When It Comes to Managing Millennials, Don’t Believe the Myths

Photo by istockphoto.com

One of the enduring myths about Millennials in the workplace (employees aged 18-30) is they are overly entitled, needing feedback and praise at every turn and exhibiting little loyalty to their employers.

This myth in particular irritates me because I believe these traits are not related to any particular generation, but rather, are indicative of a person’s place in their career.

People in their first jobs naturally need and seek more feedback because they are unsure if they are doing the right thing. At that stage of life it’s also easier for many to jump jobs and more quickly increase experience levels (and salary). This was true of Gen X employees when they were at this stage of their careers, too.

They want to love their job, not make lots of money

That doesn’t mean we as managers and HR leaders can sit back and not take action to keep talented employees. To do so, we must better understand what Millennials are seeking to find – stability in a job they love that provides meaningful work.

Bersin by Deloitte released a summary of an extensive survey conducted by Telefonica consisting of 12,171 online quantitative interviews among Millennials aged 18-30 across 27 countries in six regions around the world. From the Bersin summary:

Organizations are concerned with Millennials’ turnover, and with good reason: consultancies’ research reports that a half to two-thirds of this group intend to leave their organization. Despite past research (that) I and colleagues have published which isolated generational differences (Kowske, Rasch, & Wiley, Journal of Business and Psychology) and showed this group as more satisfied at work as a generation, their age – their youth and career infancy – trumps. On job-hopping, Millennials are spilt with 53 percent preferring a steady job, and 47 percent feeling that it’s better to change jobs as opportunities arise…

Seventy-six (76) percent would rather love their job but make just a little money, and only 24 percent that wouldn’t mind hating their job if they made a lot of money.”

Looking for meaning

Research reported in SmartBlog shows similar findings:

They want their job to mean something. A study on millennial employee satisfaction hints at more than a few who say they’d rather work at a place where they can make a direct social and environmental impact. About 72 percent of young workers about to enter the job market feel that way. As for Millennials already working, 55 percent report working at a company where they can make a social and environmental impact. They are more likely to report job satisfaction (49 percent) that those who don’t work in a similar environment (24 percent).”

What does that mean for us in attracting and retaining Millennials?

Article Continues Below

Remind them of their valued contributions

Yes, you need to create and clearly communicate an employee value proposition of how employees contribute to achieving a bigger mission that matters to them. But once on board, you need to continually reiterate and remind employees of the value and importance of their contributions.

Make it a point to recognize individuals when they contribute to achieving the mission – and do so in a specific, detailed meaningful way so they understand the connection. Make their “making a difference” contribution visible to them and to others.

How does your organization work to attract and retain Millennials?

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.


5 Comments on “When It Comes to Managing Millennials, Don’t Believe the Myths

  1. Derek,

    I agree that these traits are not related to any particular generation, but rather, are indicative of a person’s place in their career, however they are also influenced by a persons generational cohort as well as other factors. I believe all generations have a need for recognition, they just prefer to hear and see it in different ways. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your viewpoint, those traits are not myths. I’ve seen that study, as well as the one by Pew and several others. Millennials need to be challenged, they don’t expect to wait 30 years for a promotion, and they won’t tolerate hierarchy over performance when it comes to rewards and recognition. This, coupled with their need for frequent open and honest feedback – so that they can meet the challenges and gain the skills needed for success rapidly – tend to perpetuate the negative stereotypes. As these things are still genuine desired needs of the generation, I don’t see them as myths. As a Gen Y cusper myself, who does generational work – http://goo.gl/fUQSz – and leads cross generational teams, to you point on attracting talent, I find the key is to acknowledge the stereotypes and the facts from the multiple generations, and to increase engagement and performance via increasing cross generational communication and awareness and developing customized strategies.

  2. Young workers want to be continuously challenged and want to know why their work is meaningful. This hasn’t changed over the past couple of generations. There have always been “young guns” who bulldoze over people, get on the fast track, and get promoted quickly. Young employees want rewards commensurate with results.

    However, in previous generations, there was more of a social contract that by “doing the right thing”, you’d get ahead. Because that doesn’t exist now, the most important change with this current generation of workers is continuously showing how these employees’ efforts align both with business goals and their own personal goals. Newer employees don’t expect job security any more, but in return, they want an integrated life; job tasks that are interesting and fit within their life as a whole.

    1. NuclueasResearchHP –

      Your point about the social contract makes sense but I’m not convinced that it was much different for GenX. Perhaps for Baby Boomers?

      Our 19 year old summer intern recently wrote a thoughtful post suggesting that the generational differences were age-based more than anything else:


      Having now worked with many GenY’ers and thinking about myself 20 years ago, I can’t help but agree with her. The fundamentals are consistent like a desire for positive reinforcement by way of recognition for doing good work. Moreover, regardless of age many of us have strong values that have been consistent throughout our lives. Wanting to work for a company, or even a project, that aligns with our own values doesn’t seem like a stretch for any generation.

      Great conversation.

      Tim Ryan


  3. Great article, and thanks for pointing to the myths about the millennial generation. We’re asking for the same things other generations have been asking for in a job. We may be louder than them (or simply larger), but that doesn’t mean that every generation wouldn’t mind to love their job, find meaning in their work and be reminded of their contributions. The workplace should be a place where all generations can get along.

    I recently wrote a guide, “Managing Millennials: How the New Generation is Changing the Workplace,” that goes more in depth with these ideas, with statistics and studies to back up the claims. Please check it out! http://www.agsalesworks.com/managing-mentoring-millennials-generation-guide/#.UgJwjUSbS_w.twitter

  4. Great article, Derek. I’ve also enjoyed reading the comments here. I, too, find all of the negativity around Millennials exhausting and counter-productive. I wrote an EBook on the topic a while ago and, in my exploration, I found a couple nuggets that dovetail nicely into the myths you have identified.

    I think the Millennial “entitlement” phenomenon is blown way out of context. We all joke about Millennials who eye the corner office from day one. But, whether this is realistic or not, I think they we just are creating a vision to drive our work
    ethic. So many of have been told from a very young age that can be anything they want to be, as long as we work for it. Schools, colleges, sports teams, etc. have designed programs around setting and achieving goals, including quick wins, to pave the way towards larger milestones. Looking at it another way, I think Millennials are just setting their sights on a grand vision (and looking to management for help on setting the appropriate goal markers to get there), but I don’t think the actual time frame matters as much as perception would imply.

    In regards to feedback, I think it’s a good thing that Millennials want open communication. A lot of people misconstrue this as coddling, but all that does is bring negativity to the workplace. I prefer to view this as a positive change.
    Millennials are open to guidance and constructive criticism regarding
    performance. Since they don’t have much (or any) corporate experience, this is
    the perfect way for managers to teach protocol and procedures. Astute managers
    will also be able to pick up on any discontent or problems before they get out
    of hand. This is critical for retention.Honestly, isn’t it better to fix a problem when it happens rather than wait for the next review period?

    Just my .02. Thanks for the great post!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *