Numerous facts about Millennials have emerged over the past several years: many of these emphasized and repeated to the point that they have become a part of our collective understanding. Millennials are commonly characterized with fundamentally different behaviors than previous generations. Countless articles and books have been written about their specific preferences and expectations.
Some widely accepted views are:
Millennials value collaboration
Millennials desire meaningful work
Millennials require LIFE-WORK balance and flexibility
Millennials aspire to grow in their career but not are not motivated by money
Millennials expect frequent feedback regarding their performance
Millennials have a thirst for building their portfolio of capabilities
When considering these descriptions above about Millennials, take a pause and consider: What generation doesn’t want these things for their career?
Demographic themes are often intended to help in understanding broad trends and not specific situations. Being born at a certain time does not determine someone’s disposition. Yet popular culture has led us to believe it is acceptable to assume this in the case with Millennials.
Not surprising, new insights have emerged to share that Millennial portrayals are not necessarily unique to Generation Y. Harvard Business Review reports few depictions that differentiate Millennial interests and behaviors are grounded in empirical research¹.
Jessica Kriegel’s book Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workforce Can Benefit from Ditching Generational Stereotypes provides an in-depth examination of the information used to justify generational differences. According to Jessica she has uncovered shocking contradictions. Her book also highlights that most of our generalized understanding of Millennials is based on anecdotes and assumptions that are neither accurate nor useful².
Kriegel is not alone. Researchers at George Washington University and the Department of Defense carefully combed through numerous generationally-focused studies and concluded that meaningful differences across the generations probably do not exist in the workplace.
Their meta-analysis revealed no significant differences across the generations in job satisfaction, organizational commitment or intent to turnover. The small differences that do appear are likely attributable to factors such as stage of life. Their findings go on to advise that interventions designed to address generational differences may not be effective³.
A recent study by CNBC shines the spotlight on the similarities as well. Looking at the importance of six traits in potential employers - ethics, environmental practices, life-work balance, profitability, diversity and reputation for hiring the best and brightest - Millennial preferences in each of the six traits are essentially equivalent to the overall population⁴.
Research also indicates that Millennials change jobs for the same reasons as other generations-for more money and a more innovative work environment. They look for versatility and flexibility in the workplace, strive for a strong work-life balance in their jobs⁵ and have similar career aspirations to other generations, valuing financial security and a diverse workplace just as much as their older colleagues⁶.
While Learning & Development teams have been led to believe that Millennials prefer micro learning videos, research has found⁷ that multiple generations viewed digital books as a vitally important learning mode. In fact, Millennials rated digital books slightly more important than Gen X and Baby Boomers. Many Millennials shared their ability to read on their favorite device provides them the ability to progress faster than with just video. Millennials also indicated a strong need for job aids, handouts and written materials as additional reinforcement.
Millennials are the first true “digital natives”. Most members of Gen Y/Millennials from developed countries have grown up with computers, internet access and devices within the home that exposed them to technology at an early age. Because of this connection to technology, Millennials are credited with driving new work practices and expectations in the workplace.
With the creation of Audible, learners have access to listening to their favorite books with the option of listening at an increased or decreased speed, with the touch of a button.
Who Are Millenials?
I’m a Baby Boomer, You’re a Gen Xer. The old guy with the tie is a Traditionalist. And the kid with the nose piercing, wearing flip flops, sending text messages on her smart watch, she is a Millennial. Okay, so the names sound silly. So, what? We work in an environment with four distinct generations and each of these generational groups have unique attitudes and goals about their work and their role in the workplace. To ignore this fact is tantamount to neglecting the most significant competitive advantage to come along in twenty years.
By way of a short introduction, let me define each generation. Traditionalists, also known as Veterans were born between 1922 and 1944 grew up during the enormous upheavals of depression and war. They are not as easily open to change. They’re also risk-adverse and conformists.
Baby Boomers were born between 1945 and 1964 and they are overachievers, idealists, inspired and committed to building a career that goes straight up the corporate ladder.
Generation Xers were born between 1965 and 1979 in vast contrast to prior generations and possibly the least understood of all generations. They value portable careers and are loyal to themselves and not organizations. They are looking for a leader and mentor and it may not be their direct manager.
Millennials also known as “Generation Y” or Trophy Babies, were born between 1980 and 1996. Millennials are typically the children of baby boomer parents who wanted to give their kid(s) everything they didn’t get from their traditionalist parents, including doing their homework for them while in college! They are confident, team oriented, technology savvy and eager to learn. This generation has been rewarded for showing up to soccer practice, never mind winning. If you manage a group of this generation, get ready to provide constant and authentic feedback.
Ask any Millennial what they want the other generations to know about them, and they'll quickly tell you, they don’t like being stereotyped. They are right, you cannot really stereotype anyone in this generation or any other for that matter. In many ways, this generation is the most diverse generation in America’s history.
So why do we spend thousands of hours researching and writing about a generation that, in some ways defies any type of description? I readily admit that any attempt to describe Millennials' behavioral and cognitive patterns will never accurately represent this generation. I do believe it is helpful to understand Millennials' strengths and to touch on some of the themes that are relevant to a vast number of this generation.
Millennials are on track to become America’s most educated generation. While the media likes to celebrate the wild success of college drop outs like Mark Zuckerberg and his predecessors Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell, this generation is our highest educated.
Workers with a college degree are driving a greater disparity in earning potential. According to Pew Research Center, a college education is worth more today, as “there’s a wider earning gap between college-educated and less-educated Millennials compared with previous generations.” At the same time, the quality of education has changed significantly, and there is a greater emphasis on measuring teacher effectiveness, which has led to a generation who were raised to get an “A” on a test rather than actually mastering the material.
“It seems like they know a little about everything and, in a lot of cases, not a lot about anything, perhaps their parents or tutor didn’t raise them to care about their depth of knowledge?” – Sarah B, age fifty-nine
This generation isn’t called the “helicopter generation” for no reason. Many Millennial parents hover over their children, especially in matters related to education. They lobby/harass teachers for higher grades for their children and help their children in the application process for the best colleges. Parents of this generation are intensely involved with their kids from the cradle to the workplace.
Millennial parents have instilled in their children the vital importance of education to compete in the twenty-first century workforce. Millennials frequently get marks off for seeking the easy way out. Despite the good educations so many Millennials have, compared with their predecessors, they frequently seek an easy answer, typically one they got from an internet search.
As current management in the workplace continues to age and needs to work longer than previous generations, and according to the Governance Studies at Brookings report “How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America,” Millennials make up a third of our current workforce and are projected to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. This is the reason we are seeing an increase in discord between Baby Boomers who haven't been able to afford to retire and Millennials who are fighting to find their place in the workforce.
Companies are faced with the truth: they can’t just wait for management to age out to bridge the gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials in the workplace. Organizations must find and employ productive solutions to bridge the gap. The organizations that do this well will have significant strategic advantages over those that don’t.
Sherri Elliott-Yeary, CEO of Generational Guru is an award-winning speaker, professional business consultant, and published author who energetically engages international audiences with her practical strategies for attracting, growing, and retaining top talent and loyal customers from every generation. Sherri brings over twenty years of hands-on experience to support you in designing generational solutions that address:
Cross-Generational Leadership Challenges
Generational Blind Spots in Sales
Effective Recruitment and Retention
Marketing to Millennials
For more information, please contact Sherri via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or text/call her at 469-971-3663.
¹“What Do Millennials Really Want at Work? The Same Things the Rest of Us Do.” Bruce N. Pfau, Harvard Business Review, April 7, 2016.
²“Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workforce Can Benefit from Ditching Generational Stereotypes,” Jessica Kriegel, Wiley, 2016.
³“Generational Differences at Work, Myth or Reality?” Macarena Soto Ferri, Science for Work, November 14, 2015.
⁴“Millennials not so different when it comes to work: Survey,” Steve Liesman, CNMC, November 3, 2015
⁵“Millennial workers want free meals and flex time.” Karen Roberts, The (Manchester County, NY) Journal News, April 2015.
⁶“Myths, Exaggerations and Uncomfortable Truths: The Real Story Behind Millennials in the Workplace.” IBM Institute for Business Value, January 2015.
⁷ "Millennial Learning Myths and Misconceptions Prescriptions for a Modern Learning Strategy" Kieran King