We Gave Millennials a Bad Name. It's Time We Look in the Mirror and Dispose of the Myths.
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According to the Pew Research Center and the U.S. Census Bureau, in mid-2015, the millennial generation (comprising those born from 1980 to 1995) became the largest cohort in the workforce.
By now, millennials have been in the professional world since the early 00s. The oldest ones turn 36 this year and have progressed substantially in their careers. A 2014 Deloitte millennial leadership study illustrated that due to demographic shifts, the millennials are entering leadership positions an average of 10 years earlier than prior generations. In fact, at the time of the study, half of all global millennial respondents self-identified as leaders, meaning they had decision-making authority and direct reports.
Although millennials have had sufficient time to prove themselves, negative stereotypes persist. And if organizations want to grow and support multi-generational teams, we must dispose of these myths and treat millennials as smart, innovative and conscientious individuals who are dedicated to changing business for the better.
Stereotype #1: They’re entitled.
One of the most frustrating misconceptions of all is that millennials are lazy and expect to be handed a career without paying their dues. In a 2015 article, the New York Post cited a recent study finding that 71 percent of American adults consider millennials selfish, and 65 percent find them entitled.
“Millennials seem to have helped themselves to an extra portion at the entitlement buffet (which is all-you-can-eat, obviously, because it’s their right),” wrote Post columnist Mackenzie Dawson.
The truth is that millennials are eager to work hard, as long as they are empowered to do so efficiently and on their own terms. They may eschew bureaucracy and the status quo, but a 2014 Bentley University found that 77 percent of millennials believe flexible hours are the key to better productivity and 89 percent regularly check work email outside normal work hours.
“I recognize that hard work will get me far in my career, but I understand the importance of balance and moderation that will lead to a happy life,” said millennial writer Erin Heilman in a recent op-ed for the Baltimore Sun.
Stereotype #2: They lack critical skills.
Many supervisors believe that the lack of basic skills is killing America’s young professionals. “The more I interact with millennials -- whether I'm interviewing them, overseeing internships or giving speeches to rooms of them -- the more I see it. It's an entire generation that doesn't know how to communicate,” proclaimed the Silent Partner Marketing blog.
“Little emperor syndrome is one of the primary reasons millennials lack soft skills. Adults have catered to their needs their entire lives,” explained Heather Anderson in the Credit Union Times Magazine. Nobody locked them out of the house and forced them to entertain themselves, building imagination, curiosity and trial-by-error decision making skills.”
But, according to 2015 research conducted by DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board, the skills gap for entry and junior-level professionals is narrowing. Hiring managers are increasingly finding desirable skills like flexibility, business acumen, problem-solving and communication skills in millennial candidates.
Millennials also bring innovation expertise, which is critical for organizations to remain competitive in the 21st century business world. And, as businesses rely more and more on technology, millennial digital natives help companies navigate the space.
Stereotype #3: They’re job hoppers.
In its recent Millennial Outlook survey, RecruitiFi found that although 83 percent of millennials acknowledge that job hopping on their resume has the potential to be negatively perceived by prospective employers, 86 percent say they’d do it anyway.
Why? For starters, job opportunities are much easier to come by these days. Think about the amount of new positions that have opened up to young professionals as technology has progressed, like social-media coordinators, coders or user-interface designers. On top of that, technology has made these opportunities immediately available to both active and passive job seekers.
So, if millennials do job hop a bit compared to other generations, it would be hard to blame them. However, post-recession, this is not necessarily the case. In late 2014, a Washington Post analysis demonstrated that younger millennials were actually staying in their jobs longer than previous generations. In the late 1980s, about 50 percent of 20- to 25-year-olds changed jobs each year, but that dropped to 35 percent after the recession.
A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that since the recession 21- to 35-year-olds in the workforce stayed at their jobs even longer, showing millennials job tenure to be higher than that of the baby boomer generation in the 1980s. Another study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks down the number of years professionals stay at their jobs by ages between the years 2004 and 2014.
The median years of tenure at a job for employees between the ages of 25 to 34 increased steadily over the course of 10 years from 2.9 to 3.0, hitting a peak in 2012 at its highest with 3.2 years. Over the course of these 10 years, millennials pulled up the median number of years spent at a job previously in place from Generation X.
An April article from Wall Street Journal shows that tenure in the banking industry had declined significantly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the banking tenure back in 1995 was 12 percent lower than other industries at an average of 30 months. Today, the number has since shrunk to 17 months, while overall tenure grew to 36 months exceeding the average tenure back in 1995 set at 33 months.
Stereotype #4: They’re narcissistic.
Older colleagues often complain that millennials require constant praise and ego-stroking, and some research has indicated that millennials exhibit more traits associated with narcissism -- such as high expectations, grandiosity, positive self-image and lack of empathy -- than other generations.
According to the popular notion of the millennial narcissist, wrote U.S. News and World Report blogger Pat Garofalo, “This me, me, me generation will always want a hand out, is the most high maintenance workforce in the history of the world and will wind up as a minimally employable crop of Americans who will ultimately need more subsidies than a dairy farmer.”
Yikes. Where does this stereotype come from? Millennials are certainly accustomed to getting instant responses (but so does everyone at this point). They post something on their social media channels and get likes and shares right away, or like a boy or girl on Bumble and must exchange messages within 24 hours, or else -- so it’s not surprising that millennials look for frequent, work-related feedback the same way.
However, it’s a myth that this feedback must be in the form of praise. As long as thoughts are delivered constructively, all kinds are appreciated and taken to heart. According to a TriNet and Wakefield Research survey, 70 percent of young employees feel confident that performance feedback can help them learn and grow.
Millennials are also far from overconfident. According to a 2015 Leadership IQ study, millennials actually undervalue their skills compared to peers in other generations.
Stereotype #5: They’re tech-obsessed.
Millennials are commonly portrayed as lacking interpersonal graces and preferring their devices to human contact, and admittedly, we often see entire groups of them in airports, sitting silently at the gate area texting away. “Millennials are hooked on smartphone technology as witnessed everyday at restaurants, in traffic, and on public transportation,” agreed Carolyn Brown in an article for Black Enterprise.
Yet according to a 2015 study by Mattersight, 85 percent of millennials want to meet and communicate in-person with coworkers. Also, their status as digital natives doesn’t prevent them from understanding when face-to-face interaction is valuable. When it comes to pursuing important networking and mentorship opportunities, millennials are more likely to ask you to lunch or coffee.
And truthfully, millennials are no more tech-obsessed than everyone else. A recent piece on Pricenomics even claimed that the baby boomer obsession with email leads older professionals to be just as addicted to technology as are millennials. They’re just doing different things with it. A Nielsen survey revealed that the generation most likely to use their devices at the dinner table are not Millennials, but in fact Baby Boomers.
In short, millennials are much more complex than we might give them credit for. They don’t want special treatment but rather desire meaningful work in an environment that appreciates their talents, encourages their growth, maps their contributions to the big picture and allows them to be themselves. This sounds pretty normal to us.
Perhaps they are simply willing to speak up earlier, and that’s what makes them different. But let’s not mistake youth for lack of perspective or assertiveness for narcissism. And if millennials are not living up to their potential, let’s look in the mirror. “A lot of behavior that is criticized in young professionals can be directly traced to the behavior of the people managing them,” said Charlie Gray, formerly head of staffing and human resources at Google New York.
Millennials are the future of today’s organizations, and we must do everything possible to help them develop into competent -- and confident -- leaders.
Alexandra Levit contributed to this report.