There’s this thing that “psychics” and other peddlers of the mystical do called cold reading that, when pulled off successfully, makes it appear they know stuff about someone they couldn’t possibly know if they didn’t have access to supernatural knowledge. A key skill of cold reading is making statements about the subject that sound profound, but which in reality could apply to just about anyone: “I sense that you have a major regret that, at times, makes it hard for you to sleep or to work,” for example. Or maybe, “There’s someone you used to be closer to, and you regret having allowed the two of you to drift apart.” Since so many people have a regret that occasionally creeps up on them, or a friend they fell out with for no good reason, credulous people will perk up and say, Whoa, Gambino the Magnificent is the real deal!
I couldn’t help but think of cold reading when I read a Wall Street Journal story from earlier this week with the rage-click-inducing headline “Helping Bosses Decode Millennials — for $20,000 an Hour.” The story, written by Lindsay Gellman, notes that companies’ issues with millennial employees have “become a source of income for a host of self-anointed experts who say they can interpret young workers’ whims and aspirations — sometimes for as much as $20,000 an hour. Oracle, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc. and Time Warner Inc.’s HBO have retained millennial advisers to stem turnover, market to young people and ensure their happiness at work.”
It turns out there is a lot of money sloshing around here. “Intergenerational consulting barely existed a few years ago,” reports Gellman, “but these are boom times. Source Global Research, which tracks the consulting market, estimates that U.S. organizations spent between $60 million to $70 million on generational consulting last year.” Lisa McLeod, “a 52-year-old independent consultant” who has addressed “Google and other company about engaging young workers … typically charges up to $25,000 for a keynote address,” while booking her and her 23-year-old daughter — presumably to help those in attendance more clearly visualize what a millennial is — will set you back $30,000.
And what sort of advice do these consultants proffer? McLeod “suggested [to a concrete company] that managers share stories of how constructing solid residential foundations helps people feel safe at home. She also advises clients to strip out numbers from internal presentations because, she says, millennials find stories more compelling than figures.” Dan Schawbel, a 32-year-old millennial consultant, told Red Robin that millennials like flexible work hours, so that might be a cool thing to introduce to corporate employees there. Gellman paraphrases yet another expert explaining that millennials “expect work to be meaningful.”
Millennials respond to stories that have to do with human beings and human emotions? They find presentations bogged down with numbers to be boring? They like workplace flexibility and work that brings them meaning? Whoa, McLeod the Consultant is the real deal!
There are, of course, legitimate differences between millennials and their older co-workers and managers — and, more broadly, legitimate differences between how different generations express themselves and so on. It’s good to understand that, and for corporate higher-ups to tweak their workplaces accordingly. But at the moment, there seems to be a growing cottage industry dedicated to spreading the notion that millennials are so different from other types of employees that if you don’t hire a high-priced consultant to explain them, they’ll all flee for sunnier employment climes (this, of course, at a time when many millennials feel lucky to have any employment options). And then, once you shell out the big bucks to bring one of these experts in, they tell you that … millennials like it for their work to bring them meaning.
At one point in Gellman’s story, Jessica Kriegel, a millennial with a doctorate in education, describes generational consulting as “a complete racket.” As you may not be aware, we millennials, unlike everyone else, put a premium on straightforward communication, and among other hobbies unique to our generation — such as spending time outside, watching movies, and going on dates — we like reading news stories in which experts are quoted. So maybe when I say I agree with Kriegel, it’s really just my essential millennialness talking.