Generation Next


She just might be the quintessential millennial. Perfectly poised, impeccably groomed and remarkably self-assured, 21-year-old Jennifer Scharre looks like the poster child for what’s sometimes been called Generation Next; the crop of kids born between 1985 and 1998, many of whom began to come of age around the turn of the millennium.

According to an extensive report by the Pew Research Center, this group largely describes itself as confident, liberal, upbeat and open to change. But Scharre, who recently graduated from USD with a bachelor’s in business administration, has made her own observations. And her picture is not quite so rosy.

That’s why she decided to undergo a research project to study millenials’ hopes, goals and expectations for the future.

And as it turns out, yes, millennials are a confident, can-do bunch; hard working and self-motivated to be sure. But they’re also determined; they want to be challenged and aren’t into punching a clock. And because they have a lot to contribute, they don’t think they should have to do entry-level, routine work along the path to that big career break.

“We’re not there to be receptionists or interns,” Scharre argues. “There are real positions, real jobs and real tasks that we could have a huge impact on.”

That honest approach hasn’t always gone over well with the people in charge — many of whom, Scharre contends, believe millennials are selfish and entitled. That’s not accurate, she says, and it’s leaving her generation underestimated and underutilized.

“I think we are very overconfident,” she agrees. “But I think that can be used in the workplace to increase efficiency.”

As part of her self-initiated research, Scharre has distributed surveys to 1500 business students across San Diego, probing their backgrounds and is conducting an extensive review of the existing literature about generational conflict in the workplace, with the help of Tara Ceranic, an assistant professor of business ethics at USD.

“There hasn’t been a legitimate look at what these kids are actually doing,” Ceranic says. “There are a lot of ways to do things, and boomers were raised very differently than these millenials were.”

Ironically, both Scharre and Ceranic speculate that the source of the struggle may lie with the people who parented the millennials — the very same baby boomers now blindsided by the generation they brought up. Hovering over their children, they pushed them relentlessly; packing their days with advanced academics and extracurricular activities, and setting them up to believe they couldn’t fail.

“The rules have changed,” Scharre says. “I think as parents they had every intention of creating successful people, but I don’t think they had a good idea of what those people would look like.”

With the kids growing up and wanting to work on their own terms, their parents —and managers — will need to adjust.

“The more willing these workplaces are to adapt to these new employees, the better off they’re going to be.” — Karen Gross