A Millennial Executive Fact-checks the Stereotypes

Businesspeople chatting in modern office lobby

Businesspeople chatting in modern office lobby

Millennials. There’s been so much talk about us over the years. So many stereotypes. So many misperceptions. Maybe it just takes a little more understanding.

What is a Millennial? The term itself was coined in 1987 by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, to refer to those in the first high school graduating class of the new millennium. Most cite the size of this generation to range from those born around 1982 up until the early 2000s.

That’s a big range right there! And it would seem to have a lot to do with why Millennials are innately difficult to understand. First, as defined by most reports, Millennials are one of, if not the largest generations with more than 20 years between the oldest and youngest. It’s difficult to generalize the behaviors of those born two decades apart. Building on that, the business world changed drastically during that time frame due in large part to technology. The speed at which technology evolved and was adopted into mainstream business practices between 1982 and the early 2000s is mind-blowing.

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As employees in today’s workforce, Millennials get a bit of a bad rap. Any quick Google search will tell you how they differ from older, “wiser” generations, with most implying they’re less loyal and hardworking than their predecessors.

As a Millennial myself, I’m particularly sensitive to certain generalizations about them in today’s workforce. Examined from a slightly different perspective, Millennials are simply misunderstood. Here are three misconceptions that harm Millennials the most.

We aren’t loyal. Yes, Millennials change jobs more frequently than past generations. But this isn’t just a matter of loyalty. Rather, it’s because we crave new opportunities and challenges and will look for another job if we aren’t seeing them. But if we are in an environment of growth, when earned, we will stay and we will love you.

Behind every rising employee’s start in a company, there is a mentor or two that make them feel confident enough to take on new challenges. If Millennials are given a chance to grow and develop new skills with the support of leaders along the way, they won’t have any reason to look externally for other positions.

Deloitte Global CEO, Punit Renjen, wrote in a LinkedIn article, “There is really no secret (to success) and there surely are no shortcuts. In my case, it was a pretty simple equation: hard work + some lucky breaks + great mentors.”

This feels so real to me and my own personal career trajectory. Today’s employers can keep their top performers by putting more of an emphasis on developing their employees and giving them room to take on new challenges that stretch them. Everyone wins.

We have issues with authority. The disconnect between Millennials and older generations with regard to authority has little to do with leadership issues and a lot to do with the shift toward collaboration. Organizations have found that breaking down silos – and barriers between management levels – can lead to better solutions.

Millennials thrive in this environment. A recent Deloitte study found that 76% of Millennials are more satisfied in a creative, inclusive working culture. They also prefer open communication and the active encouragement of ideas among all employees.

It’s becoming more common to see cross-departmental teams assembled to solve a specific challenge or work on a short-term project. To be successful in an environment with a diverse group of employees, all participants must feel comfortable sharing ideas and asking questions.

As a manager leading diverse teams of employees, I personally feel we make the most progress when we operate in this way. Successful Millennials are able achieve the right balance of speaking freely as a peer, but respecting the credibility and role of more tenured executives.

We’re lazy. The misconception that Millennials somehow work less than their predecessors is undoubtedly tied to the growth of mobile. Today, employees can work anywhere from the train to the doctor’s office to their kitchen table. This certainly wasn’t the case for earlier generations, who were confined to their desks logging long hours.

With the proliferation of mobile comes a more flexible work style. PwC says that creating flexibility within the workplace has been the most important initiative companies must adopt to attract Millennials. If you don’t embrace it, you simply won’t be able to retain newer generations.

Millennials expect to have the option to leave early for the day and make up any lost time on their own schedule, as long as the job gets done. This flexibility is critical for working parents, those taking educational courses or even those that just prefer to catch a lunchtime class at the gym.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, Millennials will make up 75% of the US workforce. We’re no longer the young employees in the office; today, we are managers, executives and CEOs. Learning how we operate will help carry your company into the new world of work.

MORE: Millennials in Staffing

Ryan Murphy

Ryan Murphy
Ryan Murphy is vice president, global enterprise accounts and strategy, for Bullhorn.

Ryan Murphy

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