Dear School Administrator: The Era of the “Yes Man (or Yes Woman)” is Over

We’re at an interesting point in our nation’s history.  Not because of a pandemic; not because of an unpredictable stock market; and not because of scandals that are shaking religious organizations to the core.  Six years ago, we were  at the “halfway point” of a generation.  Half of the Millennials were still in school, while the other half were in the work force.  And traditional management styles won’t manage Millennials.

First, a bit of calculation to explain.

Today, the Millennials are the parents of young children in our schools and the young men and women in the workforce.  Interestingly, they’re also students in our schools – in high school and college.

For comparison purposes, demographers today base generational endpoints on events that occur in society, and can truly only be seen through the lens of history.  For instance, the Baby Boom started at the end of World War II when military veterans in their 20’s came back home and started families.  The era ended in the 1960’s when pharmaceutical birth control became commercially available.  Taking a cue from archaeologists who categorize generations as lasting for 20 years, 1945 through 1964 is a commonly acceptable time frame for Baby Boomer birth.  Following suit, Generation X was born 1965 through 1984, and the Millennials in 1985 through 2004.  Doing the math, six years ago, in 2016 when this article was first written, Millennials were between 12 and 31 years of age.  Since college graduates are usually about 21 or 22 when they receive their bachelor degree, 10 years of the generation were currently in school, and 10 years were in the workforce.

Then, three years ago, the weight shifted, so that more Millennials were in the workforce.  Seven years of the Millennial generation were still in school, while 13 years were in the workforce.   Today, only 4 years of Millennials are in school, with most of them being in college, while the other 16 years are in the workforce.

This meant all those new teachers you hired right out of college or have 4 or 5 years of teaching experience and may have their master degrees are Millennials…and they want to change the world.  Not only do they want to, they believe they can.  They don’t want the rules to allow them to be the exception; they want to rewrite the rules so they’re actually good ones to follow, and not ones that are still in place because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Need more proof?  Three words – The. Great. Resignation.

In past generations, employees did what their supervisors told them to do.  It was key to maintaining one’s job, providing for one’s family, and getting a raise in salary at review time.  The Builder Generations were excited about the opportunities they had; Baby Boomers questioned the rules, were a bit rebellious, but then were responsible about their duties; Generation X wanted to be treated differently from everyone else, allowing individualism to seep into society, where things are “all about me” rather than “all about us.”  Personal achievement and recognition became incredibly important and influential.

Interestingly, there are some sales training professionals today who don’t mince words – you work for your boss.  Even though you may think you work for the company and can identify with the values it espouses through its marketing and customer experience shares on social media, it’s your supervisor that determines your fate with the company, sets your goals, and evaluates your performance.

Millennials don’t understand that concept.  If they have to, they’ll work FOR THEMSELVES!  Enter online businesses, investment in cryptocurrency, Uber, Doordash, and all those other ways to make money that puzzle the heck out of those who worked for 30 years, retired at 65, and are significantly struggling to make it on Social Security wages.

Recent studies of new teachers showed two significant factors regarding why they leave their positions: low starting pay and disempowerment.  Today, there is a third – frustrating stress.

In regards to low starting pay, the average starting salary for a teacher is around $36,000, and there’s very little chance for significant improvement unless they obtain additional certifications (and that costs money, requiring them to take on additional debt), take on additional responsibilities (such as coaching or moderating an activity), or move toward administration.  This can be a very frustrating experience, especially when they know that they have to maintain their certifications, know how to work with a variety of learning styles in a classroom, create lesson plans that target educational standards and spend additional time grading student assignments and dealing with parental concerns.  Yet, the local governing authority, the school board, is a volunteer post to which community members are elected who may have no education background at all, who have never volunteered in a classroom, or who have a hidden agenda.  It’s where politics crashes head on into competency, and Millennials won’t stand for it.

As for disempowerment, teachers in schools, of course, do not call the shots. They have very little say and are told what to do.  That’s the norm for any typical workplace.  Every worker has had to “pay their dues,” so to speak, until they gained significant experience and acumen in the field.  But this isn’t the typical generation anymore.  A Millennial’s schooling has included real-world situations through internships; travel and study in countries around the world, exposed to various cultures, and experiencing environments where academic achievements outrank those of the United States; and ownership and utilization of technological tools that even those in management can’t readily grasp.  It used to be funny when the kids needed to program the VCR to record a television program for their parents.  Inability to utilize technology isn’t funny anymore.

I don’t think I need to explain the stress factor.  It’s all over the news.

Take a look at the new hires in business.  They’re analysts, able to crunch data and make recommendations based on emerging trends they find from their calculations in hours rather than weeks; they’re integration specialists, writing code to allow two completely different software systems to communicate with one another so a shipment of goods from a warehouse ends up in the right location and can be tracked though all points of the delivery process in minutes rather than days; they’re software engineers, creating apps that fill a niche and make life a little easier, release it to the marketplace, and make a few thousand dollars (or a million if a multi-billion dollar corporation buys their creation); they’re medical professionals making sure drugs don’t adversely react with one another, and attending to emergency life and death situations…and they’re not even 30 yet.

If they see a way to make something better, they’ll tell you, and you need to listen.  If not, they’ll be looking for a place where they feel they are making a difference in the world. And isn’t it ironic that the classroom is precisely one of those places?