Millennials. The stereotypes come at us fast and furious, and most of them are not particularly complimentary.
But what does the research actually show? Are they really that different? We decided to take a look at what is being said about managing millennials and offer some insight into what is true and what is myth.
MYTH #1: Millennials are completely different from the way ‘we’ were at that age
This is the grand-daddy of them all. While it is true that millennials are different from the generations that preceded them, that is also true of every generation. Every generation looks at the generation that follows them and complains about how they are (fill in the blank here with a negative term). Research conducted by Jean Twenge, a professor of Psychology at San Diego State University showed that although there were some shifts in the attitudes of millennials toward work when compared to other generations, those shifts were relatively small, and they are not what you think. What is different about millennials is the way that they react to work environments that were tolerated by other generations. Millennials do tend to be more vocal and far less tolerant of leaders and companies that they perceive as not meeting their standards.
MYTH #2: Millennials are primarily concerned with making the world a better place
According to Twenge’s research, millennials are no more concerned with altruistic work values than the generations that have preceded them. You should not read the former statement to mean that millennials are not interested in volunteering and working for a cause. That is something that has always been valued by US workers, although it may be true that millennials are slightly more vocal about their motivations. What is true is that millennials are less tolerant of organizations that they do not believe are engaged in meaningful work. However, meaningful work can be defined in many different ways.
MYTH #3: Millennials are all about work-life balance
The research does not support this conclusion either. While Gen X and millennials are slightly more interested in work life balance, the differences are not nearly as great as managers often believe. The differences more often than not are attributed to the fact that managers have forgotten what it was like to be young, or they were not particularly normal workers themselves before they were promoted. That last piece may sting a little, as we all like to think of ourselves as normal, but the fact that only a small percentage of the workforce occupies leadership roles puts the lie to this notion.
MYTH #4: Millennials need to be treated with kid gloves.
Peter Cappeli, Professor of Management at Wharton, has a strong opinion about this: “It’s ridiculous” he says. He recommends relying less on age bias to determine how we are going to manage people, and that we should focus more on their individual needs. While there is no question that managing a person from a different generation will require you to be flexible in your approach, it in no way means that you cannot or should not keep your performance expectations high. Understanding generational differences is helpful when looking for where a leader can and should be flexible, but we should always remember that we do not manage generations – we manage people. When an entire generation of individuals is denigrated, it is not only unfair, it is unproductive.
So here is the challenge: Let’s put a skewer in these millennial myths and get back to the hard work of winning an incredibly gifted generation to your cause. To that end: Now that we have skewered what is not true, make sure you check back here for future posts on what is different with managing millennials – and how to lead them most effectively.