tap into that more than ever.  It is a strength of Millennials to build and work in teams, to be open-minded about new ideas, and to bring new and fun ways of connecting to the rest of the world. Remember, you are the generation that taught the rest of us how to use social media tools for more than posting photos of babies and checking into Starbucks. You brought video, personalization and gamification to both personal and work environments. You created competition in new markets that has changed the way we engage with each other and expanded our global connectedness.

If anyone is going to get us through the crisis and out the other side to something not just brighter, but brilliant, it’s the Millennials.  So let’s get to it.

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