Millennial Myths: Really, They Are No Different Than Other Generations

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Is anyone else tired of hearing the myths about Millennials in the workplace (entitled, need constant praise and reassurance, difficult to manage)?

I know I am. That’s why I was pleased to see this recently in the Harvard Business Review:

Millennials are entitled, disloyal, and lazy. And they expect things to come easily to them. Sound familiar? These are common beliefs that many managers hold.

But are they true? Not really. Millennials, it turns out, aren’t nearly as entitled as we make them out to be. In fact, most are ambitious, and look to make a big impact in their careers right from the start. But managers can sometimes misconstrue this as entitlement.

The same goes for disloyalty. While it’s true that Millennials tend to jump ship earlier than past generations, they usually do so because the road to promotion at their current company isn’t so clear-cut. So can you really blame them? Perhaps it’s time to change our thinking, and to cut Millennials some slack.”

Isn’t every new generation like this?

The title of that article is Millennials Aren’t Entitled; They’re Just Misunderstood. I argue that’s true for every generation when they were young and new in the workplace.

I’m sure Boomer managers said that about me as a young Gen X employee. And I’m just as sure their “Silent Generation” managers said that about them in turn.

Every generation brings not just a new perspective on work, but new ideas and methods for getting that work done. Millennial employees have never lived a day without technology being a critical component of how they see and interact with the world around them. They bring that ethos to the workplace, and I am grateful for it.

New perspectives bring innovative thinking and new approaches. That’s what constantly pushes us all forward.

It is up to managers to bring them along

As to being entitled, disloyal, needing constant recognition and all the rest, I think we need to change the lens through which we view these behaviors. This isn’t generational behavior, it’s stage of life behavior. I think nearly all of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, will admit that when we were new in the workplace we, too, wanted constant feedback.

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Young employees new to the workplace don’t have historical context to know if what they’re doing is right, worthwhile and useful to others. That’s why they seek recognition and feedback. And if they don’t think they’re efforts are useful, they will move on to find somewhere they genuinely believe they can contribute.

That means it is on us as managers and leaders to give them the direction, feedback and praise they need. And yes – that constant recognition is not just necessary, but good. When done right, it gives employees (of every generation) the detailed information they need about the greater impact and meaning of their work.

How do you feel about Millennials in the workplace?

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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4 Comments on “Millennial Myths: Really, They Are No Different Than Other Generations

  1. Well put, Derek. It strikes me that the Millennials emerged along with an explosion of outlets who were anxious to “show” how radically different this generation was from all who had ever preceded it. I believe the HBR blog and your comments put these alleged universal behaviors in context. People (including Gen Y) want regular feedback on how they perform in the same way that we all look in a mirror several times a day when we pass one. Or in the way that virtually the entire NFL is watching video today of yesterday’s game — so they can improve this week’s practice and next week’s game.
    My firm grew so weary of all this “Millennials as extra-terrestrials” chatter that we conducted more than 20 Millennial focus groups in 9 major employers to see how they differed. In addition to their wanting what their elders had wanted for three decades — attentive managers setting clear direction, timely and actionable feedback and an absence of useless face time — there were 2 significant differences that they carried from the previous generations (aka, their parents). 1) A clear plurality said emphatically that their loyalty would be mutual — they would not give it all at the office only to be downsized later in life when they could not recover. 2) Perhaps related, they would give 100% in building their careers, but when they had families, they intended to prioritize those families. Perhaps ambition and mortgages will change these views — in which case they will only resemble previous generations even more closely.

  2. Maybe it is some peoples’ penchant to label things that is
    partly at fault here. For thousands of years, people as people, have had needs
    and characteristics associated with them as people. It is only when we label people
    as Millennials, that we feel compelled to differentiate and assign different
    needs and characteristics.

    Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has held up pretty well
    over the past 100 years. Maybe the Boomers’ children simply started at a
    different place on Maslow’s continuum than their parents. When we discuss human
    development in science we end up in one place and when we discuss it in the pop
    literature, we end up with a different result. Go figure.

  3. It’s about time someone stepped up and finally cut the Millenials some slack! Too many people are way too short-sighted to be taken seriously though. We’re still just as human as every other generation, despite what others will lead you to believe…

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