New Poll Shows That Even Millennials Question Their Workplace Attitude

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think Millennials get a bad rap, especially when it comes to their workplace ethic.

The Millennial generation, in my view, is no better or worse than any other generation that came before. Yes, they have their own unique generational issues but in my close experience with them, Millennials reflect what you find in other generations and society as a whole — some are good, some average, some clueless.

Recent surveys have finally started to focus on this, and that’s why this latest research struck me as negative backpeddling about the worth and contribution of Millennials — until I saw that a lot of the negativity is coming from younger workers themselves.

A new poll conducted by Workplace Options (they describe themselves as a leading global provider of work-life programs and employee benefits), “shows a shared sentiment across age groups that Millennials have a distinct attitude toward workplace responsibility – one interpreted as largely lackadaisical.”

A different attitude towards work

How lackadaisical exactly? Here’s how:

  • Some 77 percent of the workers surveyed believe Millennials “have a different attitude toward workplace responsibility than workers of other age groups;”
  • 68 percent feel that Millennials “are less motivated to take on responsibility and produce quality work compared to their counterparts;” and,
  • Nearly half (46 percent) think Millennials are less engaged at work than other employees.

At this point, I know a lot of you may be asking, “OK, what’s so different about this?” It certainly is similar to what you might have read or heard elsewhere, but what surprised me was that the poll also found that Millennials themselves generally share these same attitudes, although to a lesser degree. For example, when you break out responses from Milennials only:

  • Some 59 percent agreed that their generation “has a different attitude toward workplace responsibility than their peers;”
  • Another 55 percent acknowledged that workers of their generation “are generally less motivated to take on more responsibility;” and,
  • More than a third (34 percent) reported that Millennial workers are less engaged than older workers.

Why this may be shortsighted

“The idea that younger workers are not as engaged or motivated as older workers is interesting from a management perspective, but may be shortsighted,” said Dean Debnam, chief executive officer at Workplace Options in a press release explaining the survey. “The attitudes reflected in this poll may stem, in part, from the responsibilities younger workers typically have as more junior employees, but this is certainly a trend to monitor.”

He added: “The new challenge for managers is not only finding ways to engage Millennials in workplace culture, but also bridging the gaps that exist between employees of different age groups.”

Yes, figuring out how to better engage Millennials is the name of the game, but hasn’t this always been so with every new generation that comes along? What is needed to engage Millennials may be a lot different, but every new generation brings a different set of attitudes and expectations to work. It’s the job of managers and executives to figure out what is needed to get these new workers more involved — just as it always has been.

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Dean Debnam seems to agree.

“Compared to the results across all age groups, these self-assessments do not paint a completely different picture,” he said. “Workplaces are currently going through a ‘changing of the guard’ with new technology and new ways of doing business being implemented every day. As these changes take place and Millennials grow into new roles that come with more senior responsibilities, these perceptions around attitudes and productivity will likely change across the board.”

Needed: less bashing, more engaging

Yes, let’s hope that these perceptions start to change, because I am getting sick and tired of the non-stop drumbeat that Millennials are somehow the scourge of the modern workplace. I know that may seem like a bit of hyperbole, but not by much. If we took the time spent bashing young employees and used it to focus on how the better engage them in the modern workforce, I think we’d all be a lot better off.

So, let me repeat this one more time:

In my personal experience with the Millennial generation — I hate the nonsensical and meaningless Generation Y tag that some use to describe them — I have found that there is no one way to characterize or manage them. The three Millennials that I am closely related to are as different as any three people you would find on a street corner. And the classroom of Millennials that I teach writing to each semester at a local university follows this same pattern…

The notion that the Millennial generation is so unique and different from generations before them is nonsense. They are different, yes, but so is every other generation, and it’s something that managers have dealt with long before pricey leadership coaches came along and decided we needed their services.”

This national survey from Workplace Options was conducted by the North Carolina firm of Public Policy Polling from September 8-11, 2011. The survey polled 637 working Americans and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percent.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


6 Comments on “New Poll Shows That Even Millennials Question Their Workplace Attitude

  1. Interesting article. 

    I do not think it has anything to do with motivation but a lot to do with us waking up to what’s available to us.

    I am a millenial and recently graduated from grad school.  I launched my consulting business because of future workplace trends. We are currently in a workforce trend in which people get paid for services.  So, I know that an employer would rather pay a consultant than someone else’s salary. This is not my opinion but a fact.  I was taught this during undergrad.

    My mom is a baby boomer.  The trend back then was to focus on completing your HS diploma, landing a government job, or joining the military. Why?  They lived in the industrial era and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work on an assembly line. That era is no more.  Now the game changed and everyone must have a college education to do anything.

    More education means more options and us millenials are starting to create our own way. It has nothing to do with laziness, we simply don’t believe the hype and we have more options than our parents did.

    Why jump on the “work” wagon when we can create our future? 

    Tasha Lester, Human Resource Development Consultant

  2. maybe it’s the workplace itself that is the problem?  I’m a “late” boomer, began working “regular” jobs at 22 and have seen the rise of technology and other major changes.  but it is still get up, commute to work, go home.  true workplace flexibility is still a ways off. corporate management is still stuck in the last century.  read daniel pink’s “drive” to understand how people are motivated and how management needs to change to truly engage employees.  corporate management doesn’t “trust” employees and seemingly lazy millenials will keep that image fresh in manager’s minds.  the one thing that does seem to characterize millenials is their entrepreneurship.  this is important as the corporation as we know it will change dramatically in the next few years.

  3. “The new challenge for managers is not only finding ways to engage Millennials in workplace culture, but also bridging the gaps that exist between employees of different age groups.”

    This is the most telling statement in the entire article IMO. A leader that can effectively adjust their leadership style based upon whom he/she is directing is a skill that transcends all shifts in the labor market.  

  4. John: I really like this piece for a number of reasons though primarily because you surface the issue of judging any generation in the context of another. I often ask middle aged managers “Well how do you like them, they are your kids?” They look at me strange when I ask but in many cases we, the older folks raised our children to not be like us, not to get so caught up with work, to speak your mind rather than operate out of fear etc. When we encounter the product in the form of someone else’s kids rather than explore the difference in perspectives and the benefits it brings all we can see is that we don’t know how to relate to a work force that is not motivated or manageable by fear. So sad.

  5. I am a Gen X worker, and we are more self reliant than the Boomers or the Millennials- and the media beat up on us too. But people wonder why the Chinese are outpacing us? Because the typical Chinese worker grew up in poverty, not with a big screen TV and an Xbox in their bedroom! They didn’t have helicopter parents that fought every battle for them.

    What really angers me is that Gen X had to wade through years of the old ways of doing things to finally get a chance to take the reigns, but now we are left with a workforce that doesn’t do anything but text message and social network.

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