Good afternoon, friends and neighbors.
I am a cook. More specifically, I am a baker- or pastry cook, as one of my previous job titles went.
I am also, by virtue of being born in the late 80s, a member of that currently-most-accursed of demographics… a millennial.
And things are getting real out here, folks.
Know Your Millennial Cook
We have been called “the Burnout Generation.” We are praised with being more progressive, more outspoken, more cautious, more forward-thinking, more tech-savvy, more engaged, and more worldly than any other generation before us.
We also stand accused of being entitled, selfish, self-absorbed, disconnected, hedonistic, sensitive, “snowflakes,” with the blood of entire industries and businesses on our hands.
The restaurant industry is no exception. Rarely does a day go by without someone starting up a round of “kids these days…”
Are so entitled…
Don’t want to work hard…
Aren’t satisfied with their pay.
Are so impatient.
Just want to be on their phones all day.
Are too soft/ don’t want to build a skin…
The list could continue, but I think you get the idea.
Hardly the picture of a group on a killing spree, is it? I mean, I barely have time to pound down my avocado toast and sip my hipster coffee in the morning before I need to strap up my man bun and annihilate three major businesses.
I joke, but the truth is a lot less funny. The truth is we- millennials- are here. We are willing to- and DO- work hard… and we’d like your help if you could stop complaining about us.
“We’re All Trying to Hustle Out Here…”
That was the gentle admonishment I got from my friend Robert Atwood- a chef, educator, and the creator of the Facebook group “Pro Chef U”– when I posted a link to my blog with a little TOO flagrant an appeal for my Patreon attached.
He understandably didn’t want his group to turn into a haven for spammers and advertising because I gave the wrong impression. The group itself is an excellent one, dedicated to educating chefs and cooks about different aspects of the field and sharing expertise.
I agreed, and dialed back the appeal- I felt a little whiny and gross writing it anyway. His words still struck a chord though- one that rings in the ears of most Millennials:
“We’re all trying to hustle out here.”
Among other things, we now live in the Age of the Side Hustle. Notions like job security and benefits are increasingly rare. The demands of even part-time traditional jobs are becoming ludicrous, requiring full-time availability for part-time hours on unpredictable schedules.
Wages continue to stagnate, and costs continue to rise.
In response, many folks- not just millennials- seek financial stability in freelancing and side hustles. We drive for Uber, or sell our crafts, or operate small businesses out of our apartments.
Really, when you can lose your livelihood the minute some numbers on a screen change and you are deemed disposable… it only makes sense to have several income streams based entirely on you and your own time.
Great, right? That’s the entrepreneurial spirit we are told that the youth have in spades!
Well, yeah… but there’s a problem with that- we’re also humans.
Not automatons. Not robots. We are humans.
We are bundles of energy piloting complex machines of meat and untanned leather. At some point, going full-tilt for extended periods of time, SOMETHING is bound to go wrong.
On top of that, we are AGING. We CANNOT keep this pace for much longer. We are BEYOND the age when previous generations have bought a home, started families, settled down… simply because such possibilities are laughable to us financially.
At nearly every job I have worked, I have met very few people my age- baristas, cooks, bakers, servers- that made ends meet on that job alone. Nearly every one of them had something going on in their spare time- a passion project, a hustle, a side business. They have included:
- Web design for breweries (he has since become successful enough to take it full time)
- A fortune teller/ psychic.
- A juice cart.
- Contract baking (how this blog was born, incidentally)
- Writing, baking CBD-infused snacks, and stripping (that’s three separate positions, by the way. Combining them would be messy.)
- Videographers/ Photographers
Again, an incomplete list.
What’s missing then, besides “have kids and retire before you die?”
Self-care. Therapy. Rest.
Millennials are burning out from working multiple jobs to get the security and benefits older generations are used to and expect. What happens when we ask for them?
“Kids these days….”
What’s To Be Done?
No simple answers here. The problem is systemic- it has personal, social, cultural, financial, and political roots. There is no golden elixir or magic bullet to make it all better.
There ARE things that can be done on the micro-level, though, that can assuage and ease the damage of macro-level concerns.
To start with, knock off the millennial bashing. Yes, life sucks sometimes and you want to vent, but come on- even artistically, “kids these days” jokes are low-hanging fruit. Try talking to a few instead. Have a conversation- ask questions about their needs, and make yours clear.
If you are in a position of leadership or management, take the wellness of your employees seriously. If you can’t offer benefits, talk with your staff about what CAN be done. Health savings accounts, sick time, vacation… your needs and results may vary, but at least your employees can know you take them and their welfare seriously.
With regards to moonlighting and side-hustles, though… if you are a business owner or a manager, one of the best things you can do can be completely free.
Most people aren’t going to go to business school or get an MBA. I certainly don’t have one. Young business people are getting their experience and education on the fly- by stressing out, screwing up, and trying again. They read up, figure out what they can or can’t do, what they do or don’t need… and learn as they go.
Freelancing and side hustles are work, but they are a taste of FREEDOM. They are self-determination, self-ownership, and financial security rolled up into a bittersweet pill taken with about sixty energy drinks.
If your employee has one, and they love it… EMPOWER THEM.
Advise them. Mentor them. Send work their way, offer them connections, and give them your time. If possible, you can even shift their responsibilities to reflect the aspects of business they need help with.
Richard Branson said that “Employees are investments, not liabilities.”
You can keep complaining about them, or you can help them grow- and help your business in the process.
Know Our Worth
We’re millennials. We’re here- in your dining rooms, in your bakeries, in your kitchens… in your world.
We were raised on promises, watched them get broken, and were told it was our fault. We have made “adulting” a noun to capture the seemingly-difficult nature of mundane daily life.
We were raised on Bon Appetit, Emeril, and Anthony Bourdain as a dad.
We’re all business… and that’s a problem.
Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius