Why are people always talking about millennials? They are constantly being called lazy or entitled. Clients frequently ask me how can they recruit or retrain these millennials that have no attention spans. But what’s the truth? Are millennials really as bad as people say?
Obsession with the next generation
This fascination with the next generation is nothing new. Older generations have always been wary of the changes that the next generation brings. They often judge their behaviors based on their own values and the way things were done when they were that age. It’s pretty amusing to search for articles about the next generation online and see the same types of comments made about Gen X, Baby Boomer, or even earlier generations. A good example is this Time article from 1990 that calls the young workforce (Gen X at this time) “overly sensitive at best and lazy at worst.” Sounds familiar, right? This same thing could easily be overheard being said about millennials.
Why do we see differences?
Everyone goes through similar life phases. The same applies to work life. Dr. A.R. Levenson talks about the natural life cycle at work, include changes in decisions and attitudes about work over time. When individuals are early in their careers they are testing out various jobs and industries, learning about where they want their careers to go. As they age and reach the middle of their careers, they are spending more time focusing on balancing work with life. They are more likely to have kids and aging parents that require their attention. These individuals are also more likely to have stabilized in their career paths so people change jobs less frequently than they did in their 20s and early 30s. Finally, towards the end of the work life cycle, people are more likely to focus on the timing and the nature of their retirement.
Even though everyone experiences similar work life phases, people are frequently judging other generations coming from their own phase. For example, an older worker may consider a younger worker to have low commitment because of frequent job changes. The older worker has already chosen their career path and thinks the young worker’s indecision is a sign of some difference between their generations. However, the older worker is in a different work life phase from the younger worker and is not remembering that point in her life.
What does the research say?
There are many differences between generations in the workplace that can be easily explained by this work life cycle idea. Unfortunately, measuring whether a difference is due to life phase or an actual generational difference is incredibly challenging. There are other factors to consider as well. People behave differently in different economic climates, which can impact how a generation is perceived.
Generally, the research does not support major differences between generations in the workplace. In future posts, we will dive into additional findings. For now, remember, Millennials are just like everyone else…they just may be in a different work life phase than you.