Millennials (alternatively called Generation Y) are a demographic cohort over which there is much debate and little agreement. Indeed, there are no agreed dates for when this cohort begins and ends. Researchers variously pinpoint the late ‘70s and ‘80s as starting birth years, and the ‘90s and early ‘00s (Howe & Strauss 2007) as ending birth years, making this cohort all those currently between the ages of 12 and 40. In the opinion of many, this age range is too broad. I’d have to agree. I was born in ‘95 (either the end or mid-point or the millennial era depending on the research you use) and I cannot say that I feel particularly socially aligned with those born in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, nor those who were not alive to see 9/11. For the purpose of today we will date millennials, as most do, as those born between 1980 and 1995, now in their early 20s and 30s.
Millennials make up a quarter of the UK population and 37% of the American workforce. Fast becoming the largest group in both the global workforce and consumer market, they are changing the landscape of the economy. Millennials are an important generation not just because of the things mentioned above, but also because they are cited as the first generation to fully grow up in the digital era.
The immediacy of the internet and social media, the freedom of expression they offer, and their promotion of ‘selfies’ (and the like) has led to the perception of millennials as lazy, entitled and narcissistic technology fiends who would rather live their life in 2D. In fact, a survey conducted by Ipsos across 23 countries revealed that when asked to describe millennials, people most often said tech-savvy (54%), materialistic (45%), selfish (39%), lazy (34%) and/or arrogant (33%). Millennials described themselves in the same way (44% materialistic, 37% selfish, 33% lazy), showing that the perception has made its way into the generation’s self-concept.
These claims aren’t right or fair. Indeed, they serve to present millennials as the nightmare generation that are digitally native but socially numb. These ideas are ‘verified’ and perpetuated by bad research and false statistics in newspapers and online. To name a few ridiculous headlines, millennials are to blame for the decline of the napkin and soap industries, and they ruined the 2016 Olympics and EU. In reality, Millennials are informed, open-minded, and civically engaged. In addition, they are highly educated, creative, and report high work satisfaction.
Operating on millennial misconceptions will not do employers (or society) any good. Rather, it will alienate this group of talented people. So let us debunk the most common millennial myths.
1. They’re entitled. They want it and they want it now. They have immediate expectations for salary, promotions, and workplace culture.
Reality: they may wish for success but they work hard to get it. They crave indicators that they are making forward progress so that they may continue to develop. All they want is a boss and colleagues who make them proud of their work and treat them with respect. If ‘entitlement’ means refusing to work for a boss who disrespects you, in a role you don’t enjoy, with people you don’t like and without recognition for your work, then perhaps ‘entitlement’ isn’t such a bad thing…
2. They’re lazy. Not only do they want their dream life delivered to them on a silver platter, but they want a party and ribbon for opening the door.
Reality: First, research shows that millennials are innovating at a high rate, a fact that goes hand-in-hand with hard work, long hours and hustle. In fact, millennials are more competitive than their predecessors, a poll by CEB consulting revealing that 59% of millennial respondents said competition was what got them up in the morning (vs. 50% other generations). Second, think of the innovators behind the technologies we use every day: Mark Zuckerberg (CEO Facebook), Brian Chesky (CEO Airbnb), Arash Ferdowsi and Drew Houston (Co-founders Dropbox), Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp (CEO and CPO Pinterest). 100% millennial, 0% lazy.
3. They’re disloyal, job-hopping employees.
Reality: millennials today have a longer track record with their employers than GenX did at the same age. Pew Research Fact Tank found that in January 2016, 63.4% of employed millennials had worked for their current employers for 13 months, and 22% for over five years. By comparison, in February 2000, 59.9% and 21.8% respectively of GenX reported similar job tenure.
4. They’re obsessed with technology.
Reality: millennials actively pursue face-to-face interaction. A Matter Sight corporation survey of a 1,000 millennials found that 85% said they would prefer to communicate in person with a co-worker rather than via email or company networks.
5. They require a different approach to everyone else.
Reality: what generation is not a little different to the one that came before it? But importantly, millennials are not as different as they are portrayed. In the words of Matt Charney, Executive Editor at Recruiting Daily: “[millennials are] the majority of workers in the US and are increasingly becoming our professional peers, direct supervisors and senior managers […], so the whole conception that millennials require a different approach […] is asinine – we’re already here, and we want the same stuff everybody else does […].” Indeed, Jennifer Deal of the Centre for Creative Leadership and Alec Levenson of the Centre for Effective Organisations found that Millennials across the globe had similar perceptions and expectations of work, and that much of what is true about Millennials also holds true for Generation X and Baby Boomers. Typical recommendations about how to manage Millennial workers – for example, feedback, flexibility, opportunity and pay transparency – are simply good management practices that apply to all generations of workers.
Operating on Millennial misconceptions will not do employers (or society) any good. Rather it will alienate this group of talented people. It is important to see through myths that dictate Millennials are entitled, lazy, professionally disloyal, technologically obsessed, and fundamentally different to others. Rather, time to start seeing them as the informed, civically engaged, and open-minded individuals that they are.
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