What the "Older Generations" Are Missing About the Millennials

What does a snail say when riding on the back of a tortoise?


Besides being one of my favorite jokes ever, it also a reminder about the importance of perspective as you view the generation that makes up the majority of the workforce today and will grow to 75 percent by 2030.

This is the most researched and analyzed generation in our history. You've heard the descriptors. Millennials are lazy, entitled, narcissistic, and hard to focus. They want everything now, and they don't understand why they can't be in charge within 3 months. They require constant feedback and recognition because they all received participation trophies for their entire life. They incessantly ask "why" and are convinced that there is a better way to do whatever it is that you've been doing the same way for years.

Regardless of your frustrations, the Millennials aren't going away. More important, there is much more to this generation than the negative descriptions you see in the media. Here are four ideas to reframe your perspective.

The stereotypes aren't all true.

The detractors scoff that participation trophies have taught youth to be entitled. It's an easy assumption that is not supported by fact.

Tom Farrey, leader of The Sports and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, believes that people are missing the purpose of these trophies.

"From ages 0 to 12, the goal is to help kids to fall in love with sports, to want to come back the next year, to want to go into the backyard and improve their technique," he says.

In other words, participation trophies don't last forever. They serve a purpose for younger children, but the workforce entering your organization understands that there are winners and losers in the world. They see it on television every week as they watch their favorite athletic team lose or reality show contestant go home. They experience it in sports, band, or choir as the move from middle school to high school. If they are college graduates, they have been competing their entire life to get into the best school.

Likewise, there are other stereotypes about Millennials that aren't necessarily true. Two are that Millennials are more narcissistic and have higher rates of depression.

Dr. Jean Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University and author of Generation Me, has been a strong proponent that the Millennials, as a group, are basically "self-obsessed and not prepared for real life."

That could be true, or maybe it isn't. Brent Donellan, a professor at Michigan State University, points out that Dr. Twenge's research misinterprets data from which her conclusions are drawn. His research finds that there has been no significant change in the self-esteem scores of youth from 1976 to 2010.

In terms of depression, the stereotypes don't necessarily reflect the truth. First, there isn't a lot of historical data on depression or suicide. Certainly open conversation about it has been relatively recent, and parents were not as active in seeking help for their child. We do know that suicide rates have gone down since 1990 according to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program. That would seem to indicate that if depression rates have gone up, it is being more effectively managed.

How about slackers living at home with their parents? There's an explanation for that as well. A report from the Pew Research Center explains that the increase in Millennials living at home is driven by the economic conditions, the high cost of housing, education level, and marrying later in life. In other words, Millennials as a group aren't slackers. If anything, they may be being more practical.

The point is that stereotypes are just that. Sometimes they are correct. Many times they aren't. You don't want to be stereotyped by your generation, right? Then don't do so with others.

Millennials bring a lot to the table.

The Millennials' many positive competencies and traits have somehow been lost in the conversation. If you find the need to stereotype, consider that Millennials, as a group,
  • Confident. They are more assertive and willing to ask for what they want.
  • Digital natives who embrace technology.
  • Open to change.
  • Eager to learn new things.
  • Receive meaning and motivation from helping others.
  • Team players - they've been working in teams their entire life.
  • Focused on tasks to be completed not time.
  • Passionate about values and interested in companies that live them.

Think about what your business needs to do to compete in the future. Don't you need more people who behave and perform this way?

It's not how you start. It's how you finish.

The Millennials are starting many of the activities traditionally associated with "adulthood" later in life. The average age at which people get married has reached an all-time high of 27 for women and 29 for men. Children are now allowed to remain on their parents insurance until age 26. Even the age range of "late adolescence" has increased to age 25.

These factors would lead you to believe that the Millennials are doomed to be ill-equipped to take on their roles as responsible adults leading companies, communities, and the world.

On the other hand, 85 percent of Chief Financial Officers in a poll by Robert Half Finance & Accounting believe that the Millennials have what it takes to succeed. This generation will live and remain productive longer than any previous generation. We can't assume that they aren't up to the task of leadership.

You have to develop them no matter what.

If you are member of Gen X, you may be frustrated that these "youngsters" actually expect you to help them learn the job and improve. You had to learn it on your own. They should, too.

If you are a Baby Boomer still hanging around, the Millennial sense of idealism might remind you of what it felt like to have a purpose - like protesting the war. They could also just make you feel old. You might even feel sorry for them. The Millennials, after all, haven't yet had their idealism crushed by the need to conform in order to support a family and pay a mortgage.

Regardless of your frustration, they are the future of your organization. There are things that they do better than you and some that they do worse. Complaining makes for interesting dinner party conversation, but it doesn't help your organization flourish in a future of upheaval and uncertainty. You need to change your perspective and lead today to ensure success tomorrow.

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your organization or event, visit www.penningtongroup.com , email info@penningtongroup.com, or call 972.980.9857.