In 2015, Pew Research reported that Millennials overtook Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation. “According to population estimates released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau. Millennials, whom we define as those ages 18-34 in 2015, now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51-69).”
That same year, Millennials became the largest generation in the workplace.
As a Vanderbilt University professor, a management consultant, and a guy who just enjoys reading business stuff, it seems that I can’t get through a class, a client meeting, or business article without encountering the term Millennial.
Will This Be a Rant or Rave?
If you ‘clicked’ on this article with the hopes of reading a rant about how 20- and 30-somethings are ruining the world, you will be sorely disappointed.
You will also be disappointed if you think I’m going to praise Millennials as the generation that will change everything – they might be, but that’s not my intent.
I’m merely offering a few observations about the obsession we seem to have with this generation and how those fixations are frustrating me, selling them short, and missing the mark.
So, here goes…
1. I’m sick of Millennials being lumped into one monolithic cohort.
In a time when marketers continue to move away from mass advertising to micro-targeting, and thought leaders emphasize the uniqueness of individuals, we continue to make sweeping generalizations about 75 million people.
True, there are some Millennial trends worth exploring – e.g., the ubiquitous nature of technology or a growing interest in corporate social responsibility – but there is a difference between understanding trends and how they affect people in general and claiming that all Millennials behave the same way or want the same things.
It may be valuable to ask the general question What do Millennials Want at Work? These exercises can yield potential insights, but they should not be the sole source of the employee development research you are conducting. You may have to dig deeper and ask more questions. At a general level, some people are doing just that and finding that there may be two groups of Millennials – Early Millennials and Old Millennials (aka: Recessionists). Others suggest that Millennials exist in four groups ranging from Young Millennials to Gray Millennials.
There’s even a cottage industry of books, t-shirts, posters, etc. all about Millennials. Don’t take my word for it. Check out the book So You Think You’re a Millennial. It includes a guide to key Millennial phrases and a quiz to help you determine what type of Millennial you are.
Regardless of where the Millennial ‘bucketing’ exercise will land, the energy for most organizations should be placed in talking to their employees, working to understand their unique motivations, and partnering with them to create a culture that brings out the best in the people who actually work on your team versus some overgeneralized collection of nondescript clones.
2. I’m sick of Millennials being sold a bill of goods.
Millennials are receiving a lot of messages that sound good, but might be setting them up for frustration and failure.
Here are a couple of sample messages:
“Everyone wants to hear what you have to say.” This well intended sentiment will likely run headlong into the reality that many people really don’t care what you have to say until you’ve been around for a while and ‘earned the right.’ Others will never want to hear what you have to say as they have their own stuff to worry about.
“You can launch a business overnight from your living room, and be an instant millionaire.” Do some people do this? Sure, but its likely a numbers game. Lots of people trying coupled with the advent of the internet. The reality is that most overnight sensations don’t happen overnight, regardless of the era. We need to be careful when we suggest to a large swath of people that they can have it all – now.
3. I’m sick of Millennials thinking that Google is the same as a mentor.
I was talking to my wife the other night and said something like, “I’m glad I know what it was like to live on this planet prior to the internet.”
Why would I say that?
Well, I’ve read in several places that in the past, older people were seen as both providers and sources of wisdom. Today, they are simply seen as providers – ATMs that provide money and mortgage holders that provide a roof over another’s head. Everything else can be found via a Google search, a YouTube video, or a LinkedIn post 🙂
The role of mentor can’t and shouldn’t be replaced by a computer programmer in Silicon Valley. There is value in finding mentors, learning to ask for help, connecting with another person, and spending time with someone who is a bit further down the road. These are the people who can open doors, clear paths, and ask challenging questions far better than any Google search ever can.
As the parent of 20 and 24 year olds and a teacher to some of the brightest college students on the planet, I can tell you that each is different, each has untapped potential, and each wants to be seen and valued as a unique person.
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Patrick Leddin, PhD is a sought after writer, speaker, and global leadership consultant. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.