There has been much debate, frustration and many challenges surrounding cross-generational managing in the workplace, especially when it comes to millennials. Millennials have typically been seen as a ‘special breed’ of employees that require a different approach to manage. Labelling and compartmentalising them further adds to the mystery that we have created.
“Any new generation, when viewed by the previous generations, are seen through the perspective of being different,” says Dr Mariam Sha, founder and director of Awakening Excellence. “The truth of the matter is that those previous generations play a major role in contributing to many of the behaviour patterns of the new generation. We raised them through our value system. Each generation is also influenced by the broader environment of the time – media, social norms, new technology and new perspectives that guide their own needs and how to achieve them.”
Millennials at work: what does research really say?
You don’t have to search too far and wide through the internet to find claims being made about millennials, who they are and what makes them tick.
Some claims are negative: they’re lacking in work ethic (Marston, 2009) or overly self-confident and self-absorbed (Pew Research Center, 2007). Some commentators go further, labelling millennials the ‘Look at Me’ generation.
Other claims are positive: they are more accepting of diversity, more comfortable working in teams, better communicators and better with technology (Myers & Sadaghiani 2010).
As organisations look to improve the employee experience to drive wellbeing and productivity, these types of claims will likely influence the process, particularly as the concentration of millennials in the workplace rises.
Job-hopping is likely a marker of age rather than generation
Millennial loyalty is often called out and they are said to be more likely to job hop between positions at different organisations. There is some truth in the idea that millennials are likely to move between jobs.
However, it’s not unique to the millennial generation. In fact, figures on job tenure are the same for people in their 20s now as they were in the 1980s.
In other words, it seems a tendency to move jobs in your 20s reflects age-appropriate behaviour, rather than being linked to the generation you were born in. Job-hopping is most likely a strategic move by younger people designed to advance their careers and earn more money.
Working culture and hours are determined by life stage
Working hours typically correlate with seniority (Deal, 2007). So when people say that millennials work less than previous generations, it may simply be that they are less senior and therefore their roles do not demand such long hours.
In fact, the Family and Work Institute in 2005 found no difference between the hours worked by millennials between the ages of 18 and 22 and Generation X between the same ages.
Work may be less important to millennials, but this is societally driven.
A desire for work-life balance – i.e. how central work is to your life compared with personal domains – is more likely driven by life-stage factors, such as having a young family at home, rather than generational differences, and right now the millennial generation are marrying and having young families.
Millennials are more comfortable with technology, but this is a trend, not a generational quality. People often say millennials have grown up with technology and so are more comfortable using it, and expect good technology to be present inside organisations.
Millennial health is definitely a cause for concern
Deal, Altman & Rogelberg (2010) highlight that if health behaviours do not improve, millennials will be less healthy due to obesity than other cohorts at the same age. This is bad for society as a whole, but also for productivity as the cost of health-related absence is so high.
Of course, with the dominance of the knowledge economy, the cohort following the millennials – Generation Z – will face the same problems.
That’s why it’s important we focus on wellbeing in the workplace to enable better physical and mental health, both for public health and for productivity.