Millennials currently make up the largest generation in the workforce. What does that mean for you? Well, the odds are that you are either a millennial yourself or you have millennials on your team or even that you report to a millennial. Whatever your circumstance, to maximize your own performance, it’s important to understand this important generation and how they show up in the workplace.

The first millennials are starting to turn 40, and the entire generation has mixed feelings about that. But I’ll get to that a little later – after we debunk three common myths.

Myth #1: Millennials are Lazy and Entitled

The truth is that there has been a comparable negative stereotype for all new generations entering the workforce.  When baby boomers started entering the workforce in the 1970s, the New York Magazine published “The Me Decade,” a cover story by Tom Wolfe that described us as “the most ludicrous self-absorbed and spoiled generation in the history of mankind.”[1] Then came Generation X, and they were labeled as “slackers”. So, there you have it, all three generations have been castigated for what, when you really think about it, is nothing more than young people being young people and going through the normal process of learning and maturing.

Myth #2: Millennials Have No Loyalty

This stereotype is based on the frequency with which millennials tend to change jobs. All young people go through the process of self-discovery – of figuring things out, of finding their place in the world. According to a Forbes article, millennial turnover rates are no higher than prior generations.  In the 1980s, an employee stayed with their employer for a median of five years, and that figure has essentially remained steady with a median of 4.2 years in 2018.[2]

What could be considered different about the millennial generation is their lived experience having seen their parents and other older adults in their lives lose jobs due to layoffs and other economic challenges. This has created a certain level of anxiety when it comes to job security. Their response to that experience has been to adopt a more proactive approach and to “take in front before in front takes them”.

Myth #3: Millennials are All About the Money

The truth behind this stereotype is that many millennials are starting their work life with the burden of student loans. They also want to own their homes and to provide a good quality of life for themselves and their families and to do so while they’re still young enough to enjoy it all. Recall as well that they have lived through the financial crash of 2008 and the ensuing job losses; and now find themselves navigating the pandemic that has also occasioned significant job losses. It is, therefore, quite understandable that they are concerned about their financial wellbeing and want to make as much as they can while they can.

There’s another element to debunking the myth about millennials and money. The following stats published by HR Dive[3] reveal that purpose or meaning sometimes trumps cash as a motivator for millennials.

  • Ninety percent of millennials in a recent study said it was either “somewhat important” or “very important” to them that their work have a positive impact on the world. The study from Olivet Nazarene University asked 2,024 people about the importance of meaningful work.
  • Half of the respondents said they’d take less money to do more meaningful work and 68% said they’d work longer hours to do more meaningful work.

Thus far, my focus has been on how we perceive millennials in the workplace. I’m fortunate enough to have quite a few millennials in my life. Having engaged them about how they view the world of work has provided some insights that employers, managers and their direct reports can leverage to enhance interpersonal relationships, team dynamics and overall organisational performance.

Insight #1: Cognitive Dissonance is a Reality for Millennials

As one millennial put it, “we feel like kids with adult jobs.” She went on to point out that she still feels young even as she does all the “adulting” associated with being in an executive level position. She and her colleagues have now attained managerial level positions. However, they are ambivalent about being “the boss”, since they still have a tendency to associate those senior roles with “adultier adults” (aka older people).

That dissonance is exacerbated by the fact that for financial or other reasons, some millennials still live with their parents. Therefore, they may find themselves alternating between being the professional in charge on the job and then deferring to their parents at home.

To help millennials reconcile what they perceive to be conflicting images of themselves and replace cognitive dissonance with cognitive consistency, we need to help them reframe their beliefs. One such reframe is to shift from thinking that adulting and enjoying life or being young at heart are polar opposites – i.e., that they have to choose one or the other. Rather, we need to help them to understand that responsibility need not rob them of their joie de vivre. In fact, they bring more to the table – and take more value away – when they accept that they can both adult and enjoy life.

What does this mean in practical terms? Rather than having a corporate culture that stifles the youth out of our millennials, how can we leverage it as a strength? The good news is that, if given the chance, millennials themselves will probably come up with some great ideas. I challenge you to initiate the conversation and see where it goes.

Insight #2: Millennials Have a Strong Entrepreneurial Spirit

According to an article published by Comcast,[4] businesses owned by millennials outnumber those owned by baby boomers thereby making the former the most entrepreneurial generation to date. Further, the study found that half of millennials plan to start a business in the next three years, and more than half said that with the right resources they would quit their job to start a business in the next six months.

Organisations can take advantage of millennials’ entrepreneurial spirit by cultivating intrapreneurship. By this I mean that we can give millennials the opportunity to develop their entrepreneurial skills by tasking them with innovating products, services and processes. This represents a win-win situation as both parties discover new ideas, identify opportunities that can benefit the whole organisation, take managed risks, and promote innovation to improve the performance and profitability. These are all transferrable skills that millennials will be able to leverage as they scale up their side hustle.

So, are you ready to trade in the millennial myths and replace them with these insights? All that’s required for you to succeed in doing so is to change your attitude and your effort – both of which are completely within your control. Sound risky to you? Well, check out this quote from Mark Zuckerberg.

The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” 






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Ambassador Joan H. Underwood is a senior management consultant and policy advisor with extensive experience in both the public and private sectors.

Professional designations held by Ambassador Underwood include that of a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) from the US-based HR Certification Institute, the Society for Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), Accredited Director (Acc.Dir.) and credentialed Master Trainer as designated by the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

She also holds the designation of an Erickson Professional Coach (EPC) and is a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF).

Joan’s most recent professional accomplishments include certification by the Human Capital Institute (HCI) in Strategic Workforce Planning and Change Practitioner as certified by Prosci© Canada and the Change Management Learning Centre.

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