Questioning Stereotypes on Millennials

We’ve been told many things about millennials as a way of identifying them as a group and being able to understand how they differ from those who were the generation that came before. it’s been very tempting at times for people to hear the suggestions about what defines millennials and to then look for clues to back up those beliefs.

So, we’ve been told that millennials are the laziest, flakiest, neediest and most self-absorbed generation that has ever lived. It’s said that they’re almost impossible to employ because they are so desperate for praise for even the slightest of effort, jump ship at the drop of a hat without developing any sense of loyalty or commitment and that they have been so pampered that they can’t take criticism.

It’s a truism that any attempt to take a whole ‘category of people’ and to generalise them in to a stereotypical definition and place them in a box is doomed to failure. But, it’s useful when we get actual data to enhance our understanding of what really goes on in the minds of any pre-defined group.

This really matters when we consider that over half of the world’s current population is under the age of 25. Incidentally, there are many definitions of what is a millennial, but the generally accepted textbook definition of a millennial is a person born between the years of 1982 and 2004. So, today our Secondary Schools, colleges and increasingly our working places contain sizable populations of these people. It’s often suggested that many of the problems for this generation stem from the fact that they were brought up in a climate of the ‘self-esteem’ approaches to child-rearing – a set of beliefs that criticism and negativity should never be used with children, that everything must build their self esteem.

So, it’s useful when there’s real research that seeks to determine whether/ how much truth there is in the stereotypes. The following video and article clearly demonstrate that (at least in the USA) the evidence is weak at best. For example, the interesting term ‘work martyrs’ (otherwise workaholics) applies more to millennials than to any other generation. These are the infamous American workforce members who don’t use all their vacation allowance.

World Economic Forum – Positive Narrative For the Global Community

The article also carries some other interesting data. It’s good to see that such a high proportion of millennials hold a positive perspective on the future. It would be easy to believe that, bombarded with negative media reporting, they would be beaten down to believe they lived in a world that was only going to get worse, certainly not better. They are, in fact a generation of optimists.

Their attitudes towards refugees in their countries or neighbourhoods shows that there is a caring and compassionate leaning that belies the reputation for self indulgence and self interest. The report and the survey don’t seem to touch upon why the levels of civic engagement by these people were so low in UK Brexit referendum or the American election. However, it does suggest that if they were more politically active and voting, their influence would lead to very different outcomes.

One belief of my own does seem to be borne out by the survey – these young people are more acutely in to money than those who went before. ironically, we know from other research that, at least until now circumstances have meant that they don’t make money in the ways of previous generations. It’s said that they are the first generation since the industrial revolution to make less in real terms at the same age than their own parents did. I think this highlights the need for leaders in organisations to engage these younger employees, to help them feel a greater sense of purpose, belonging and contribution to their organisations. However, we may still have to accept they’re more likely to gripe about the money! maybe we and they just have to live with that fact.

Whilst there’s encouragement in this video, the article and the research, I do believe that we need to paying more attention to changing the ways we educate and the ways we lead to get the best from these young people.

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