Much of the online outrage directed at Muffin Break general manager Natalie Brennan for her comments about Gen Ys and unpaid work is misguided.
In an interview earlier this week for an article about job interviews and resumes, the conversation turned to common mistakes candidates make.
From there, it became a discussion about the much-maligned millennial generation and the “entitlement mentality”.
Ms Brennan pulled no punches, saying she had noticed a marked shift in attitudes among younger workers in the past decade — coinciding with the rise in social media — exemplified by the collapse in young uni students and graduates seeking to get a foot in the door by putting themselves forward for internships or work experience.
“There’s just nobody walking in my door asking for an internship, work experience or unpaid work, nobody,” she said.
“In essence they’re working for free, but I can tell you every single person who has knocked on my door for an internship or work experience has ended up with a job. Every single person, because they back themselves.”
Yes, the issue of unpaid work is controversial and the line between genuine experience and exploitation can be blurry, but it seems like many people didn’t bother reading her comments in context before attacking her.
She never said she expected all of her employees to work for free, as many online seem to be suggesting, only that those who put themselves forward to do unpaid work were more likely to get a job.
It’s important to clarify that Ms Brennan was talking about head office-type roles like marketing and middle management. She wasn’t suggesting cashiers or baristas should be working for free.
You can argue about whether or not it’s a good thing — and whether businesses should encourage it with structured internship programs — but unfortunately it’s a fact of life that presented with any two given candidates, the employer will choose the one who has gone above and beyond and shown initiative.
Just as there will always be workers willing to cross the picket line, there are always going to be young people who want to get into an industry so badly they’re willing to work for free to get a start.
Ms Brennan was simply pointing out there are far fewer of them these days.
Of course, she could be wrong about the reason. Some have argued that with rising costs of living and stagnating wages, working for free is no longer a luxury Millennials can afford — particularly if they don’t have the benefit of still living at home with their parents.
But by blaming social media and the “inflated sense of self-importance” it gives young people, Ms Brennan committed the Boomer versus Millennial equivalent of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
People on Twitter were extremely unhappy, as people on Twitter generally are.
Privately, though, a decent number of employers share her “kids these days” sentiments but are unwilling to say so exactly because of this kind of backlash, ironically fuelled by social media.
“I endorse the viewpoints in this story completely,” the head of one marketing company said in an email.
“The change in young people’s attitudes over time and their sense of expectation is extraordinary. Instagram followers do not = CEO. It really is time that they are called out on their unrealistic expectations both salary and workplace.”
She added, “It’s so sad to see how it has evolved from eager young interns to arrogant, demanding youth that can’t spell.”
The point is, feel free to be outraged about what Ms Brennan said — but not what she didn’t say.