The word “millennial” strikes doom in the hearts of members and non-members of the generation alike. We’ve all heard heard so many stats and figures about the somewhat infamous age group that the term has become virtually synonymous with the downfall of humanity. Okay, that might be a little dramatic, but it can be very difficult to separate fact from fiction where millennials are concerned.
Though plenty of people think millennials lack a strong work ethic, feel deserving of special treatment, and shy away from commitment of any kind, the reality is that they are not really that different from the generations that came before them. Ahead, find the most common mistaken beliefs about this age group, plus what’s actually true about them. For more on millennials, check out 20 “Millennial Problems” That Actually Apply to Everyone.
This is probably the most pervasive myth about millennials, but according to the stats, it couldn’t be further from the truth. “In the U.S., millennials became the are the largest segment of the workforce, surpassing baby boomers in the first quarter of 2016,” says Tamara Thorpe, a leadership coach, organizational development consultant, and founder of The Millennials Mentor.
“Not only are they the largest contributor to the workforce, but research shows that like boomers, they work beyond the expected hours. A study by Harvard Business Review in 2016 found the most millennials are workaholics and struggle to set boundaries with their jobs because they can access their job anytime, anywhere through technology. So when other generations label millennials as lazy, it is factually inaccurate.” For more on work, check out How to Fireproof Your Career.
They’re too young to be in leadership roles.
Aside from the fact that it’s silly to assume someone can’t lead a team at work based on their age (in either direction, mind you), it’s also true that some millennials are older than you think. “We often forget, because we like to think of millennials as perpetually 25 years old, that older millennials are well into their mid-thirties,” points out Katie Rasoul, Chief Awesome Officer at Team Awesome Coaching.
“Many of the highly-driven older millennials I have worked with have been in management roles for a decade or more. Also, leadership is a way of being, not dependent on how many direct reports someone has. There are many well-adjusted millennials ready to lead teams, and many already doing it successfully.” For more on leadership, check out Tom Brady Reveals His Leadership Secrets.
They all live in their parents’ basements.
“This myth is so tired, and yet, it just won’t go away,” say millennial job trend experts James Goodnow and Ryan Avery, co-authors of Motivating Millennials. “Sure, many millennials have delayed purchasing a house; getting married; and even buying a car — and in some instances, especially facing crushing student loan debt, they may have indeed moved back in with their folks — but the truth is that it’s hard to generalize about 75 million people. It’s the largest, most diverse and educated generation ever — and hard-working, but we do tend to work differently.”
They don’t care about politics.
Think about it: “This is the generation that grew up with a Hollywood star president, two Bush presidents, a president who had an affair in the Oval Office, and a president who said ‘misunderestimated’ and other nonexistent words, while also being the generation that turned out in droves to vote for the first black President by a landslide,” notes Dennis Mihalsky, a political blogger and podcaster specifically focused on engaging millennials.
To say this age group doesn’t care about the choices the government makes is just plain wrong. But it’s true that the way they think about politics might be a little different than other generations. “This is the generation that cares about issues over party, which means people over party, which means country over party.” And for more amazing facts, check out these 30 Things You Always Believed That Aren’t True.
They’re mainly focused on name recognition at work.
“Many people believe all millennials want to work for recognizable brands such as Google or Goldman Sachs,” says Liz Wessel, CEO & Co-Founder of WayUp. “However, we’ve found only one-third of millennials care about working for a company with ‘a name to build my résumé.’ Instead, we’ve seen millennials care way more about attributes like personal growth, a clear path to professional development, and a strong emphasis on social impact.”
They’re addicted to technology.
It might be commonplace to spot millennials (and plenty of people from other generations, too) with their noses buried in their phones or computer screens, but that’s less a characteristic of their generation and more a function of the fact that it’s simply how we communicate these days. “In the five years from 1995 to 2000 — a formative time for millennials — the online population grew by nearly a factor of ten,” points out Robby Slaughter, author of The How-To Guide for Generations at Work. “So it’s not that millennials have their head stuck in the computer; rather, the computer became the most important trend of their lives.”
“Millennials make use of their phones on a regular basis, BUT they are perfectly capable of turning off the phone and focusing on the matter at hand,” adds Laura MacLeod, LMSW, an HR expert, consultant, and therapist. “In my classes and support groups, we set norms and expectations for how the group/class will function. Cell phone use is always discussed and often the students are the ones to say that phones should be put away.” Yup, that’s right. “They find it distracting when others are texting or emailing. It feels disrespectful and it impedes direct communication and interaction.” For more on smartphones, check out these 20 Amazing Facts You Never Knew About Your Smartphone.
They’re not interested in traditional rites of passage, like home ownership.
According to a study by Lending Tree, millennial homebuyers make up one-third of mortgage requests. “32.5 percent of all mortgage requests through LendingTree between Feb. 1, 2017 and Feb. 1, 2018 come from consumers 35 years and younger,” says Mandi Woodruff, Executive Editor of LendingTree and MagnifyMoney. And they’re making pretty significant investments in their homes, too: “The average loan amount requested from this age group is $166,863.”
They prefer Tinder hookups to serious relationships.
True, marriage rates are on the decline and millennials are getting married later than previous generations, but that’s not necessarily because they don’t want to get married. “Many of these young people desire a an exclusive relationship,” says Darlene M. Corbett, a therapist, success coach, and author. “Like many of generations gone by, long-term commitment, marriage, and family are part of the bigger picture.”
Plus, baby boomers are actually the generation getting divorced at the highest rate at the moment, and they also did so in their 20s and 30s. Luckily, that’s not turning younger generations off from marriage completely. “Most of these millennials have not been soured by the divorce rate of past generations.”
They all have “millennial snowflake syndrome.”
“Millennials were coddled, from the showering of praise for any accomplishment to being handed 11th place trophies for showing up, so as adults, this misconception translates to people thinking millennials are spoiled, constantly fishing for approval and praise,” says Patrick Colvin, Strategic HR Business Partner for the USA Today Network.
The thing is, millennials aren’t necessarily looking for praise; they’re looking for feedback. “Studies show that 80 percent of millennials want regular feedback, and 80 percent preferred timely feedback to formal annual reviews.” But isn’t that how most people prefer to get feedback, no matter their generation? “Millennials aren’t looking for a pat on the back, they have just been conditioned to always seek out ways to improve, which means they are more likely to accept criticism and instruction if they’re on the wrong track, which is desired in any employee.”
They’re super self-centered.
Perhaps you’ve heard millennials called “generation me.” That’s due to the common stereotype that they’re self- (and selfie-) obsessed. But did you know that the baby boomers were also once called the “me generation?” Perhaps there are more self-centered people out there than there once were, but it likely has nothing to do with their generation.
Not exactly. “Millennials care more about forging their own career paths than following the traditional, established roadmaps to success,” say Goodnow and Avery. So if a company is still clinging to outdated ideals and practices, then yes, they might lose millennials at an alarming rate. “What works better for millennials is allowing them to work with managers to create a custom career path that is complete with goals and objectives that are tailor-made to each employee’s unique situation.”
They spend all their free time traveling.
Globetrotting—sometimes in search of the perfect Instagram photo, is generally popular with millennials, but not as popular as you might think. While people often reference a poor work ethic in the millennial population, research actually shows that most millennials don’t even take all their vacation days.
They don’t know how to handle money.
“A MagnifyMoney survey discovered millennials are the most likely to save money when compared to Generation X, boomers, and seniors,” says Woodruff. Yes, you read that right. “74.8 percent of millennials surveyed saved money each month. No need for a participation trophy here. Millennials placed first outright.”
It’s their parents’ fault.
Everyone likes to blame the parents, and in the face of millennials’ perceived laziness, entitlement, and self-centeredness, many look to the people who raised the generation as part of the reason for their “failings.” In reality, research shows that millennials are pretty happy with how they were raised, reporting high levels of closeness with their parents as children, possibly due to the fact that parents spent more time with their kids overall during this generation.
“I’ve heard this stereotype a million times from recruiters and managers who are frustrated that millennials want to move up the ladder quickly, and expect to earn more than their superiors did when they started,” Thorpe says.
There are two pretty logical reasons millennials want to get ahead, though. “The first is that their teachers, professors, and parents told them that they should not settle and have careers that they are passionate about. Boomers and Gen Xers grew up believing we should be grateful to have a job and that any job was a gift. As a result, many of us got stuck in careers we didn’t want and taught our children to want more so now they want more.”
The second reason? “Millennials want don’t want to waste time at the bottom and ask for higher wages is because they have been disproportionately affected by student debt, and wages have not increased with the cost of living. In a report by the Young Invincibles, it said that millennials earn $10,000 less than baby boomers or Gen Xers did when they were young adults. They just can’t afford to work their way up from the mailroom to boardroom.”
They’re not religious.
While it’s definitely true that fewer millennials consider themselves part of a specific religion than in previous generations, that doesn’t mean they’ve completely written off anything and everything spiritual. Experts suggest that millennials were taught that it’s okay to think for yourself, be different, and have your own moral compass. Because of this, they’re more likely to have a “DIY” approach to religion, which might include newly-popular practices like meditation.
They want to play as much as they work.
Work-life balance is certainly important to millennials, but it doesn’t necessarily take precedence over everything else. “According to a recent study we conducted, 48.5 percent of millennials said work-life balance was one of the three most important attributes they look for when evaluating a potential employer,” Wessel says. “However, there is a misconception that this means millennials are looking for an ‘equal balance’ of work and play. Rather, what millennials really want is to work for companies that correctly prioritize the things that matter most to them — such as health, family, and leisure time.”
They’re experts in everything technology-related.
“Sure, millennials can Snapchat, download apps and edit new Instagram photos in their sleep, but they are not all coding experts who can hack into national security accounts,” points out Silvana Clark, author of Millennials vs. Boomers. “One millennial told me: ‘I get so tired of always being asked to help a co-worker with something on their computer. The older people in my office assume I can solve all their computer glitches.’”
They like being considered millennials.
It turns out, not all members of this generation are super proud to be part of the group. “A 2015 study by PRRI showed that 66 percent of millennials (as determined by their birth year) don’t identify as millennials,” Rasoul says. “With all of the negative statistics, claims that millennials are ‘killing’ industries, and the rhetoric that millennials are lazy and entitled, it makes perfect sense that the best and brightest of the generation don’t prefer to be associated with that word.”
Plus, millennials tend to see themselves as individuals, so it makes sense that they don’t want to be boxed into a category. “If we want millennials to start paying attention to something, we may want to come up with a new name for the generation or reverse the negative connotation.”
They’re fundamentally different from previous generations.
Here’s the thing about these generational generalizations: They’re very rarely right. But what does the research really show? Differences between generations are more likely to do with age and career stage rather than fundamentally different values. In other words, we’re not all as different—from the silent generation to Generation Z—as we may think. For more on generational differences, check out 50 Things People Say That Will Offend You If You’re Over 50.
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