Up Front: March 2010

Generation app

I got a news release the other day from SBR Consulting, a Charlotte human-resources company, touting its study of how the recession has changed the views of young workers — “millennials,” specifically those in the workforce born after 1977. “The results suggest that due to poor management and poor handling of layoffs, 70% of respondents who were laid off would not go back to work for their company and 55% are either unsure or do not want to work for corporate America again.”

To borrow a term from my generation: bummer. The release went on to say, “In years past when older generations were laid off or even fired, they did not talk about it and certainly did not broadcast their experience to the world via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The millennial generation, however, does share personal information more readily and is not afraid to talk about how their layoff was handled. These conversations and perceptions are then shared with hundreds — possibly thousands — of people via social media.”

In other words, you handle it wrong, your company gets a bad rap. Millennials don’t buy the old “it’s not personal, it’s business” approach, says Stacey Randall, who conducted the study. They take getting laid off very personally. Fair enough. As the owner of a small business, I take it very personally — not what the Great Recession has done to my pocketbook but to my people. Last year, we had to let three members of our staff go, but not before we had slashed every expense to the bone, taken unpaid leaves and pared salaries. Everybody shared some of the pain. More important, everybody knew the score.

Which is one reason the study’s findings puzzle me. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they received no warning they were going to be laid off. Millennials often are portrayed as overprotected offspring of doting parents who reared them to believe they were special. But we’re also told they’re talented, techno-savvy individuals who crave communication and collaboration in the workplace. Were they not engaged enough in their jobs to see it coming?

Scratching my thinning boomer pate, I sought counsel from my son the publisher, who is up on these sorts of things. He’s Generation X, who tend to be pragmatic, perceptive, perhaps even a bit cynical. There are other dangers, he warned, beyond being tweeted on. “If you lay off a millennial,” he said, “you might get a call from his or her parents.”

I guess his generation has a right to be cynical. After all, as meat in the sandwich, it will have to support mine into its dotage with a workforce whose self-esteem might outweigh its worth.