First, a quick lesson.
There are 79 million people from the "Baby Boomer" generation in the U.S. today. ("Baby Boomers" are widely considered those people born between 1946 and 1964.)
There are 80 million people from the "Millennial" (sometimes "Generation Y," though that usage is declining) generation in the U.S. today. ("Millennials" are loosely considered those people born between 1980 and 1995, though these dates are not widely agreed upon, and they vary country to country.) About half are in the workforce today, with more on the way.
As soon as this generational cohort began entering the workplace, so began the publication of a number of articles on how older generations should deal with them. Since that fateful day in 1993 when Ad Age coined the term "Generation Y," they have only increased in number; now, a Google web search for "Generation Y" OR millennials ~workplace OR ~workforce OR ~office today returns a breathtaking 72.5 million pages.
That's almost one article for every living, breathing Millennial, a great number of them written by Boomers or their successors, members of Generation X. (And let us not even talk about all of the panel discussions put on by major companies each year on the subject.)
A new survey by Beyond.com, a career-focused network based in the Philadelphia area, indicates that all of this literature has done a great job convincing the older generations of the stereotypes they bestowed upon this younger cohort, even before that group was old enough to confirm them.
In other words, Boomers (and to a lesser extent, Gen Xers) have pigeonholed Millennials—and it's no more apparent than in the workplace.
According to 6,000 job seekers and HR professionals surveyed by the company:
- In response to the question, "Are Millennials tech-savvy?", 86 percent of HR pros said yes, but just 35 percent of Millennials answered in the affirmative.
- In response to the question, "Are Millennials team players?", just 22 percent of HR pros said yes, but 60 percent of Millennials said the same.
- In response to the question, "Are Millennials hard workers?", just 11 percent of HR pros said yes. On the other hand, 86 percent of Millennials said yes.
- In response to the question, "Are Millennials able to lead?", just nine percent of HR pros said yes, but 40 percent of Millennials identified themselves as leaders.
- And finally, in response to the question, "Are Millennials loyal to employers?", an astounding one percent of HR pros thought that they were, while 82 percent of Millennials said they were.
"Millennials have a pretty serious image problem," Beyond.com acknowledged. Uh, yeah.
Every generation has lived through its stereotypes; it wasn't that long ago that Boomers were seen by their Greatest Generation parents as the anti-establishment generation that let its hair grow out and protested the Vietnam War. Younger workers are always in an uphill battle to establish themselves in the eyes of their elders. But in this age of easily procured information, one wonders if the stereotypes haven't set in more strongly.
(Consider this Time article written in 2012, four years after the global economic downturn: "Millennials aren't about the money" and they "want casual Fridays almost every day." This, with so many members of this cohort out of work and rising sales for tailored menswear. I'm speechless.)
The work to complicate this oversimplified, occasionally misguided thinking will be done on the ground, of course, between managers and young employees in a one-on-one fashion. But it might help if we stop talking about best practices for managing "Millennials" and simply start talking about best practices for managing people in the 21st century workplace.