Five Millennial Myths
The conventional wisdom that Millennials--all those under the age of 30--are needy and narcissistic is deeply flawed, says Jennifer Deal.
Deal, a research scientist at the Center for Leadership in San Diego, has a book on the subject. Based on extensive survey research, she says that the stereotypes of Millennials are "inconsistent at best and destructive at worst."
Deal's summary in the latest issue of Booz-Allen's Strategy+Business challenges the five millenial myths that have been going the rounds for several years. My own extensive experience with the youngest generation supports her conclusions. Here's a thumbnail sketch of her conclusions:
Myth #1: Millennials don't want to be told what to do. The unexpected conclusion is that they're exceptionally deferential to authority. More than the other work generations: Baby Boomers--30%, Gen Xers--30%, and Millennials--41%. The obvious implication is that managers can readily shape millennial employees' behavior. That is, if the millennials understand the culture and know the expectations. Her suggestion is almost too funny, but very true: Millennials even appreciate being told what time to arrive at the office. (The flip side will also come up. "If I've worked 12 hours or more, several days in a row, do you think I can go home early?")
Myth #2: Millenials lack organizational loyalty. Deal's research finds that the group has about the same amount of organizational commitment as the other generations. Her explanation of the myth is that Gen-Yers, who are at the lower levels of the organization, are paid less and have less responsible positions. Their elders are likely to be more invested in the organization because of income and responsibility. It's all a matter of the fact that in your 20s is liable to be the best and only time that you can try on new jobs and careers. Loyalty is a characteristic of age, not generation.
Myth #3: Millennials aren't interested in their work. This is new to me, but evidently the mythology is out there. As the research shows, my experience has been that all people at the lower organizational levels are slightly less motivated by the content of their jobs than higher-ups. They're just not that motivated to do grunt work. This is true of all of us, and especially in our early career years. Most understand that grunt work is part of a job, but a reasonable portion of the job should be interesting. If not, why not find a new job?
Myth #4: Millennials are motivated by perks and high pay. No more, the research says, than Boomers and Gen Xers. And although you think that handing them an iPad will increase their dedication to the job, it won't. As one of my Gen-Yer friends said, "cool," but it didn't increase his overall motivation.
Myth #5: Millennials want more work-life balance. This myth is "marginally accurate." But as Deal points out, society as a whole now believes that life is about more than just work. Policies such as flex schedules, part of a work-life balance, are perceived to be important by both Gen Xers and Yers.
Ensuring that workers of all generations are "engaged contributors to the workforce" is far more critical in this world than in the last century. Knowledge is the key corporate equity, not bricks and mortar. Deal has given us a highly useful understanding of the Millennial generation.
Jennifer Deal, Retiring the Generation Gap (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2007)
Photo fm flickr: Ali Goldie