ICYMI: Last week, a 25-year-old customer support rep at Yelp/Eat24 named Talia Jane posted a rambling, no-holds-barred open letter—addressed to Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s 38-year-old CEO—which may or may not have gotten her fired from her job. In a nearly 2,500-word, stream-of-consciousness magnum opus, Talia Jane described her plight of earning a meager paycheck while working and living in the painfully unaffordable Bay Area and she asked Stoppelman if he would pay her phone bill (among other requests and suggestions).
Reactions on the Interwebz came swift and hard. Supporters lauded Talia Jane for exposing the ugly truth about the untenable wages paid to some entry-level workers at some tech companies, while the vast majority of online commenters derided her as the exemplar of Millennial entitlement. The backlash against the former Yelper exploded the simmering pot of resentment that older, paid-their-dues workers have long felt about Gen Y workers who all seem to wanna fast-track their careers.
The schism between the know-it-all olds and the know-it-all young’uns precipitated by this viral ruckus highlights the undercurrent of antipathy among workers of different generations. Depending on where one sits on the economic and experience divide, the predicament of this Millennial worker could either be heralded as the legend of a plebeian speaking truth to power or scoffed at as the rants of a feckless whiner who deserved to crash and burn.
Unfortunately, Millennials have been branded as a generation that lacks a strong work ethic, one that doesn’t seem to care much about paying its dues to get ahead. But to paint an entire generation with such broad strokes is clearly problematic, as any Gen Xer who was once labeled a “slacker” back in ye olden days can tell you.
Despite these kinds of kerfuffles that seem to prove how little care and attention Millennials pay to their personal corporate reputations, studies have shown that Gen Y workers do, in fact, place a tremendous amount of importance in nurturing and maintaining positive perceptions among colleagues of all ages in the workplace.
A recent study conducted by the Institute for Public Relations and Weber Shandwick, titled “Millennials@Work: Perspectives on Reputation,” reported that Millennials care about their reputations at work a great deal, even more than other groups. Nearly half of Millennials, 47%, said they think about their work reputations all or most of the time, compared to 37% of Gen Xers and 26% of Baby Boomers. Furthermore, one in five Millennials believes work and social media reputations are equally important.
So why does it matter whether or not Millennials give a hoot about their personal corporate reputations? Assuming for a moment that Talia Jane’s story is an anomaly, Millennials will increasingly rise through the ranks and take on middle and senior management roles as Baby Boomers reach retirement age (currently at a rate of 10,000 workers a day) and Gen Xers enter executive management roles. According to analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center, Millennials currently have the largest share of the workforce, representing more than 53 million workers, with 20% of them currently holding managerial positions.
If there is going to be substantive change in workplace policies (from earning a living wage to determining perks like what counts as a well-stocked office pantry), the conversations will need to be cross-generational, and—like it or not—Baby Boomer and Gen Xer management will need to consider the wishes and needs of the rising tide of Millennial workers.
Talia Jane’s actions and aftermath may be a cautionary tale of what not to do at work and/or how to flameout in grand style (or minimally she deserves to be featured on an episode of Syfy channel’s The Internet Ruined My Life), but to hold up her and her point of view as the paragon of Millennial workers does a huge disservice to hard-working Gen Y employees (and, really, all hard-working employees) everywhere.