Let me be upfront: I am a member of generation X. Like many of my generation, and the baby boomers before us, at times I have been guilty of lumping together those who belong to the next generation and characterising them in negative and stereotypical ways.
Instead of judging each individual on their merits, at times, I am sure we are all guilty of referring to millennials as a single entity when we make such assessments as ‘millennials are lazy’, ‘millennials are flighty’ and ‘millennials are disloyal’. The word millennial has become a dirty word – how often do we hear some variation on the lament ‘argh, millennials’?
Of course, this is grossly unfair. Such stereotypes are not merely untrue, they can have a very real negative impact in the workplace when they result in millennials feeling threatened and misunderstood, and their genuine talents and abilities ignored. As a gen Xer, I understand what it’s like to be a victim of generational stereotyping. After all, didn’t the Boomers do it to us? And of course, the media fuels the temptation to reach for shorthand ways of categorising large groups of people.
But stereotypes don’t help us better understand the people we work with or for, or who work for us. The generation referred to as ‘millennials’ spans 22 years. Obviously, there are major differences between a 13-year-old and a 30-year-old. However, there are also significant differences between a 25-year-old and a 30-year-old, so why do we conceptualise them as if they were the same? It’s time we stopped reaching for easy labels and focused on getting to know our newest generation of co-workers as individuals, with the same sorts of unique strengths and weaknesses as employees belonging to any other generation.
Many millennials work in my business in different positions, including that of general manager. They are all incredibly diverse in terms of the ways in which they work, how they respond to and interact with leadership, and what they want from the workplace.
Not even one of them warrants the sort of negative epithets with which their generation has become synonymous, such as ‘job hopper’, ‘spoiled’ and ‘feeling entitled’. The millennials in my team are none of these things. Not only are they loyal, hardworking and tenacious, they are justifiably offended by being lumped in with every other millennial.
Deloitte’s 2017 Millennial Survey offered a number of interesting insights into millennials in the workplace but the following three findings in the executive summary rang especially true to me.
- To make an impact through their employers
- Freelance flexibility with full-time stability
- Plain talk and inclusiveness
These demands don’t strike me as especially outlandish. They are not the demands of entitled, lazy or disloyal workers. After all, aren’t they things that all of us – no matter what generation we’re from – would like from the place where we spend most of our waking hours? Let’s consider each point more closely.
To make an impact through their employers
The Deloitte survey found that, as a group, millennials want to work for organisations that make a positive impact on the world, and where they, too, can make an impact. This isn’t something unique to millennials. Don’t we all want to add value to our organisations and the world? I know I want this, as do my gen X friends.
I even know plenty of baby boomers who are committed to the search for this in their employment. Fortunately, at Chorus Executive, we are able to make an impact every day. We help organisations build their teams and candidates find inspiring careers, and our entire team is involved in our work with The Hunger Project.
Freelance flexibility with full-time stability
Unfortunately, millennials are victims of their time. As more and more workplaces move towards contracting and casual or freelance employment, the job stability that most gen X and boomer employees enjoyed is becoming increasingly rare. Workplace trends being what they are, it must be acknowledged that it’s likely to become more difficult to attain that ideal combination of flexibility and stability; however, it’s certainly natural for employees across generations to desire it.
This means clocking in and out has become is a thing of the past. Millennials in full-time employment also want more flexibility – opportunities to work at home or out of the office. Their thinking is, ‘as long as I get the job done, does it matter where I am?’ At Chorus Executive, our marketing manager spends half her time in Melbourne and the other half working overseas. This requires time management in relation to time zones but technology has made it possible to communicate with ease.
Plain talk and inclusiveness
Leaders who are transparent and honest, workplaces in which every employee is genuinely valued, and diversity within the workforce – these are the ingredients that dream workplaces are made of. Of course, millennials are not the only ones who are searching for this. I can’t count the number of candidates, from a range of generations, I have interviewed for whom these are key criteria in their search for good job fit.
It’s important to remember, as your team, company and workforce becomes ever more populated by millennials, that they really aren’t so different from you. So what do millennials really want? They want to be seen as individuals, rather than as a group whose members are all assumed to exhibit the same traits.
They want to be judged on their merits, rather than dismissively stereotyped as ‘just another millennial’. Ultimately, they want the same things we all want from our work – to be valued, to add value and to belong.