Age discrimination is often thought of as a problem for older workers, but does it also affect younger workers?
In recent years, more and more writers have profiled the “Millennial.” Their pieces can often include sweeping generalizations to characterize the generation, the most common of which are: “they’re entitled and expect to get great jobs without paying their dues,” “they don’t understand how office hierarchy works,” “they’re high-maintenance,” “they’re job hoppers,” and “they require ego-stroking.” The list goes on.
These generalizations have created a culture where, according to Cam Marston of Generational Insights, there is a “fear or a reluctance to hire people under 30, because they are unpredictable, and, ‘they don’t know how to work.’” There are even “how to” articles to guide 18-34 year olds on “overcoming millennial workplace stereotypes.”
All this begs the question: if prejudice is defined as a “preconceived opinion formed beforehand that is not based on reason or actual experience,” then could our growing societal need to define and characterize the “Millennial” be verging on prejudice? How many 18-34 year olds actually fit these stereotypes?
Rethinking the term, “Millennial”
According to Pew Research Center, most people labeled as belonging to the “Millennial generation” actually do not identify with the term “Millennial.” In fact, only 40% of adults ages 18 to 34 consider themselves part of the “Millennial generation,” while another 33% (mostly older Millennials) consider themselves part of the next older cohort, Generation X. Perhaps unsurprisingly, generational identity is strongest among the Boomers – the very generation that developed the term, “Millennial.” Nearly 80% of those 51 to 69 consider themselves part of the “Baby-Boom generation.” As John Green – New York Times bestselling author and blogger – put it:
“I cringe a little every time I see the word ‘millennial,’ and not least because it rarely seems to be actual millennials using it. This is not a coincidence: the word ‘millennial’ as a descriptor of a demographic group was coined by two men born just after World War II. Generation X named themselves Generation X. Millennials were named by Baby Boomers.”
More to Millennials than Meets the Eye
Many of the commonly-held Millennial stereotypes are not necessarily true. Take the following 3 examples:
Millennial career motivations set them apart from other generations.
Many articles cite millennials’ passion for making a positive difference as their key motivation at work — and one that distinguishes them from other groups. As companies work to attract and engage this key demographic, many are going so far as to change the way they do business to appeal to this group. Those changes actually address overall needs for employee engagement based on Oxford Economics’ 2015 report, Workforce 2020, which found that millennials and non-millennials may not differ so dramatically after all. Both place equal value on “making a positive difference” as important to their job satisfaction. Additionally, competitive compensation matters even more to everyone – 68% of millennials and 64% of non-millennials cite compensation as an important or very important benefit.
Millennials are entitled and don’t want to pay their dues.
Actually, the “Millennial generation” graduated into one of the worst job markets in recent history. They have historically high levels of student loan debt, and their lifetime earnings will, on average, never equal that of their parents, according to a US News & World Report. Adding insult to injury, many millennials who were initially unemployed or underemployed since graduating must now compete against waves of more recent graduates with “fresher” skills. As John Green observes, most millennials are desperate to pay their dues. “I have seen again and again that young people want to contribute. We just need to let them.”
Millennials are job-hoppers.
Much has been written about millennials’ alleged propensity for disloyalty and “job hopping.” We’re told they won’t stay at any one job for very long. However, while studies have indeed shown that millennials are changing jobs frequently, if we take a second to look a bit closer, the same studies also report that millennials are not necessarily changing jobs any more frequently than their older counterparts. In fact, Oxford Economics found that millennials are no more likely than non-millennials to leave their jobs under favorable circumstances. For example, 41% of millennials (versus 38% of non-millennials) say higher compensation would increase their loyalty and engagement with their company. Mentorship and growth opportunities can also drive loyalty among millennials.
Of course it’s fair to say that different generations have different priorities and perspectives based on the time in which they were raised. And yes, “Millennials” are different from other workers. But every employee is unique. When it comes down to it, generalizing or stereotyping based on age is no different from generalizing based on race, ethnicity, or religion.
So before you project a preconceived notion on your colleague based on his/her age, press pause. Listen to what s/he is saying and really wants. And respond based on what’s in front of you versus previously formed opinions that may color your read of the situation. Everyone will be better off for it.