Why Most of What You’ve Read About Millennial Workers is Wrong
People aged 18 to 34 are in a unique position. Usually pegged as spoiled and impossible to deal with in the traditional way, Millennials, also known as Generation Y, have been the butt of jokes with regards to an unhealthy sense of entitlement, and poor staying powers (when it comes to holding a job).
Technically though, millennials are a broader, much more complex group than the media likes to give them (us) credit for. Let’s look at some of the most common misconceptions about Millennial workers, and why these misconceptions do not paint a complete picture of the real world.
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First, let’s address the media’s contribution to inventing what I like to call “Millennial Panic” among older generations. It’s amazing how the media can actually fabricate a cultural norm — everything from diamond wedding rings to swimming pools in the backyard. (You should see the Google Maps view above my neighborhood in LA — we live 20 minutes from the beach, people!)
No one wanted those things until some newspaper or magazine told them they should.
Similarly, no one saw Generation Y as spoiled, selfish, or flaky until the media (news, magazines, blogs, and television) started creating this false reality.
Who You Calling A Millennial?
The so-called “defining characteristics” of a generation are completely artificial. First of all, there are more people in the Gen Y age bracket than in any other generation. Even the so-called Baby Boomers weren’t as numerous.
Secondly, every generation has its own characteristics and stereotypes, partially based on the times and technologies available to them, and partially based on the mistrust and outright suspicion aimed at them by their parents’ and grandparents’ generation.
In the 1960s, the Baby Boomers were the young, wild generation, ready to protest and rail against the establishment at any cost. Generation X were rebellious and sullen, deemed too nihilistic to care about anything happening politically or economically.
Were these blanket judgments true? Sometimes. But certainly not always.
Young people are impressionable, and will begin to behave in ways similar to their peers . Not because they necessarily identify with the generational zeitgeist, but because they’re young, and they don’t really have much of a blueprint for their lives yet.
Typically, people grow out of that kind of behavior, and I believe that Millennials are in the process of doing so right now.
What Is A Millennial?
When most people hear the word “Millennial,” an entire truckload of ideas usually pops into their heads. Ideas about a generation of young people who are currently the darlings of human relations departments the world over, as people with master’s degrees attempt to figure out just what, exactly, this generation of young workers is all about.
This brings us to the question of what, exactly, a “Millennial” is. No one seems to agree: to most, it’s the age range I mentioned earlier. But to some experts, Millennials are a generation defined by more than just age.
They are linked by the ease with which they navigate the digital world. This can include anyone from 30-somethings all the way down to children as young as 6. Of course, there are problems with this definition, which we’ll get to in a moment.
Managing Two-Way Expectations
The ideas of what a Millennial is have changed so many times, it’s not really worth dwelling on. What is important is that people in the workplace have expectations of younger workers that can be damaging to morale, output, and quality of work.
And younger workers also have expectations of their employers, which is a fairly novel concept in the workplace. It can be scary for an employer to suddenly have to deal with a group of workers who expect things like flexibility and creative freedom in jobs that previous generations simply shut up and did, no matter how unpleasant.
The Expectations Of Digital Natives
As we touched on earlier, the media has done more than shape everyone else’s expectations of Millennials. It has also shaped the Millennials’ expectations of themselves. People tend to act however they’re told to act, living up (or down) to others’ expectations of them.
But there are some other factors at play here as well, primarily in how younger workers have started to shift their priorities from simply following in their parents’ footsteps, to wanting a fuller, richer life filled with more diverse experiences.
Working at one company until retirement age? Being commanded by your authoritative boss and never being expected to have ideas or contributions of your own? Bequeathing your student loan debt to your children and grandchildren when you die?
More and more, these ideas are starting to look less appealing, especially as the world’s economy goes through such dramatic changes. No country has been spared from the brutal recession of the past several years, and the resulting fallout has left many people uncertain about the ways of the past that worked for their parents and grandparents.
The End Of Groupthink
In short, young people want options.
The ability to take any skill set and turn it into income, on your own terms, is appealing to young people. Their parents’ generation worked thanklessly at dead-end jobs. Millennials, they want the option to have a more fulfilling future.
The issue comes when older employers start to assume that young workers will be spoiled or demanding, and enact regulations to keep the unruliness at bay. But the good news is, media isn’t nearly as all-pervasive as it used to be. The channels are diversifying and groupthink is falling by the wayside.
What Do You Think?
How do you think the media is handling the current friction between Millennials and their employers? Do you think there is a better way to communicate the right ideas to everyone in the workplace? Share your thoughts.