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Don’t be Frightened: It’s Just a Millennial

Millennials are immature, lazy, narcissistic, selfie-posing, disrespectful, job-hopping, and entitled employees who demand their work to be personally rewarding no matter the job or business need. They want to quickly rise through the ranks without paying their organizational dues or gaining the proper experience. “We're here now and we're smarter than you are so you have to listen to us” might be their generational theme song. Some in the workplace find them self-serving and even lazy. That's what some people say.

Me? I think they are one of the best things to hit the workplace in years.

The Millennial Generation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, are those 80 million plus born between 1982 and 2000, and that make up more than 25% of the U.S. population. Recently released data by the Pew Research Center shows that Millennials, who they define as those aged between 18 to 34, were in 2015 the largest generation in the workforce at 53.5 million workers.

These 20 and early 30-year olds are fundamentally changing the workplace and companies need to see beyond the generational stereotypes and focus on how they can help Millennialsachieve some of their core values— meaningful work, flexibility, work /life balance, collaboration, growth opportunities, social justice and an appreciation for diversity. All in all pretty positive traits.

Yet, Millennials might not be much different than other generations in the workplace. Bruce N. Pfau, writing in the Harvard Business Review said that many of the attributes that are linked to Millennials are not generally supported with empirical research, citing a growing body of evidence suggesting that employees of all ages are more alike than different in their attitudes and values at work. Pfau adds that a study from George Washington University and the Department of Defense held that the small differences that occur in the workplace are more related to one's stage of life than to their specific generation.

Socio-economic impacts have certainly changed the workplace. There were traditionally three generations in the workplace, and for the purposes of this discussion we'll call the levels advanced, intermediate, and entry level. The advanced were the successful employees who have been working for several decades and are nearing or contemplating retirement. Many are senior in their positions and are held in high esteem. The intermediate level employees are those who are gaining rapid career growth and prime earning power. It's this segment of the company that is typically the most important, having gained sufficient experience to drive the organization forward. The last segment, those in the entry level, are less experienced. New employees, or those with limited experience, were hired to perform certain tasks, learn the business, grow professionally and with any luck join the intermediate group.

However, a funny thing happened to the senior group. They did not quietly ride into the sunset with their gold watch and a blissful retirement. A deep recession, a longer life span, and the need, or desire, to keep earning kept them in the workplace, many in the senior positions they held. This created a logjam for the incoming Millennials and a larger than normal age span in the workplace, adding in many cases a fourth segment. The advanced level often has children older than the Millennials who are now coming into the workforce, creating an odd dynamic. Couple the age difference with the shift in values and beliefs of the Millennials and you have what was fondly called in the 60's and 70's a generation gap.

At the same time, this broad-brush generation gap issue has been overplayed. Seemingly smart and resourceful people are claiming that they do not know how to communicate and work with this 'special group' called millennials. Consultants have had a field day in working with companies on how to manage and assimilate Millennials into their organization, like they are a group from a distant planet, unfamiliar with the ways of Earth. 

Everyone in the workplace is different, with diverse needs, beliefs, morals and ethics, no matter the generation. As someone who teaches Millennials at the university level, my experience is that they are family oriented, loyal, and working hard to have a positive future. I also find them quite inquisitive, and even a bit worried, of what life is like in the 'real world' as they like to call it. They wonder how best to get along with everyone and fit into an organization. They do not wear their millennial status as a badge of courage. In fact they are worried that this generational label might work against them.

Millennials are breathing new live into existing organizations, creating new ones, and influencing positive behaviors across the generations. Their philosophies towards balance, technology, relationships, diversity, and fulfilling work is having a good impact on others in the workplace. They are changing attitudes for the better. Welcome them, teach them, and learn from them. You'll find them valuable employees, and not much different than you.

Just look out for the Generation 2020, the ones following the millennials. I hear they are a doozy!

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