What if all our assumptions about millennials are totally wrong?

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Lot of broad generalizations about the next generation coming up, i.e. millennials. Notably: they want to live in cities, they want to be motivated by their work, they want lots of feedback at work, etc. Here’s the thing, though: generational change (a) takes time and (b) is hard to reliably and accurately predict. You can make an argument that everything we’re saying about millennials right now was once said about Baby Boomers when they were in their 20s/early 30s. Fast Company has essentially made this argument. And now IBM’s Institute for Business Value is making the same case. You need to pay to download their paper, but some of their more compelling arguments are summarized by Dr. Travis Bradberry over at Forbes, so here we go.

Debunking: “Millennials won’t quit/leave jobs over money. They care about passion and purpose.”

We all care about passion and purpose to some extent, even if companies don’t really seem to. Eventually, you get older and you have more responsibility / a family / want to travel or do something for yourself more / a host of other factors. If you live in a capitalism, the only real way you can achieve some of those goals is to have money. Typically in a capitalism (a generalization, yes, but a true one), to have more money you need to work harder and gain more responsibility at work, and/or become really good at job-hopping. So yes, people will leave a job for another job with more money (although those might become harder and harder to find in the next decade). This, to me, is the same idea as hierarchy: people assume it can die out with millennials, but… uh… it’s probably not going anywhere. In reality, millennials are 2x more likely to leave a job over money than over “passion/purpose.” That’s the same numbers found in studies of Gen-X and Boomers. It’s not really changing as drastically as we think, or, rather — making generalizations about generations can get fraught.

Debunking: “Millennials need feedback because they were the generation that got a trophy for everything.”

Very common argument, especially among older hiring managers. Very common. Here’s the thing, though: you’re talking about the wrong group of people. Here’s Bradberry:

Not only are Millennials not after endless praise, their #1 preference in a boss is the same as Boomers. Both want a fair boss who freely shares information. As it turns out, it’s Gen Xers who believe that everyone involved in a successful project should be rewarded, and members of this generation are in their early 30s-50s. Sounds like they are the ones misappropriating their inadequacies onto younger workers.

Fair boss + free share of information. That’s called “chasing the dream.”

But it’s really Gen-X who was the trophy-for-everything crew, apparently.

This is interesting. First off, no one knows who/what Gen-X is. I think I might be Gen-X (I’m 34), but I could be an “older millennial.” I’m definitely not a core millennial by any means. If I am Gen-X, this does not apply to me. I feel like I almost never got a trophy for doing anything when I was growing up. Hell, that might explain part of why I’m in therapy. (Or not.) I definitely don’t think every damn work project needs to be rewarded; if anything, I wish more people would focus on the actual goals instead of defending their own turf. Maybe I’m like a hyper mix of Boomer, Millennial, and Gen-X’er.

In reality, though, aren’t we all that? We’re the product of our relationships and experiences, and our relationships and experiences tend to occur across generations (grandparents, parents, teachers, peers/friends, etc.)

That idea seems to be the real reason why generalizing about generations is fraught.

My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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