Mad Men on Millennials


Don Draper

Don Draper as played by Jon Hamm. Image via Wikipedia

I admit it. I’m a fan of “Mad Men,” the hit drama on AMC.

Last night’s episode was one of my favorites since the infamous John Deere episode last season. There were many scenes to like, but my favorite was when Don Draper, the partner in the advertising agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lectures Peggy Olson, a 26-year old copywriter who reveals that she is upset that she didn’t get any credit for her role in a Clio-winning campaign for the floor polish Glo-Coat.

Here’s how it played out:

Don: That’s the way it works — there are no credits on commercials.
Peggy: But you got the Clio.
Don: It’s your job. I give you money,  you give me ideas.
Peggy: But you never say thank you.
Don: That’s what the money is for. You’re young, you will get your recognition.  And honestly it is absolutely ridiculous to be two years into your career and counting your ideas. Everything to you is an opportunity. And you should be thanking me every morning when you wake up, along with Jesus, for giving you another day.

To me the scene, though set in the 60’s, touched on the unreasonable expectations some 20-somethings have about their jobs and the workplace. Though the shouting and the drinking wouldn’t happen in today’s office — well the shouting might — the generational conflicts are timeless.

If you watch the show though, you’d see Peggy’s point of view. Her boss, Don, never says thank you and he never tells her she’s doing a good job.

Don’s perspective is that he shouldn’t have to say thank you — the paycheck he provides does that every two weeks. He also feels like he gave Peggy a huge break — he moved her from being his secretary into the copywriter’s job. Doesn’t that shout to the world how much he value’s Peggy and her work?

From my point of view, that need to be recognized and the obligation to share credit when you’re part of a team, is essential to a healthy workplace.

Somewhere though there’s a middle ground between Don and Peggy that today’s millennials and their employers need to strike. A recent opinion piece, by Tom Downey in the Denver Post sums it up nicely:

“The problem is that the traditional top-down approach fails to activate the Millennials’ motivators. Advice to put in your time and work hard so you can move up the ladder means nothing to this generation.

That approach is based on a monetary contract. If management only gives a Millennial a paycheck, the company’s return will be limited to the task performed…

…The best technique for motivating Millennials is to layer a social contract on top of the monetary contract. The social contract says if they give more to the company, the company will give them more in return: job satisfaction, responsibility, a sense of purpose, advancement potential, real communication and an enjoyable workplace.”

When I think about places I’ve worked where that social contract is established and nurtured, it’s almost always coincides with a strong internal communications function.

Companies who are looking to motivate and retain employees should look no further than the their internal communications team to lead the charge. An effective  internal communications drives your company’s sales, brand identity and promise, and company culture.

I can’t promise that good internal communications will prevent the Don Drapers of the world from missing the mark when it comes to motivating and retaining younger employees, but it certainly can give managers the tools they need to be more effective.

As a postscript, here’s the entire scene:

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