What Makes Millennials Different

February 2, 2016

Have you noticed the mainstream media gravitates towards stories that divide people?

My guess is you’ve read numerous articles discussing how generations differ and the dysfunction the supposed differences cause. Instead of thinking the differences are negative, let’s leverage the unique traits to uplift people, construct stronger teams, and create more productive organizations.

There are five generations in the workplace today — Traditionalists (born 1925 - 1945), Baby Boomers (1946 - 1964), Generation X (1965 - 1980), Millennials (1980 - 2000), and Generation Z (after 2000). I encourage you to move beyond the labels and focus on what you can do to maximize the happiness, engagement, and productivity of the Millennials on your team. The Deloitte University Press estimates the Millennial generation numbers 66 million persons in America today. A recent Fortune article forecasts they’ll be 75% of the workforce by 2025.

That is undeniably significant… for myriad reasons.

The Millennials’ aspirations for a meaningful life are not that different from that of Gen X, Baby Boomers, or Traditionalists. Read Retiring the Generation Gap by Jennifer J. Deal for more. Instead of assuming Millennials are somehow detrimental to the status quo (which may be a good thing, actually), it is more fair to assess their personal attributes as they compare to prevailing socio-economic conditions. Consider the following Millennial traits, that may be different from previous generations, and then consider what you can do to coach/mentor them to deliver higher levels of organizational results.

  1. Anxiety - Because of increased stressors at work – longer work hours, corporate downsizing, lack of job security, work overload, and job ambiguity — Millennials have higher levels of anxiety and depression according to the Journal of Managerial Psychology.
  2. External Locus of Control - The same Journal also found Millennial college students tend to blame others more, are less likely to take responsibility, and are taking a more passive role in life. They often view themselves as powerless and want to be pushed and encouraged by their families, bosses, and mentors. Continual feedback is critical.
  3. Conformity - Compared to prior generations, Millennials tend to have less respect for rank and more respect for ability and accomplishment. The Kucera Companies found they equate job satisfaction with a positive work climate, flexibility, and the opportunity to learn and grow. Rather than conforming to 20th century norms, Millennials will disrupt the status quo.
  4. Societal Impact - Millennials prefer to work for employers who focus on the triple bottom line — people, planet and profit. They want intellectual challenge, need to succeed, measure their own results often, and strive to make a difference locally and globally.
  5. Expectations - Expectations of themselves and of their employers are higher than previous generations. Because they have access to more information and greater technological skills, the Journal of Managerial Psychology found that Millennials have a high level of optimism, dislike slowness, favor an inclusive style of management, and desire instant feedback.
  6. Self-Regard - Prior generations have said Millennials are selfish, narcissistic, and crave admiration. As parents, previous generations may have given the Millennials an inflated sense of self and taught them to believe they can achieve anything, making them the most confident generation in the workplace. Helping them understand humble self promotion will be important.
  7. Personalized Careers - Although it appears to happen more frequently, Millennials’ rate of job change is not substantially different from that of prior generations. Most of the evidence for perceived higher Millennial turnover rates may be a misinterpretation of age effects. Young people today tend to switch jobs more often than experienced workers, but prior generations followed a similar pattern when they were in their younger years as well. The Deloitte University Press also pointed out that Millennials are both entering the labor market and forming households later than their predecessors did.

Recognize these minor points of differentiation, the value they bring to any team, and consider what you can do to generate value for the Millennials in your life. Because they have a worldview that is hallmarked by constant change, they desire to have an impact on society as much (if not more than) as any other generation, and they have little patience with slower-moving, information-hiding, conformist organizations.

A work atmosphere that includes work-life balance, transparent company culture, frequent 360-degree feedback, continuing education, opportunity for social connectedness, mentorship and reverse mentorship, and  anything else that develops Millennials is not proving to be a cave-in to youthful demands but rather a buy-in to a support system designed to produce tomorrow’s leaders capable of navigating an ever-changing global economy.

Instead of dividing people, let’s find ways to celebrate the generations’ differences, understand them at a deep level, and help one another be the best possible versions of ourselves.

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