5 Truths About Millennials in the Workplace

The recession has changed the attitude of many members of the Millennial generation when it comes to work.

The generational divide, in one form or another, kept hitting my screen time and again in the last week or two. A few that struck me the most (with my commentary following each one):

From Slate, Caught between X & Y”:

This micro-generation is hard to pin down. … While the proud alienation of the Gen X worldview doesn’t totally sit right, we certainly don’t yearn for the Organization Man-like conformity that the Millennials seem to crave.”

My comment: We struggle to shove people into pigeonholes of behaviors and expectations based on the year they were born. Some beg off with an excuse of “these are just generalities,” but this article on a micro-generation that is neither Gen X nor Gen Y points out just how difficult it is to assign characteristics to a group of people based on their birthdate.

From New York magazine, “The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright”:

  • We want glory for our ideas. We want to know we matter.”
  • “The worst thing is that I’ve always gotten self-worth from performance, especially good grades. But now that I can’t get a job, I feel worthless.”
  • “Watching [rounds of layoffs], I decided to never count on career stability and have tried to be less defined by my work.”

My comment: Three different quotes from three different “Millennials” quoted in the article. Meaning and purpose are important to them (but that is true for most employees regardless of generation), but Gen Y employees struggle to find that at work anymore. The employment deal has let them down.

From TLNT, The Millennial Generation: Their Transformative Impact on the Workforce”:

One of the first insights from the Mercer study is that there is a seeming contradiction with younger workers. While more of them are satisfied with their organizations and jobs (and are even willing to recommend them), they also are continuing to look for new opportunities that outpace other generations.”

My comment: Because the employment deal has failed them, Gen Y employees in particular can be perfectly happy with their jobs and still be seeking to leave. What do you do to retain and engage employees who are content but never satisfied? And is this really all that surprising as any generation in their 20s seeks to change jobs, explore and move up the career ladder (or at least the salary chain) as quickly as possible?

From Monster Thinking Blog,Common Millennial Myths and the Truth about Gen Y Workers”:

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One thing I see every day, in countless interactions with members of Generation Y, is a growing divide and disparity between perception and reality. That’s why it’s important to take a different approach, and deeper look, at some of the most pervasive Gen Y myths.

  • Perception #1: Generation Y is Lazy/Reality: Generation Y is Confused
  • Perception #2: Generation Y Is Apathetic/Reality: Generation Y Is Bored

My comment: It’s always easier to assume ill-will than it is to look for underlying conditions that can be resolved with effort. Of course, employees who are Gen Y (and therefore in the earliest parts of their careers) are confused and bored at work. What are we in the older generations doing to mentor, coach and enable them to strive for more?

The final words on generations at work I’ll leave to Steve Boese (from his HR Technology blog):

I guess there’s really two problems with the kids these days – one, we (the old folks) can’t be them anymore and it ticks us off; and two, they eventually grow up and pretend to forget what being a kid was all about.”

My comment: Steve strikes home with his observation that “the enemy is us” in essence. We of Gen X and the Boomer generations were once in the shoes of Gen Y today. I wholeheartedly believe much of what Gen Y is maligned for has far less to do with the stereotypes of their generation and far more to do with the stage of their career. After all, so were we 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

What are the assumptions about Gen Y that bother you the most?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.


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