A Multitude of Myths about Millennials

If I was a millennial, I would be annoyed with popular media.

Whether they are called Millennials, Digital Natives, or Generation Y, people under the age of 30 are typically portrayed as having unrealistically high expectations for their career and over-inflated sense of their abilities.  They are lazy, lack emotional intelligence, and don’t take criticism well. But they can be easily won over by the latest gadget.

These generalizations make for amusing reading but they aren’t very useful to a Gen X manager trying to recruit more Millennials into the workplace. After a fair amount of research, I’ve come to the conclusion that just about everything we’re told about Gen Y isn’t true.  To borrow a phrase I came across, Millennials are misunderstood, misinterpreted and misinformed.

I’m a big fan of myth busting and found two great articles that help dispel myths about millenials. Both Strategy+Business and MonsterThinking encourage employers to “forget what you think you know about your Gen Y employees.” Here are their top myths about millennials and a dose of reality:

Myth: Millennials don’t want to be told what to do.
Reality: Millennials are more willing to defer to authority than either baby boomers or Gen Xers.

Myth: Millennials lack organizational loyalty.
Reality:  Young people of every generation change jobs more frequently than older people.

Myth: Millennials aren’t interested in their work.
Reality: It isn’t that Millennials aren’t motivated; it’s that they’re not motivated to do boring work.

Myth: Millennials are motivated by perks and high pay.
Reality: Research shows no relationship between a person’s generation and whether he or she is motivated by perks and high pay.

Myth: Millennials want more work–life balance.
Reality: Millennials and Gen Xers agree at about the same level that the demands of their work interfere with their personal lives.

Myth: Millennials are apathetic.
Reality: Millennial’s attention tends to wander quickly which means they appear bored to other generations. In addition, Millennials value service and respect more than money and status.

Myth: Millennials have trouble finding jobs.
Reality: Millennials have trouble networking, relying too much on automated skill matching services rather than interpersonal skills.

Myth: Millennials think they’re smarter than you were at their age.
Reality: Millennials can be smarter because they have easier access to information to make better decisions. As I’ve written before, their memories are cloudy.

So what does this all mean?

I’d be foolish to generalize how to deal with millennials just like you’d be foolish to believe the standard myths.  There is one thing I know for certain:

If you create an environment that listens to your employees and values their contributions, you can attract candidates from any generation.

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17 Responses to A Multitude of Myths about Millennials

  1. empressnasigoreng October 14, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    Good post. I manage a lot of younger staff members and really they aren’t all that different to other generations – a bit cleverer and quicker to pick up things perhaps. I do find them impatient sometimes but my generation were just the same, I think. It is good to have a mix of ages in a workplace just as it is good to have a mix of other characteristics.

  2. cafeaulait13 October 14, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    As a millennial, thank you for the kind words.

    Confessions of a Latte Liberal

  3. Jerome Pineau (@JeromePineau) October 14, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    Reassuring post — we manage a significantly large student community at work and interfacing with them on social channels presents its own set of challenges — but your last sentence says it all.

  4. Raunak October 14, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    Jonathan, a great post indeed. I think these myths are common to every generation and their preceding one.
    I’m about to take on an assignment to turnaround a manufacturing unit. And creating an environment that encourages exchange of ideas is my number one priority there.

  5. rebecca October 15, 2012 at 6:30 am #

    I facilitate classes on generations in the workplace, speak on this topic in churches and conferences, and supervise a multi-generational team. Excellent article. You cannot generalize. In a multi generational workgroup, you can pull together the strengths of each generation. Gen Y brings their amazing ability to learn new technology quickly, adapt to change, have fun at work, work well in a team environment, and raise the bar on production results. They can learn from other generations when everyone works together with respect for each other.

  6. Lauren October 15, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    Interesting post! I’m a millenial and I feel like I don’t fit into many of these categories. I write for a tech publication and a lot of the IT leaders I talk to also assume many of these millenial behaviors when designing technology or recruiting young talent. Thank you for explaining these myths.

    -Lauren

  7. neonspndx October 15, 2012 at 8:16 am #

    A lot of these are so true. The faster companies jump on board with changing environments to suite the needs of the future (ie Gen Y taking over) the better. I work for one of the largest consulting firms in the world but find myself working from home and jumping from one interesting project to the next. I work extremely hard but as long as I’m interested and an allowed to work on my own time, I don’t mind the long hours and necessary tasks! Thanks for the post :)

  8. Derek Pentenburg October 17, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Hey Rebecca…what do you teach in these classes? Please let me know at pentenburg.2@osu.edu . I would love to hear what you have to say.

  9. David J Winter October 22, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    So true. I am a Gen X who hires many Gen Y and Z staff. They are bright, loyal, creative, and fun to work with. Their intellectual capacity exceeds the generations that proceed them. They are great to work with and have on your team!

  10. iridescenceindesign November 6, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    Thank you for this post!
    I HAVE felt “misunderstood, misinterpreted and misinformed” as a millennial by many people, both in and out of the workforce. It is refreshing that some people are actually willing to understand us and look beyond myths/stereotypes.

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