Breaking 10 Myths about Millennials

What lies behind the stereotypical mindset of the future workforce?

Photo by Paul Proshin on Unsplash

There is lots of talk about the so-called Generation Y, that seems to disrupt the status quo of today’s workplace. The Millennials, the demographic cohort following the Generation X and Baby boomers are roughly born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s to early 2000s. By entering the workforce with a much disputed, different mindset and attitude towards work and life, organizations are thus challenged with bridging the generational gap and meeting needs and expectations.

Being born in May of 1992, deliberately calling myself a ‘Millennial Activist’ instead of ‘Junior Consultant’ and having driven cultural change in small and large businesses with SOULWORX, I began to dig deeper into the (mis)perceptions of the Millennials from the inside perspective, connecting it with possible solutions for the war for talent.

Instead of talking about Millennials, I suggest talking with them as this might be the first step towards understanding different personal values and beliefs.

Stop pointing fingers. Start understanding.

After all, I wonder:

Do we really have such contrasting views on how we want to work and live in the future? Might it be more of a question of human evolution rather than generational conflict?

Before getting into the fun part of breaking the myths, I’d like to share a quick insight on the living world of Millennials.

What influenced the Millennial life

Parenting

There’s no doubt, that what shapes our personality reflects the way we’ve been brought up. And yes, there’s a good reason why we’re also known as the Me-Me-Me generation. As a result of the demographic change, hence a reducing birth rate, the attention naturally shifted towards the own child.

Me. Me. Me.

The often referred ‘helicopter parenting’ style describes this close attention to a child’s experience and problem, basically “hovering’ over its life”. Not surprisingly, Millennials tend to grow up with an altered self-perception and self-confidence, struggling to find their own goals in life, at the latest when realizing that they don’t necessarily fit their parent’s wants. Thereby, the urge for individuality and freedom emerges while simultaneously needing social acceptance.

The Social Media Reality

Having witnessed and grown up within the digital transformation and natural adaption of new technologies, we are, by definition called the digital natives. What comes along with immersing to this two-edged all-digital reality should not be underestimated. Because especially social platforms like Facebook and Instagram doubtless encourage self-portrayal and narcissism. They evoke a constant self-assessment and comparison with others like ‘Why don’t I have all the things she has? Why does her life appear so much more perfect and successful than mine?’ We run the risk of defining one’s credibility on the basis of the number of followers, likes and the beauty of filters.

Instant Access to Everything

Moreover, we’re used to enjoying the vast opportunities the internet has provided us with. No need to go to the library to search for the right quote in our final paper, because everything you need to know is just one click away. It seems like there are no limitations, as the world is growing closer together. From the newest tech gadget, album release, TV show launch or how-to tutorial, thanks to platforms like Amazon’s Same-Day Delivery, Spotify, Netflix and YouTube, we’re constantly connected and instantly satisfied with our wishes. Sounds great, and it truly is, yet it also leads to a lack of resilience, persistence and patience. Millennials never really learned to wait, endure and then get what they wanted. For example working for a trusted relationship, where responsibility is shared and recompensed. That’s where, in today’s workplaces, they’re own utopia and reality clash.

So what is it, that lies behind the stereotypical mindset of the future workforce?

Myth 1: Millennials just want to chill.

Not exactly. From my experience so far, I feel we’re growing up in an extremely performance-driven society. It starts in school and gets worse in university and most of today’s workplaces, where our success is still measured by numbers, grades and certificates. And if you’d really want to have a chance when applying to a job, you better be 22, have a master’s degree, first job experiences and volunteer at some social project — yeah right. I believe it’s time to ask: Why? One of the most powerful question that lies at the core of the Millennial mindset. Because if there’s a defined and aligned ‘Why’, a sense of purpose, that we can identify and connect with personally, I can promise you, Millennials will do nothing but hustle. But yet, in a mindful, purpose-driven way.

Myth 2: Millennials just think about themselves.

They do. Because they care about their personal development more than about the salary they get at the end of the month. Again, it’s the purpose and impact we’re working for. We’d like to make a contribution to a higher cause, that affects not only us, but our fellow human beings and surroundings. Because most of the Millennials care about others as well and have a high consciousness of the environment.

Myth 3: Millennials overestimate themselves.

The most frequent comment I’ve heard so far is: ‘Why do they think they can make such high demands when they haven’t accomplished a thing yet?’

Coming back to the influences while growing up, I believe we do tend to overestimate because we’re mostly driven by a sense of idealism. Millennials are not afraid to ask for what they want. They just say it — and I think that’s a good thing. The question is more about how can we learn to actually take on responsibility and bear the consequences if something doesn’t go the way planned? That’s where organizations and leaders have a chance to educate and allow a space for reflection, continuous feedback and personal growth. To turn overestimation into a healthy self-esteem, that could be beneficial to everyone.

Myth 4: Millennials are addicted to social media.

If we’re really honest with ourselves, I believe it’s safe to say that the majority of us is, let’s say, very attached to their devices and social media networks. The challenge lies more in how to make use of the Millennial’s natural skill of understanding the digital world. Just like most organizations either build their own social collaboration platform or use an existing one that leverages the potentials of social media. And, not to forget, that company cultures should raise an awareness of a healthy digital behavior, starting with a meeting culture without email/Instagram-checking.

Myth 5: Millennials are uncompromising.

Yep, we can be quite relentless, at least when it comes to ignoring our values. Millennials are strongly value-driven which makes the job hunting often a hunt for the right values and even raises an ethical issue. For organizations, it’s more than ever important to not only have pretty values on their walls, but actually putting them into daily practice and live up to them.

Myth 6: Millennials are socially awkward.

Because again, our natural environment is mostly characterized by avatars, digital recognition and virtual friends. So for me, it’s often so much easier to approach someone via Twitter or Instagram instead of having the guts to go talk to them straight away. As the future of work will rely more and more on remote teams, digital collaboration tools and virtual assistance, Millennials need to equip themselves with the ability of social interaction. There’s a great need to learn how to lead conversations, negotiate salary and all those skills that matter in interpersonal relationships. Whether it’s the concept of a in-house meet-up, bar camp or an ‘Open Friday’, multigenerational organizations should use their potential of addressing the ‘soft skill’ development equally.

Myth 7: Millennials all want to become entrepreneurs.

If you’ve ever visited the Factory co-working space in Berlin, you might get the impression that it’s the mid-20 white, male Millennial who are sealing the deals and building the next economy. However, if you put Germany, Europe and even the world on a bigger picture, it certainly doesn’t apply to the majority. The impression of Millennials being very self-driven is true, and that’s exactly what they’re searching for at work: Autonomy and self-determination. So the question is: How can organizations today provide a structure and culture where self-responsibility and shared ownership is a given?

Myth 8: Millennials aim for a work-life blend.

I personally do, yes. Because for me, work is life and life is work. If you ask a friend of mine, she would tell you the complete opposite. One the one hand, Millennials are sensitive when it comes to overtime hours and don’t see the purpose in being exploited. On the other hand, we do experience a work mentality that implies, that it’s common and even appreciated, if you do cut your free time for work. That’s where organizations need to change their attitude and question what effectivity and efficiency really mean in future. In relation to that, flexible work time models or job sharing already provide great solutions on finding the individually suitable balance of work and life.

Myth 9: Millennials expect an unduly high salary.

Those who do, and I’m sure there are a few, are probably just compensating their uncertainties. As research has found, Millennials are often intimidated and less self-confident when it comes to negotiating salary or career promotion. It’s a sensitive topic that people, at least in Germany, rarely talk about openly. And that’s what we need to rethink. Already now, organizations are beginning to experiment with transparent compensation models which undoubtedly need a culture of mutual trust and stable relationships. Before getting all the way there, why not start with making transparent how salaries are composed and why not measure contributions to the company’s purpose instead of focusing solely on profit maximization?

Myth 10: Millennials are resisting leadership.

I agree. Millennials are usually not easy to manage and lead. At least if we’re talking about leadership as in using power and authority, command and control, delegating duties, as part of a patriarchal system of work. Nevertheless, and I’d definitively count myself in, Millennials are in desperate need of leadership.

Leading the future workforce means leading with emotional intelligence. Getting fully involved rather than instructing, mentoring through sharing vulnerable failures and valuable experiences and, most of all, getting to know the Millennial beyond the role of an employee to start sensing, connecting and co-creating with each other as human beings. Only through this form of leadership and working, we can make the leap to unfold the human potential.

What kind of future of work do you want?

For me, the Millennial mindset has the potential to create future oriented organizations and workplace cultures, hence a purposeful, sustainable and human future of work.

  1. A Sense of Purpose
  2. Personal Development
  3. Self-Determination
  4. Sharing and Collaborating
  5. Value Orientation
  6. Continuous Exchange
  7. Transparency
  8. Flexibility and Freedom
  9. Creation of Value
  10. Emotional Intelligence

After breaking the myths, you can ask yourself now you relate to these 10 qualities and how far apart your expectations are versus those of the Generation ‘Why’.

Ultimately, it’s not about generations, it’s about a mindset.

Thanks for reading! If you’re curious to see my gif talk live at the Work Awesome conference in Berlin I was lucky to contribute to with the purpose-driven strategy collective SOULWORX, feel free to check out the video!

Also, I’m happy to exchange more and hear about your perceptions of Millennials. So go ahead and connect via LinkedIn, Twitter or drop me a line!

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