Millennials have been condemned as lazy, entitled, disloyal, and disrespectful and needing constant hand-holding. But Crystal Kadakia—a Millennial herself as well as an organizational development consultant and two-time TEDx speaker—shows that not only are these negative stereotypes dead wrong, but each one conceals a positive workplace practice that forward-looking companies must adopt if they are to endure. She illuminates how the advent of digital technology is the crucial root cause of many Millennial behaviors and offers a guide for what our traditional workplace needs to do to attract, engage, and retain modern talent.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Millennial Myth
Transforming Misunderstanding into Workplace Breakthroughs
By Crystal Kadakia
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2017 Crystal Kadakia
All rights reserved.
Rebuilding the Backdrop for Millennials
Nothing is more damaging to a new truth than an old error.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Today's new truth is that millennials are indeed bringing positive changes to the workplace and society at large. Unfortunately, over the last decade, errors have been made in shaping the perception of this generation. As a result, the biggest danger facing the millennial generation and their potential for success is what today's dominant population, boomers and Xers, think of them.
As an example, consider an experience I had after leading a powerful panel discussion about millennials. Many audience members of older generations shared how much my message resonated with them and how they felt a new sense of clarity about millennials. However, a corporate vice president in the audience pulled me aside and said, "But really, Crystal, at the end of the day, all millennials want is money, just like everyone else. Especially when they grow up." Having just explored my own story of pursuing potential during the panel, as well as the unconventional stories of five other millennials on stage (who were all grown ups!), I was a bit taken aback. I asked, "Sir, have you talked to many millennials?" He responded, "My kids are millennials and yeah they want the new car, the new clothes, and the mansion." I thought for a moment before responding, "Well, sir, those are the kids you raised. Those aren't all the kids out there. There might even be more to your own kids than you realize."
He laughed in response and I smiled, but the conversation clearly gave him something to think about. He had bought into the stereotypical perception of the millennial generation. Consider the lens this vice president was wearing every time he looked at members of the youngest generation. How many excuses and explanations did he make to justify the exceptions he encountered among the millennial generation? How often did he refuse to make a change to create modern culture in the workplace because he felt he would be pandering to the younger generation?
In comparison, a boomer I work closely with has had a lifelong philosophy to always stay connected to "the new," the latest changes going on. One way she does this is by making sure to work with younger people. After a successful career in research and development and later training, she has retired and yet, she purposefully pursues keeping fresh. Our relationship is one where I learn from her and she learns from me, an interdependent and most importantly (in her words) fun relationship. She is one to experiment with and embrace new approaches. How has having this lens created opportunities for her that would otherwise have been absent? What does her ability to build relationships across generations look like? How does looking beyond the biases represented in media help her create an objective, strategic approach?
Many leaders stubbornly cling to an "it's always been done this way" mentality and, even if they want to, have limited tools to discover what modernizing means because media paints millennials as impossible overgrown children who have now joined the workplace. The tools are limited to what works at organizations thought of as sexy by millennials: Google, Amazon, Facebook, start-ups. Often, these tools simply don't make sense for other industries. As a result, the millennial generation is seen as an enormous challenge, something to be managed, to be taught, to be contended with, and ultimately, to be integrated into how we have always done things. Yet there are two sides to every story.
The Elephant in the Room: Why Lazy, Entitled, Job-Hopper Is A Useless, Inaccurate Perception
What do these negative perceptions sound like? Consider the following phrases, questions, and comments I often come across in my interactions with corporate leaders, including HR:
> They are lazy, entitled job-hoppers.
> Why do we have to pander to millennials?
> They need to be babied and hand-held.
> They want to be handed everything without putting in the work.
> We've given them more than we had and they still aren't satisfied.
> They think they can just walk into a room with the CEO and gain an audience.
> They don't have a sense of decorum.
> The millennials are the same as everyone else. They want what everyone wants.
> One day, they will have to grow up and be driven by money and the same things that everyone always has been concerned with.
These are the prevailing perceptions, spoken or unspoken, every time a young person is invited to interview, every time a new hire starts, and every time a young colleague is promoted to a management position. As Eric Hoover wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Such descriptions are reminders that most renderings of millennials are done by older people, looking through the windows of their own experiences." These perceptions are wrong and fundamentally damaging to employee engagement, workplace productivity, and positive culture-building.
It's not enough to know the business impacts of these negative perceptions. To create a blank page for understanding millennials, we need to address the elephant in the room up front with two key arguments against today's top prevailing negative perceptions: that millennials are lazy, entitled, job-hopping, need to be hand-held, and have issues with authority.
Argument 1: Yes, "They Have It Better and Easier Now"— But So Do You
"When I was young, I had to walk four miles in the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways. Kids these days have it too easy." This cliché captures an important truth: every generation has complained about the generations that followed. In reality, every generation has been lazier and more entitled compared to the previous generation's idea of hard work because every generation's goal is to make life easier for the next generation.
Boomers may have had to share a room with another sibling or wait in line to use the house's single corded phone. In comparison, a member of the traditionalist generation may have had to share a room with their whole family or wait for a telegram to hear from a loved one. Sure, in today's generation most everyone has their own cell phone and the majority can afford housing with separate rooms for each child. But that doesn't mean millennials are any more entitled or lazy than boomers were perceived to be by traditionalists.
Everyone has benefited from innovations such as access to better health care, public utilities, and transportation. Everyone has benefited from technology and as a result, we all have become lazier and more entitled. Especially in first world countries, regardless of age or generation, people expect to have access to clean water, food, transportation, education, and jobs. We have reached a level of comfort such that not only are our basic needs met, but our self-actualization needs are met as well. These are all luxuries that most previous generations did not have. To blame the millennial generation for enjoying the fruits of humanity's progress since childhood is a behavior borne out of misdirected bitterness and envy — vices that serve to encumber decision making instead of empowering it.
Also, as in every other generation, just because society has made life better for people doesn't mean that new challenges haven't arisen in their place. Yes, we are instantly connected today to our loved ones via cell phones. But then again, we are instantly and always permanently connected to a world of overwhelming information. Yes, we can Google knowledge in seconds that took many people many years to accumulate. But then again, the expectations for today's new employees to be able to process all this information are much different than they were for employees of yesteryear.
In summary, in some ways we are all lazier and more entitled than the generations that preceded us. In addition, we all have had to face new challenges that preceding generations did not predict or experience. The constant societal evolution toward better is one big reason why it is a grave error to characterize an entire generation as lazy, entitled, disrespectful, hand-held job-hoppers.
Argument 2: Stereotyping Is Discrimination and Promotes Exclusion. Period.
Consider this question: What if the words "lazy" and "entitled" were used to describe another subgroup? For example, all women are lazy and entitled. This would be considered discrimination and slanderous. Even softer versions such as "Why should we pander to [ethnic group] needs?" implies discrimination instead of inclusion. Organization leaders and employees, as always, should be careful about using discriminatory language, at a minimum to avoid legal issues.
Furthermore, it is impossible to build an inclusive culture while simultaneously projecting stereotypes. Many organizations profess a desire to create an inclusive cross-generational workplace in today's world where an unprecedented five generations are working side by side. Those same organizations, however, often knowingly and unknowingly express disrespect for millennials verbally and through behaviors.
For example, a 27-year-old millennial manager shared with me her experience with her one-up manager. The millennial had joined an organization after earning her bachelor's and master's degrees while working throughout college. She joined the organization at a managerial level and as a result, her gen X manager often comments, "You're so lucky to be getting all this responsibility at your age." Statements such as these subtly underscore the assumption that she was not deserving of her job because of her age, instead of appreciating that her strengths and experience simply fit the needs of the job. Many managers would see nothing wrong with this statement, but on the receiving end, it creates a consistent undertone of resentment.
Paul Meshanko, in his book The Respect Effect and related talks, shares his brilliant research on respect and its impact on productivity and engagement. He writes, "Respect biologically programs and primes our brains to do our very best work. It frees the pre-frontal complex, the most productive part of the brain that does complex problem solving, prioritizing, collaborating with people, to do its best work. When I'm treated with disrespect, that part of the brain goes silent, unable to do work." To encourage a cross-generationally inclusive, productive atmosphere for modern talent, we need to deliberately and intentionally create an atmosphere of respect for all generations.
Meshanko goes on to explain the biological challenges of doing so and how to overcome them: "When we engage people with suspicion, our behaviors become distinctly unproductive. We go out of our way to avoid them. We can also become hostile, where we spend our energy hurting other people and their ability to contribute. The problem is we are suspicious by nature. How do we overcome that? We go back to a state of mind we had when we were children. Instead of being suspicious when we didn't know someone, we were curious. When we can replace suspicion with curiosity, we approach each other to understand our differences and give them context."
Reading this book, written by a millennial, is one way in which you are intentionally engaging on a journey to respectfully understand the differences and context of the millennial generation. Instead of labeling and discriminating against millennials with words like "lazy" and "entitled," you can choose to actively become curious about, instead of suspicious of, the changes in expectation and behavior millennials are bringing forward. It may be difficult, but it will help you become proud of how you handle your everyday conversations with the newest members of the workforce. By doing so, not only are you avoiding legal repercussions, you are one step closer to building an inclusive atmosphere that creates productivity, engagement, and a commitment to dignity for all in your organization.
Generational Science Applied: The Formative Events That Defined the Millennials
In the next chapters, we will explore alternative language for the five most common millennial generation stereotypes: lazy, entitled, needing to be hand-held, disloyal, and having issues with authority. Before doing so, let's have a firm understanding of generational science and the statistics and events that influenced the millennial generation.
A generation is defined as "a cohort born in the same date range that experienced the same events during their formative years." As a result, sociologists say that some conclusions can be drawn about the cohort's attitudes, values, and beliefs, which comprises the essence of generational science.
Let's explore why the focus on formative events is important. Experiencing significant events as a child is different than experiencing events as an adult. Many people today comment that innovations like the Internet haven't just affected millennials, they've affected everyone. While that statement is true, adults have a predefined context with which to interpret significant events. Children, on the other hand, shape their context anew, for the first time, when significant events occur; this newly formed context then becomes the lens through which they interpret the world as adults.
In addition, children are significantly influenced by their parents. The behaviors and experiences parents share with their children as a result of events shape their kids' context as well. For example, in the United States, we can imagine that the widely publicized Columbine high school shooting, in which two teens killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 others before committing suicide, potentially created a parenting style that overly focused on child safety, one factor in what is commonly known as "helicopter parenting." Where once kids were allowed to roam freely, today parents keep a much tighter grip on their whereabouts. This is one of many formative events that shaped values, expectations, and beliefs differently for millennials compared to other generations.
A second component of the definition for generational science is that the conclusions drawn should aim to be about collective attitudes, values, and beliefs. To say that the millennial generation values or believes in being babied and hand-held doesn't make sense. However, to say that the millennial generation values real-time feedback is appropriate. One statement seeks to interpret the motivation behind the behavior or value, and therefore becomes a discriminatory conclusion. The other focuses on the value held and leaves discussion open for a diverse range of why.
A common mistake is to attribute traits, values, and beliefs to a generation, when instead they are a function of age, marital status, income, or other factors. For example, when considering benefits, policies, and cultural elements for boomer employees, it's much more useful to consider their life stage and the challenges of that stage (a function of age) than the formative events they experienced as children (the intention of generational studies).
Finally, let's consider the cultural component of the definition of a generation. The birth date range and name of generations are typically defined differently around the world because different events have taken place historically that shaped the distinctions between generations. However, as globalization has increased facilitated by the Internet, so has the similarity of generational definition. Hence, in the highly globalized world of today, the emergence of the millennial generation is typically considered a global phenomenon, albeit with local differences that we should account for. When referring to older generations, however, we must be even more careful not to assume similarities between nations in birth date range, names, or characteristics. Some of the stereotypes we discuss may sound like a US phenomenon at first glance, but the underlying millennial behaviors are often something many cultures are experiencing.
With a complete understanding of the word "generation" in hand, let's compare the generations today and draw some initial conclusions on the impact to the workplace.
Key Trends, Events, and Statistics
Let's consider the socioeconomic statistics and events that define the millennial generation.
Again, if you work for a global organization or are based in a different country, I encourage you to find the statistics that define the generations in your country of interest. In general, while the absolute values may differ, many of the trends for millennials may sound familiar because of the wide-reaching influence of digital technology. The statistics related to economic and societal trends, however, may differ significantly.
Excerpted from The Millennial Myth by Crystal Kadakia. Copyright © 2017 Crystal Kadakia. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Preface: Millennials and the Modern Workplace xi
Introduction The Perceptions We Hold Today 1
Chapter 1 Rebuilding the Backdrop for Millennials 17
Chapter 2 It's Not Lazy, It's Productivity Redefined 33
Chapter 3 It's Not Entitled, It's Entrepreneurial 53
Chapter 4 It's Not Hand-Holding, It's Agility 79
Chapter 5 It's Not Disloyal, It's Seeking Purpose 101
Chapter 6 It's Not Authority Issues, It's Respect Redefined 117
Conclusion: A Millennial-Inspired Modern World 139
About the Author 161
Working with Invati 163