If you’re currently in the workforce, you know what I’m talking about when I mention millennial stereotypes. I was born lazy, my parents held my hand through every step of my life, I have a trophy for being an “all-star teammate” on my softball team, and I most likely won’t work very hard for the rest of my life. Seriously?
As a millennial, I have more than a few words to say about millennial stereotypes. As defined by Wikipedia (how very millennial of me to use Wiki as a reference), “a stereotype is a thought that can be adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things. These thoughts or beliefs may or may not accurately reflect reality.”
With that definition in mind, let’s examine a few of the more predominant millennial stereotypes. These include:
- Millennials don’t want to work as hard as their older colleagues
- Millennials won’t stay committed to a company for the long haul
- Millennials need constant affirmation and encouragement
- Millennials won’t sacrifice personal life for work gains – long term or short term
Let’s examine these one by one.
The idea that millennials don’t work as hard as older employees is simply false. Most of the millennials grew up in a world where, in order to get into a good university or college, you had to have good grades, be a part of multiple clubs, take four Advanced Placement classes and pass the end of year exams for them, and work part time. In the hyper competitive world that we’re a part of, not working hard meant settling for a mindless job that didn’t require a degree – it seemed like there was never that happy medium. If this is true, how did this stereotype come into being? My theory is this: many millennials judge their work performance not based on how many hours they sat at their desk but by how much work they put out. For older employees, the amount of work someone puts out could be less noticeable than the fact that someone spends just a little too much time hanging out around the water cooler. However, given how we were brought up, it didn’t matter where you studied for your AP classes or how you ran the club you were President of, it mattered that you got your stuff done. Our increasingly tech savvy world gives us the capability to work anywhere, anytime. It seems that in this sense, millennials are simply changing with the world.
Millennials won’t stay committed to a company for the long haul – I declare this statement mostly true. Why? Millennials were raised at a point in time when our grandparents most likely stuck with one or two companies throughout their entire work life and stayed devoted to that company. Our parents were encouraged to do the same, but the work world had changed. Being at a company for 30 years no longer guaranteed that you would not be fired from your job or laid off due to budget cuts. After many millennials saw their parents not get the respect, benefits, or security that was assumedly offered to long term employees, they no longer have the desire to stay at a company for a prolonged amount of time in the name of unrequited loyalty. Most millennials take on the attitude of “gain experience at my current job and look for greater challenges and intrinsic rewards at my next job.” This presents a challenge to the current work force of looking for ways to hire good talent, create a challenging environment, and create a company culture that encourages employees to stay for the long haul. That all sounds fairly fantastic to me – granted, I am just another millennial with stars in my eyes.
Millennials need constant affirmation and encouragement – a laughably false stereotype. I have to say, I do find this one amusing. No doubt, this is derived from our millennial culture of “Let’s give all the kids a trophy because they tried,” and “Oh no, now we’ve created monsters who lack any self-confidence and need constant affirmation.” Millennials, along with every other generation, have members of the group who desperately need to hear that they’re doing well. There are also millennials who are determined to change the world, become great leaders, or will run a company one day – and they have confidence for days to make it happen. Let’s chalk this up to one of those omnipresent stereotypes that older generations have about younger generations.
Millennials won’t sacrifice personal life for work gains – true and false. I have worked since I was 14, so this particular stereotype always rubbed me somewhat the wrong way. I put in long hours and, at one point, worked a full time job and went to school to accomplish my goals. However, the longer I am in the “grown up” work force, I have heard many people say that work life balance is just not possible if you end up in the C-suite. After hearing that a fair share of times, I quickly realized that I would never have the goal of ending up as a top executive in a company. The idea of having to sacrifice time with my family, the opportunity to have kids, or chances to travel created an instant aversion to devoting the entirely of my adult life to working hard and advancing in the traditional sense of a “career.” However, there are benefits to this millennial issue with the workplace. According to a PwC study, the entirety of the workforce, not just the youngins, are ready to see more work-life balance. This may be attributed to millennials, but it turns out, we aren’t the first ones who want it all, and we certainly won’t be the last.
The problem with millennial stereotypes is that many older members of the workforce seem to be taking these beliefs to heart. I encourage anyone who has one or more prejudices regarding millennials to remember that there is no such thing as a true stereotype. The aforementioned Wikipedia definition, instead, should read, “These thoughts or beliefs do not accurately reflect reality.” There are no stereotypes in existence that are representative of a population, and many members of the workforce would do well to remember that millennials rarely fit the negative mold that the stereotypes have created for them. When this stereotype is interpreted as true, the potential of millennials may be ignored. Instead of listening to generalizations, get to know each person as an individual, and help everyone develop. While millennials may be different, they don’t represent the end of an effective and productive work force.
However, if you do meet a millennial who is the quintessential stereotype, I would encourage you to talk with them and understand their perspective. It is incredibly rare to meet someone who simply wants to do nothing all day and get paid – most people want to do challenging, interesting work! A short conversation about what someone wants from their job and how to merge that with the expectations of a company could save the company time and money as well as create a more open and adaptive company culture. I look forward to seeing the workplace evolve as millennials become a part of it – hopefully for the better!
Written by: Bianca Wirth
Consulting Services Coordinator