Millennials surpassed Generation X as the largest labor group in 2015, and they are on pace to account for more than 75 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2025. However, according to some widely held stereotypes, millennials might not be up to the task. They’ve been derided as the “me generation” and branded as everything from lazy to needy.
Lucky for us, many popular myths about millennials don’t check out. Like each generation before, millennials want to be valued, productive members of the workforce. They bring new skills and perspectives—but that’s an asset, not a liability. It’s up to today’s business leaders to motivate, engage, and best use millennials’ talents. Read on as we unpack three of the most common myths about millennials.
Myth 1: Millennials are lazy
A 2016 study by Manpower Group found that 73 percent of millennial work more than 40 hours per week, and the workweek for the average millennial is 45 hours. The authors concluded that millennials are working “as hard, if not harder, than other generations.” So, where does the idea that millennials are lazy come from? The answer is that millennials define work and productivity differently than other generations.
Millennials’ use of technology is a big factor. They use technology to automate and streamline organizational processes and to make their jobs easier. Older coworkers might view that as “laziness.” Millennials view it as increased productivity. A PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that 75 percent of millennials believe that technology makes them more effective at work, and that 50 percent said that their managers don’t understand the technologies they’re using. Not surprisingly, the study’s authors concluded that “technology is often a catalyst for intergenerational conflict in the workplace, and many millennials feel held back by rigid or outdated working styles.”
Millennials and older generations also define the workday differently. For older workers, the work day is defined by being physically present in the workplace—but millennials are always connected by technology and can get their work done from virtually anywhere. If a younger worker isn’t present in the office, an older coworker might falsely assume that she’s not working—and that she’s “lazy.” In The New Leadership Literacies, author Bob Johansen describes a “transitional period” between the traditional and distributed workplaces, which consist of networks of remote workers connected by technology.
Eventually, Johansen writes, “Leaders will be able to monitor performance with much greater detail, even if they are not physically present.” During the transitional period, however, fundamental differences in how millennials and older generations define “work” and “productivity” help fuel the misconception that millennials are lazy.
Myth 2: Millennials need constant recognition and praise for doing their jobs
The notion that the “everybody gets a trophy” culture has made millennials desperate for recognition and praise is a popular one—but it’s also a false one. Gallup has found that 56 percent of millennials meet with their managers less than once a month, compared to 53 percent of non-millennials. Meanwhile, only 19 percent of millennials say they receive meaningful feedback—and that’s not a good thing. Frequent check-ins make for more engaged employees, regardless of age.
In Love ‘em or Lose ‘em, authors Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans write that “a crucial strategy for engaging and retaining talent is having conversations with every person you hope will stay on your team.” The authors call these conversations “stay interviews,” and they offer managers regular opportunities to “appreciate, nurture, grow, recognize, challenge, understand, and respect” their valued employees. What’s the benefit for businesses? Research indicates that it boosts engagement and retention. That’s a big deal because Gallup has found that just 29 percent of millennials are engaged at work and 60 percent are open to new job opportunities. Even worse, a survey of 233 HR professionals found that it costs anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 to replace each millennial that resigns. So, go ahead and schedule those check-ins.
Myth 3: Millennials feel entitled to new opportunities, promotions, and perks
You don’t have to look far to find studies warning that millennials feel entitled to opportunities and promotions. But millennials aren’t entitled—they just view their career options and traditional 9-5 jobs differently than other generations. Those differing views can easily be mistaken as entitlement.
In The Millennial Myth, author Crystal Kadakia writes that earlier generations view “simply having a job with a regular paycheck” as a reason to be grateful. That’s not quite the case for millennials. They can choose from multiple career paths to earn a living; freelancing, entrepreneurship, the gig economy, and startups are all viable alternatives to 9-5 jobs. Additionally, Kadakia writes, millennials don’t view those opportunities as any more risky than 9-5 jobs. After all, many of them experienced the great recession and mass layoffs during their formative years.
More avenues to make money and gain experience have given millennials more bargaining power and higher expectations. They try to negotiate better salary and benefits, they request more challenging work, they seek flexible hours, they don’t “get” organizational hierarchies, and they question “big picture” strategies and process. All of this feeds into the stereotype that millennials are entitled. However, Kadakia writes, “If you have to choose between working for a company where you will grow slowly and simply make a salary before they lay you off versus working for a start-up where you will learn a lot and it could go public or it could go bust, most younger people are inclined to choose the latter.”
The final word on millennial myths
Stereotypes and over-generalizations are never helpful. Given that millennials have already surpassed Generation X as the largest segment of the U.S. workforce, it’s time to break down generational barriers that have given rise to myths about millennials in the workplace over the years.