You're probably making awful assumptions about Millennials in your workplace

You're probably making awful assumptions about Millennials in your workplace

Summary: They're tech-savvy, terrible team players, lazy and entirely disloyal to employers. Right?

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TOPICS: CXO, Tech Industry
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Face it: You have no idea how to deal with these people.

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.

Topics: CXO, Tech Industry

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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14 comments
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  • Loyalty?

    Considering their own complete lack of loyalty to workers, American corporations should never again be allowed utter a single peep about employee loyalty. In my experience, employees tend to be way more loyal to the companies that they work for than the companies are to them.
    Sir Name
    • Amen!

      My company has literally grown profits by 800% over the last 5 years without any increased staffing. Our employees on the other hand have seen pay increases of about 10% during that time (Is that even considered cost of living?). Mostly due to increased overtime to deal with the large volume of business. If profits go down by even 10% (after increasing by 800%) do you think my employer will be happy with making 800% more than they were in 2008? Nope. They will freeze salary increases until profits are back up.

      F%^&*! loyalty to a corporation.
      mrefuman
      • A millennial speaks!

        if the company takes a 800% cut in profits would you be willing to take a pay cut?
        ammohunt
        • re: A millennial speaks!

          Um, no. I was born in 1960. My contempt for Wall Street, American corporate management, bought and paid for "business friendly" politicians, and the screwing they continually give American workers is based on decades of experience and analysis.
          Sir Name
        • Facts vs. Rant

          Companies with huge profits don't raise salaries unless other companies offer higher pay. Why would they?

          Companies with huge losses lay off employees to reduce expenses. They have no obvious alternative.

          Coworkers appreciate loyalty (a lot), but corporations don't care because it provides little benefit. As long as ability to change jobs is limited, high stress & long hours will continue.

          If in some weird universe, I was compensated with a full share of corporate profits, I'd willingly leave as a rich man when profits dropped to zero. Instead, all I can do is buy employee discounted stock.
          SlimSam
    • Corporate loyalty is a one-way street

      My company actually mentions employee loyalty as an "ethical goal." But the only operational goal is "retention of high-margin resources" meaning keeping the fools who work hardest for the least cost. For everybody else, you WILL be terminated the instant that a replacement is found in India or Belarus who can do a passable imitation of your job for less money. Any worker today who feels "loyal" to a company that will fire them to save pennies should have their head examined.
      terry flores
  • Sounds about right for a changing work landscape.

    The US has been shifting toward "do more with less" thanks to the tech boom for a long time. The age of the contractor and the entrepreneur is here and those who are "loyal" to employers are going to suffer in the long run.

    So yes, it's disloyal to employers, and... people who are not going to be gung ho "go team" people because they aren't loyal to the employers...

    And guess what... this generation will probably push us toward a better future because of it.
    tojamismis
  • as a Boomer...

    I actually feel a closer affinity to my parent's generation (WWII) than to that of the Millennials. Yes most of us in the Woodstock generation had long hair, et al, but we were mostly ambitious (even the anarchists and radicals like Abbie Hoffman and Bill Ayers were wildly ambitious, and dangerous as well). For those Millennials trying to find a decent job who complain how good my generation had it, I always like to remind them that the 70's and early 80's were in many ways a much worse environment for getting careers started (although, again, the anarchists who survived prospered at graduate schools and 30 years of tenure, feeding the Millennials with useful life-lessons from sociologists).

    Bottom-line my generation lived in a massively changing cultural, philosophical and technological landscape. We also embraced it all. We changed everything for better and for worse, but we turned (and are still turning) atoms into digits. We also drove a real renaissance in music and art, something ALMOST completely lacking with Millennials (you really can't argue with me on this point; you'll lose). They might want to claim the Police, Sting, and U2 as Millennials, but they were born of my generation. But let's take music as a key example of the divide. I would argue that "technically" you will find Millennial musicians that are much better (let's consider guitar) than those of my generation. Slash actually might be a better technician than Eric Clapton (or even Hendrix). But he really never created anything all that inspired. Just take the vision that got welded together from all the great guitarists from the John Mayall boot camp, and there flowed true artistic, creative force in many flavors (Beck, Clapton, Greene, Page, others).

    But to the degree my generation was pampered (I could counter this), the Millennials were spoon-fed an other-worldly diet of pop-tarts, video games and mega-porn. With my parents generation, we had a shared sense that there are ideas out there worth debating. The Millennials have NO depth. They don't seem to know very much. It's all surface level and mundane. I never hear late-night bull sessions fusing and arguing ideas, whether it's technology, religion, history, politics, art or anything. The connection-points between Boomer parents to Millennial children (mostly grown up at this point), is almost non-existent. What I've seen is very little maturing beyond the age of 14 (in other words, a 35 year old acts and communicates much like they did when they were 14).

    There are exceptions of course, but broadly in the west, we've deeply hampered the animal spirits of our progeny. That's why the best talent is coming from almost any non-western culture. They're mostly still hungry and take the time to work hard, concentrate, and forgo the banal statements about the environment or capitalist pigs or some hard news they get from Comedy Central.
    mortondest
    • You forgot the part about getting off your lawn.

      Just saying.
      andrew.nusca
      • Hey, it's a great article....

        ... hopefully I'm wrong and we will see a deep, solid renewal of the march to a better world begin to emerge (when my team is completely out of the way).... but the trends are troubling.
        mortondest
    • yeah. about that.

      I would like to point out that Hendrix, Clapton, John Mayall, etc. were mostly born prior to 1945. So was Abbie Hoffman and anyone old enough to have seriously collaborated with him in the later 60s. Technically, they are members of the Silent generation, according to the experts. So were quite a few of the other great talents and thinkers associated with the "Baby Boomer" generation. So much for your renaissance in music and art... I guess everything your parents said about you in the 1960s was true, and your dad really should have held you down on and shaved your hair.

      Or maybe, just maybe, it's dangerous to make generalizations about people born who happen to have been born around a particular time?
      burma_shave
  • Actually,

    most are pretty good workers where I am at. The problem children who got everything they wanted as a kids are whiners, complainers and "it's all about me" types, just like any generation. Losers like these belong to any generation, I'd bet.
    D.J. 43
  • The joys of interpreting data to conform to your message

    As a guess, I would say that Nusca is himself "Gen Y" (He seems to object to the "Gen Y" name MUCH more than the "Gen X" name he also used.) It's all well-and-good to say "Us young 'uns is mistreated and mistrusted by them old folks," but that is not what Nusca said.

    His assumption that HR professionals - made up of people from the Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y (and predominantly Gen X and Y) - are answering the survey from *prejudice* while the Gen Y respondents are giving honest evaluations OF THE GROUP and not a biased evaluation OF THEMSELVES is terribly dishonest journalism.

    Also, the first and last questions of the survey are open to interpretation.
    "Are Millennials tech-savvy?" to a Boomer is going to mean something different than it does to a Gen Y respondent - the Gen Y respondent is likely to have a higher threshhold for what counts as "savvy".
    "Are Millennials loyal to employers?" to a Boomer is likely to mean "Do they PLAN to stay with the same employer for their entire career?" (which was the norm when they were younger) and to a Gen Y respondent is likely to mean "Do you PLAN to stay with your company for the next 5 years?" - the definition of "long term loyalty" is different across the generations.
    gevander
    • Survey makes awful assumptions the safe ones to make

      One of the biggest negative stereotypes about Millennials is that they are a largely self-absorbed lot whose coddling has given them a falsely high opinion of their capabilities and accomplishments.

      This article's evidence that "aweful assumtions" (read: stereotypes) are being made is a survey that shows time after time, when asked if they have a positive trait, (short of tech savy, which another pointed out is a moving target) they respond largely--if not overwhelmingly--that they do. HR professionals, who, one would assume would have had observations and feedback to objectively assess these qualities, respond Millennials largely don't have those qualities. In other words, the Millennials have an inflated sense of their positive qualities.

      While the assumptions this article cites may be "awful," this survey seems to indicate they are rather safe assumptions to make. To fail to consider and plan to deal with these issues, especially if they are prevalent enough to have become stereotypes, would be a grave mistake for any manager. As an employee, if I was a Millennial, I would try to be aware of the stereotypes in order to be conscious of how my actions and apparent attitude may reinforce--or, hopefully, counter--the negative ones.
      JJMach