Millennial Myth Busting

Listing complaints about the younger generation is not a new pastime. Aside from continued dependence on constant connection, the rising millennial workforce seems to be most focused on personal fulfillment in all aspects of their lives, especially at work.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013
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"I think I may be the voice of my generation. Or, at least a voice. Of a generation."

So says the hapless main character Hannah in the hit HBO show Girls, which is said by some to embody the millennial generation. The characters are unfortunate beyond the circumstance of mere bad luck. Job search, ambition, love life and familial relations are all prey to one misplaced ideology: That Millennials expect instant results with minimal effort.

Sound familiar? We are now warned to mind the generational gap, caused by differing values in the workplace. The iconic phrase has never been truer. Beginning in the 1980s in America, an era of multi-generations -- four (soon to be five) distinct generations are working side-by-side in the work­place:

*     Veterans (b. 1922-1945)

*     Boomers (b. 1946-1964)

*     Generation X (b. 1965-1980)

*     Generation Y (b. 1981-2000)

Combine these distinct age gaps with the rapid changes in values and technology, and the workplace will never be the same -- or will it?

Enter Gen Y

From tank tops in interviews to absenteeism and organizational lane jumping, corporations are concerned about maxi­mizing employee productivity, professionalism and overall success. That includes management of millennials and the continual blend of old and new values, habits and expectations across generational gaps.

Lifestyle Characteristics by Generation




Baby Boomers

Generation X

Generation Y

Major Cultural Events

World War II

Great Depression

The New Deal

Vietnam War

Civil Rights Movement


AIDS epidemic

Internet revolution




2004 Presidential Election

General Qualities



Reluctant to change

Uncomfortable with conflict

Desire to please







Openly speak opinions




Highly involved

Core Values













Limited In-person


Social Media

Work Ethic

Hard work

Respect authority


Adhere to rules and policy


Question authority

Driven to succeed

Team player

Work-life balance



Telecommuting OK

Looking for meaning



Desire to 'do it all'

Working With Others

Independent but value working well with others

Care deeply what others think


Prefer to work alone

Prefer small groups

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The majority of these inevitable clashes in work styles could be solved, with a little effort. Whatever conflicts arose in the workplace, work went on. Enter Gen Y.

Also known as the Net Generation, Generation Next and Digital Natives, millennials are most obviously characterized not by their knowledge of and dependence on technology, but rather by their seeming preoccupation with the Internet, social media and a perceived demand for instant gratification.

Conflict is Inevitable

The Boomers aren't leaving. Nor are the veterans. Due to many factors, including greater longevity, economics, need for expertise and personal goals, people are staying longer in the workforce. More and more generational conflicts are bound to crop up.

Today's HR managers are concerned about helicopter parents calling in to say their children are being worked too hard. Entitlement seems to be a continuing theme. "Most of the questions I get from human resources and recruiting professionals about Generation Y are the same," says Ryan Healy, COO and co-founder of Brazen Careerist Inc. "They are all about why this generation expects to get so much so fast, why we feel entitled to flexibility, why we think we deserve high pay immediately, and so forth."

Listing complaints about the younger generation is not a new pastime. Aside from continued dependence on constant connection, the rising millennial workforce seems to be most focused on personal fulfillment in all aspects of their lives -- especially in the workplace.

Millennials are looking for:

*     Open communication;

*     Positive reinforcement;

*     Appreciation for their input;

*     Goal-oriented work;

*     Development of well-rounded skills; and

*     Professional growth in the form of mentor­ship.

And at worst they are described as self-centered, entitled, pampered and lazy. Are these stereotypes true?

Perception versus Reality

A disconnect between perception and reality has been the downfall of many a good relationship.            

More than a few millennials would rightly object to being lumped in with the young adults on the HBO show Girls. The fact of the matter remains that Gen Y has -- perhaps too hastily -- been given a bad reputation. While fiction such as Girls displays floundering, lazy young adults, the reality is that Lena Dunham, writer, director and lead actress on the show, is a wildly successful entrepreneur. She's won a Golden Globe and many other awards for her television projects. Unlike the character she portrays, she is anything but drifting.

Understanding and accepting employees on a one-on-one basis to identify individual needs, goals and expectations is not a new tactic. It is a rule of successful business.

Employees are more than a representation of what year they happen to have been born in. Understanding employees individually will help diffuse generational conflict and miscommunication. And it is the Millennial who may bring fresh eyes and a unique perspective to the future of any business.

And, if not, we can all rely on the fact that they will grow up. After all, we did.

Ann Clark is the CEO and Founder of San Diego-based ACI Specialty Benefits, a full-service employee assistance, work-life, student assistance, corporate concierge and wellness company.

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