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August 27, 2019
Kate Marshall

Managing millennials in the workplace: what work culture gets wrong about this generation

Millennial-bashing is so 2012. Learn about the perceived challenges of managing millennials, common misconceptions, & stereotypes (debunked), and how to move past them.

Managing millennials in the workplace

We’ve all heard the negative sentiments surrounding millennials: entitled, oversensitive, self-indulged, unreliable.

At least, that’s what we’ve been conditioned to think.

As with any generation, there are certain nuances—besides foregoing owning a home because we buy too much avocado toast—to those born between the early ’80s and late ’90s that can make working with millennials a challenge at times.

With more than one in three individuals in the American workforce being made up of millennials, the fancy coffee-loving, lit’rally obsessed employees are far better than their harsh stereotypes may suggest.

The challenges of managing millennials

...are actually few and far between.

Despite being leaps and bounds past the worst of it, the stereotypes that continue to follow millennials around like a tiny corgi to its 20-something owner—especially in the media—are hard to ignore. 

Jokes about millennials’ love for expensive drinks, artisan cheeses, and love for dogs are playful and light (PS–as a millennial myself, I actually love them) but it’s the more damaging stereotypes—like the ones listed in the first paragraph of this post—that are ultimately harmful to both the generation in question and the overall progression of society.

And how does progression happen, when an attempt to make the world better seems to be labeled as self-serving?

Encouraging self-love and confidence is equated to vanity, and promoting good mental health gets marked as too “snowflake". Any attempt to save money and budget in the current economic environment results in critiques of not budgeting properly, or killing off an industry that many simply don't see a point in spending their dollars on.

millennials are

In the end, these stereotypes only drive a larger wedge between different generations.

Baby boomers don't want to work with millennials (and often Gen Xers) because they think they're all lazy and uncommitted; on the flip side, millennials are wary of baby boomers on the blanket assumption that they're all conservative and intolerant. 

Wasn’t it mom who said everything is a two-way street?

Perceived problems with millennials in the workplace: A tale as old as time

So if these stereotypes are so profoundly incorrect, where did they come from in the first place?

The American labor force currently has five different generations that interact in the workplace, a *first* in modern history. This, combined with the enormous leap between the worldviews of the eldest and youngest can, of course, cause turmoil.

It’s then that we ask: How can we possibly cater to the needs and values of such different groups of people?

In the end, it seems many tap into their psychological fail-safe, a subconscious short-cut we use to more easily make sense of the world: bias.

Humans operate by, and naturally resort to, categorizing. When those biases go too far, we pick up negative associations to weigh those categories down. This, my friends, is stereotyping.

How stereotyping transfers to the office

These stereotypes can be socially and emotionally detrimental to individuals. But in the workplace, it can actively damage a person's career.

According to a 2018 study on Millennials at Work by Udemy, 86% of the millennial generation reported being, in some way, undermined by these negative stereotypes.

The age group has told surveys that being called lazy is the most bothersome presumption, which is understandable, considering that the same study found that nearly half (43%) of millennials have a side job for extra income, and another 20% said they expect to need one in the future just to make ends meet.

While it’s true that workplace stereotypes exist for any generation, millennials find the accusations against them by previous generations to be particularly frustrating. Knowing the reality, it’s easy to understand why they feel these stereotypes don't align with their viewpoints or work ethic.

Debunking the myths

The very basis of the misguided negative stereotypes comes down to a single, majorly misunderstood factor: the motivation behind why they do what they do.

By working to understand the reasons behind every mindset and every ideal, what was once perceived as faults will actually turn out to be incredible strengths.

Setting the bar high

A common misunderstanding about millennials is that their rising expectations come from a feeling of entitlement. This is commonly linked to the participation trophy theory, which says that because the generation was rewarded regardless of low effort as kids, they expect to get the same treatment as adults. Little work=high reward.

In reality, though, the reason millennials have such high standards is often the opposite.

Millennials don't want to settle. They won’t settle for participation trophies, or for a mediocre career doing something they have no passion for. Instead, they want to go for the gold.

They're determined to find personal satisfaction and success, and that includes in their day job. After all, with rising costs of living and the not-so-rising pay, many millennials have to find a side hustle to pay rent. You might as well love what you're doing while you’re doing it!

In this way, millennial employees are incredibly driven, and immeasurably dedicated to the work they care about.

Millennials want it all, and we can’t blame them.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all-super-secret-trick to appeasing millennials, offering work perks is certainly a step in the right direction. By giving something like Zestful #shamelessplug to your team, you can give your employees perks that are useful in day-to-day life, which is exactly what young, modern workers want and need.

Asking questions and talking back

Millennials ask questions; we won’t argue that.

If a boss gives directions to someone born in 1993 and another born in 1975, chances are that the Gen X employee will agree to parse it out as they go, while the millennial will ask, "why?".

While it may seem disrespectful to some, what the millennial employee is trying to do is get the full picture so they can give it their best possible shot. They want to know exactly what’s being asked of them, and why, and maybe even help figure out a better plan.

Millennials are an informed generation. They’re used to constant news updates, immediate information, and answers at the touch of a button. Young people have been bred to ask questions and offer opinions or feedback, regardless of whether they were asked to do so.

Such inquisitive minds can be invaluable if you let them. You never know what kind of suggestions, ideas, and creativity they might be able to bring to the table.

When armed with the information around what’s needed in the future (like staying up-to-date on the company’s direction), employees can contribute even better work.

Job hopping

We can't deny the stats: 70 percent of millennials will leave their first job within two years of starting.

Nowadays, millennials aren't on the prowl for new work out of a lack of commitment or a simple hope for a quick raise. Instead, this goes back to the previous qualities we've mentioned—millennials are curious, experimental, and constantly wanting to develop and grow.

If a job isn't providing them the challenge and engagement they crave, they're willing to make a change and try something new. Some prioritize flexible working schedules, remote work policies, or relaxed dress codes, among other things, and will make sacrifices to get there.

These are characteristics that have previously been touted as CEO-worthy. What was earlier the exception is now the norm, and workplace expectations, management, and hiring teams need to adapt accordingly.

challenges of managing millennials

Know the players, play the game

When researching how to create an ideal work environment for the multigenerational working world we’re in, you'll find articles with pointers on “how to manage millennials at work”.

The use of the term “manage”, however, is interesting; it implies that millennials need to be watched, or having to specially prepare your office for this wave of the workforce.

Management, however, isn’t the focus. It isn't about learning how to fasten a leash, it's about creating an environment that promotes a modern set of ideals.

It’s about understanding everyone’s strengths for what they really are, then learning how to best meet their needs, even if they're dramatically different from what you were given or what you’re accustomed to.

A new wave: gen Z

Generation Z will be entering the workforce soon, but there’s no need to overthink it. 

While there are a few notable differences, many of their principles will remain the same as millennials (like connectedness, individuality, and a desire to be trusted).

Irrespective of the generational cohort an individual belongs to, it's vital to remember that they are just that: individuals. Try not to latch on to age-specific titles or expectations—in the workplace or otherwise.

Meet people where they are, and you’re both sure to succeed.

What are you waiting for?

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