Is 20 the new 12? I talked to young guy at the airport who felt his first business trip went pretty well. His real problem, he said, was that he had gum in his phone! He explained that as he was telling his mom how awesome the trip was, he blew a huge bubblegum bubble that burst on his iPhone screen. As chatty I am, and having just consumed a triple espresso that had my brain firing on all cylinders, I was oddly at a loss for words.
It seems that young employees fresh out of college are having as much trouble being adults as they are learning their new jobs. In fact, I think they pick up on work stuff very well compared to how they may be handling grown-up life skills. The question is-are we ready for it?
I do not think all people in their 20s are of one generation. It seems 18- to 25-years-olds are very different; just ask any 27- to 30-year-old, who will tell you about these “kids” entering the workforce. The thought patterns and behaviors of these younger 20-somethings might also indicate what to expect with Gen Z (10- to 18-year-olds) who are on their way to the workforce soon. Engaging these “early 20s” employees whom I will call Gen Z.5 (sounds like the overpriced version of an entry-level sports car, doesn’t it?) and getting them to reach their full potential might require the blending of life skills instruction and on-the-job training in a way that we have never considered.
To move toward adultivities*, these younger workers need to be aware of how their kiddishness* can undermine their efforts. This part of the equation rests squarely on the shoulders of Gen Z.5. However, employers will benefit from an adjustment or two as well. Those who want to attract and keep talented young employees will need to realize that some kiddishness is to be expected and that adultivities might need to be part of on-the-job training.
You may think to yourself, “It’s not our job to raise them.” But you need to consider that on notable occasions throughout history, immaturity and massive talent have gone hand in hand. So, if you don’t raise them, you can be sure the competition will. Also, one thing about humans (in general) is indisputable: they are much more likely to be loyal to the people who raised them than to anyone else.
Some very immature people included 26-year-old Albert Einstein, who was heavily criticized for goofing off in a room full of serious physics professionals and having childish ideas (he came up with the Theory of Relativity that year); and 23-year-old Steve Jobs, who showed up barefoot to pitch ideas that would eventually revolutionize communication.
Historically, we know that blind optimism, insatiable curiosity, and fearlessness breed creativity. We also know that those traits are telltale signs of immaturity. Many of the world’s greatest discoveries come from those who did not think they could fail. It’s what drove them to innovate when others said it could not be done.
Yet, even though there is a direct link between inexperience, immaturity, and new ideas that eventually leads to success, we still think we have done young people a disservice by not forcing them to grow up sooner. We can discuss how it’s possible that we mistakenly extend adolescent thinking by allowing people to “stay kids,” but the reality is that every generation thinks the next is not as mature as they were at that age.
In the end, these young people are the people we have to work with … and we created them. Personally, I think they are awesome and, like the generations before them, will be uniquely suited for the world they will inherit. And, if you asked them, I am sure they would agree!
*Adultivities – grown-up things you have to do, such as showing up on time, at least faking a sense of urgency, finishing what you start, and not having easily detectable body odor.
*Kiddishness – doing things that brand you as “too young to be there,” such as wearing a backpack to a business lunch; thinking an analog clock is some kind of “time compass” and overusing the words like, awesome, basically, totally, actually, and dude.