As someone who has been drawn (at times kicking and screaming) into the study of millennials in the workplace, it didn't take long for Talia Jane's "open letter" to her CEO to come to my attention. Her narrative and ensuing termination from Yelp have made her the latest pariah in the generation wars.
Scroll to the "comments" section of any article reporting on her story and you will see the sort of armchair analysis that typically materialises in response to stories about millennials' workplace shenanigans. Here are a few:
She comes off as your typical spoiled brat millennial thinking that she is entitled to things instead of earning them.
Wow. You get paid to do a job. You agreed to the wages when you accepted the job. You get full benefits, for free. You are required to pay your dues for only a year in customer service before they turn you loose writing memes and tweeting for a living. You chose a college major without high-income job prospects. They give you free food at work...
She should have lived in my day...
It's good to see the social media addicted millennials...hoisted by their own petard.
Openly whines about not being able to live their entitled lifestyle. Criticises boss and company. Is fired within the hour. This could not be anymore millennials.txt if you tried.
Given how plainly Talia Jane's words play into the commonly held stereotypes about her generation, you have to think that she had some idea of how the public might react to them. The letter almost seems designed to trigger an anti-millennial backlash. All of the talking points are there:
Sense of entitlement? See comments above. Unrealistic expectations? Expecting to live even remotely comfortably on an entry-level salary in one of the most expensive places in the Western hemisphere probably qualifies as unrealistic.
Lazy? Soliciting donations to help fund her unemployment does send a certain signal. Addicted to social media? Well, she did seem to suggest her Twitter jokes are solid enough to warrant a promotion at one point in her screed.
So what to make of the letter? Maybe Talia Jane is the ultimate millennial and has given Generation Y critics another anecdote proving there's no hope for humanity. Or maybe the joke is on us. Maybe someone who studies media knew how to get their message out.
It's presidential primary season here in the US, not a time known for slow news days in this part of the world. How can one person be heard above Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and, yes, The Donald who dominate the airwaves with their own commentaries about the current state of society? I don't claim to know Talia Jane's motives but I do know that few things fire up the corners of the internet frequented by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers like a good millennial-bashing story. If her goal was to get an audience, it worked. Probably better than she would have ever predicted.
Did she attempt to use an almost-satirical level of stereotypical millennial-speak ("Will you pay my phone bill for me?") to slip her own social commentary to an audience who would have never seen it otherwise? Is she making a reasonable argument that companies who aggressively recruit young employees might increase their retention by locating some office space in areas where young employees can afford to live – wrapped in an unreasonable but attention-grabbing package?
Maybe not. Maybe I'm overanalysing and overthinking things as we academics are known to do. Perhaps she is truly stunned that an entry-level job and an active Twitter account aren't enough to get by in San Francisco. Perhaps she truly does believe it is the responsibility of her employer to solve each and every one of her life's challenges. Maybe she really didn't anticipate losing her job over this. After all, why would Yelp, a company whose stock-in-trade is online feedback, react negatively to online feedback?
As with many stereotypes, it is easy to default to these easy answers when we see behaviour that we think "fits" a certain demographic. More often than not, though, we are reminded that human behaviour can rarely be explained away by such simple explanations. I don't know why she published her open letter but I do know that, as a result, a lot of us are thinking and talking about what she said. Maybe we conclude that she is a "typical millennial" and really is as disillusioned as she seems. Or maybe she knew how to get our attention.
Paul Harvey PhD is an associate professor of management at the University of New Hampshire Peter T Paul College of Business and Economics.