Dispelling the Myths About Millennials in the Workplace

Posted January 7, 2019 | By csponline

Illustration of three young people, millennials in the workplace, with laptops sitting at a desk

Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Thirty-five percent of the American labor force participants are millennials, who are defined as those born between 1981 and 1996. They’re projected to overtake baby boomers in 2019 as North America’s largest living adult generation.

Consistently, it seems, millennials have received criticism. One of the most famous instances was in 2013, when culture writer Joel Stein claimed millennials to be “lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow” in a Time column called the “Me Me Me Generation.” The Atlantic quickly responded by pointing out how every generation has attracted that type of label.

The Time cover story was largely sociological in nature, but it attempted to link such claims to the workplace. That trend has carried over into several myths and misconceptions about the millennial workforce that continue to influence popular opinion.

Common Misconceptions About Millennials in the Workplace

Plenty of myths surround millennials in the workplace. Some common misconceptions are considered in the following sections.

“They’re More Likely to Leave”

Do millennials tend to bolt their employers for a better job situation? An article in Fast Company worked under that assumption, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2012, median employee tenure for workers aged 25 through 34 was 3.2 years — 1.4 years less than the median tenure for all employees. As a result, the piece said, “high turnover in this age group makes sense.”

That type of conclusion may be too hasty, but it’s not because the data is incorrect. A CNBC report entitled “Millennial job turnover: Not as bad as you thought” used the same data source for 2014, when median employee tenure for workers aged 25 through 34 decreased to 3 years. Things got even worse, but that doesn’t illustrate millennials’ tendency to leave. “In fact, 2014 exactly matches the average tenure for young workers as in 1983, when comparable data begun being tracked,” the article pointed out. Career coach Kathy Caprino added that the “lack of loyalty we think is occurring with people ages 25-34 today isn’t really happening.”

A White House report from 2014 turned the myth around on the previous generation. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, millennials stay with their employers longer than Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) workers did at the same ages. The conclusion was that millennials are staying with their early-career employers longer.

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“They Lack a Strong Work Ethic”

A 2011 poll of 637 working Americans found that many people think millennials aren’t hard workers. Seventy-seven percent of respondents believed the generation has a different attitude toward workplace responsibility, while 68 percent said millennials are less motivated to take on responsibility and produce quality work.

A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, however, found no difference in the work ethics of different generations. The analysis used 77 studies and 105 measures of work ethic to examine differences of generational cohorts. Although baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are commonly referred to as having a higher work ethic than Generation X and millennials, there is no truth to that notion.

More Myths and Misconceptions

IBM conducted a multigenerational study of employees in 12 countries to explore various myths about millennials in the workplace. The analysis resulted in five primary myths.

  1. “Millennials’ career goals and expectations are different from those of older generations.” Similar career aspirations exist between millennials and other generations. Millennials, Generation X, and baby boomers are all close in terms of wanting to make a positive impact on an organization, help solve social and environmental challenges, and work with a diverse group of people.
  2. “Millennials want constant acclaim and think everyone on the team should get a trophy.” Millennials have described their perfect boss as someone who’s ethical, fair, and transparent. Those qualities are more important than one who recognizes their accomplishments.
  3. “Millennials are digital addicts who want to do and share everything online, without regard for personal or professional boundaries.” While adept at interacting online, millennials prefer face-to-face contact when learning new skills at work. They’re also more likely to draw a firm line between personal and social media networks than other generations.
  4. “Millennials, unlike their older colleagues, can’t make a decision without first inviting everyone to weigh in.” Generation X (64 percent) workers are more likely to solicit a variety of opinions before making decisions than millennials (56 percent) or baby boomers (49 percent).
  5. “Millennials are more likely to jump ship if a job doesn’t fulfill their passions.” Employees of each generation share the same reasons for changing jobs. The top reason is more money and a more creative workplace.

Advantages of a Millennial Workforce

The White House report argued that millennials are better equipped to overcome work-related challenges than any other generation. “They are skilled with technology, determined, diverse, and more educated than any previous generation,” it added.

What separates millennials from other generations? They’re the first wave of digital natives, according to IBM, and organizations need this digital capital. Companies should embrace millennials and create work environments where top talent can flourish. This is important not just for millennials but for all workers. After all, working environments are becoming more virtual and diverse.

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Also published on Medium.