By Dave Remund
Millennials get a bad rap. So much so that I’m not going to invest a single sentence of this post recapping those concerns and complaints. Let me share, instead, a love letter to Millennials. (Yes, a love letter.)
Over the past decade, I have taught, advised and mentored more than a thousand Millennials at three different universities, in three different time zones. I have also conducted numerous studies about young public relations professionals, including some fascinating recent research with Michele Ewing, APR, Fellow PRSA, an associate professor at Kent State University. Our work clearly indicates that mentoring is vital in helping Millennials grow as leaders.
But, it’s not just Millennials who can benefit from mentoring. Those of us who belong to Generation X, and even the Baby Boomers, have a lot to learn from Millennials, too. The process where young professionals coach older professionals is called reverse mentoring. It’s how I fell in love with Millennials.
What have Millennials taught me?
Question the purpose. Generally speaking, Millennials want their work to make a meaningful and lasting difference, both within an organization and out in the greater world, too. Perhaps this was true of every generation, but I’m honestly not so sure. I don’t remember my generation caring nearly as much about collaboration and community as Millennials do. When I seek advice from my reverse mentors about certain situations or challenges, they often ask me something to the effect of, “What’s motivating you?” Millennials keep me in check, leadership-wise.
See beyond technology. My research with Professor Ewing affirms that while Millennials can shed important light on how to use technology, they don’t care to be pigeonholed as tech experts. They’re simply digital natives for whom technology has long been a part of their lives. Millennials want to be viewed as people, and to become better at navigating group dynamics and ethical challenges. When I talk with my reverse mentors, I rarely discuss technology. Instead, I like to ask how they would handle a tough situation I’m facing, which helps me see that challenge from an entirely different perspective.
Enjoy work. As recently as a few weeks ago, one of my reverse mentors asked if I liked my new role in administration. I said, “It’s a complex puzzle that puts to use all of my professional and academic experiences. Plus, I’m proud and lucky to be serving my alma mater.” She said, “That’s great, but are you enjoying yourself?” To be honest, it hadn’t even dawned on me to stop and think whether my work makes me happy. At this stage of my career, work often feels like duty. It’s refreshing to be reminded that work can and should be enjoyable.
On this Valentine holiday, I’m proud to share this love letter. Millennials, you are truly special. Thank you for being so passionate and candid. The world is a better place because of you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Dave Remund, Ph.D, APR, Fellow PRSA, is executive director of university communications for Drake University, and he also teaches part-time in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Dr. Remund is pictured above with colleague, Griff, the University’s official live mascot.