I do not pretend to know more about millennials than you do. In fact, I am not a fan of those self-nominated “millennial whisperers.” You know the ones who like to show you how hip and young-thinking they are because they are the only ones who how millennials think, the only ones who can translate that thinking for you. I dislike stereotypes, and I really dislike categorizing human beings and tossing them all in the same pot.
But like any time I want to learn more about a topic, I learn about it. I find a book and study the topic. I recently read and reviewed a very well-versed and admirable young woman who comes from the age group we have called millennials. I thought, who better to learn from than the author of The Millennial Myth: Transforming Misunderstanding into Workplace Breakthroughs by Crystal Kadakia.
This is not a book review; I have already done that. Rather, by using this book as a source, I will compare and explain (by using Ms. Kadakia’s writing) what the misconceptions and realities are about millennials. This is based on the author’s firsthand knowledge. By the way, it wouldn’t hurt if you bought and read her book yourself.
Let’s first categorize the age group. Millennials are those born between 1981 and 1996. And just to make sure we are not confusing them with Generation Z, that generation comprises those born from 1996 to the present.
For the sake of space, I will tackle two of the most prevalent misconceptions.
1. Misconception: Millennials are lazy. They are distracted, always on their phones and frankly they don’t want to work. How many times have we all heard someone say those things?
Reality: They are not lazy; they just don’t like to be confined to someone’s definition of what the workday is. They like flexible hours. They like to work in their own way and on their time. The recent epidemic has taught us that in many ways people who work independently are much more productive. Personally, as we move from the industrial to the intelligence era, I feel that those who work with their minds are much more productive when they have a flexible schedule. Companies like Microsoft are already embracing worker independence, letting them choose their own workspaces and work hours. I think we should consider this the beginning of the independent work era.
Do we measure results by the number of hours worked? The smarter the worker, the faster she can get things done. Should she be penalized for that? What we might call laziness is actually productiveness redefined.
2. Misconception: Millennials are entitled. They think they deserve everything without working for it.
Reality: “What we called entitled is actually entrepreneurial,” says Kadakia in quoting authors Stacey Ferreira and Jared Kleinert. “Now more than ever, young people are realizing that the future is theirs to create, not something that will simply happen to them.”
Our generation says, “You should just be happy to have a job. A job is something that is given to you and not everything can have one.” The millennial says, “I will take jobs with lower pay because I am after experiences that grow me and a life that is fulfilling. I’m not as interested in materialistic things as older generation because I’ve been told said since I was a kid that money does not make you happy.”
The millennials are more confident than to the point. They do understand their own value in whatever position they hold. In short, they are not as beholden to the company or their bosses. They witnessed their parents and grandparents be tremendously loyal to their companies only to be let go during recessions. They came to realize that company loyalty is not repaid by employee loyalty, and they are wary of being too dependent on one company.
The millennials have grown up in a time influenced by Tom Peters telling everyone to be their own incorporation: to be “Becky incorporated” or “Damon incorporated”; to be independent and make sure that they have more than one revenue stream.
Therefore, during recruiting, they are not afraid to negotiate a better salary. When they have a job, they often ask for more challenging work, or show poor performance with doing routine tasks. They ask for more flexible hours. They don’t pay much attention to the chain of command. Even having the audacity to ask a VP to lunch—the audacity!
They also want to understand the big picture, so they might ask, “Why are we doing it this way? How does this connect with the mission?”
Yes, they are different from us. They are more focused on the meaning of work. They want to make a difference in the world, not just do a job. We must consider this as we head out the door. They represent the future and I think it will be a better one because of the way they are.
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.