In a New York Times article published from 2016, author, Farhad Manjoo opens cheekily with,
“If you’re reading this article voluntarily, you’re probably not a millennial, because everyone knows millennials don’t read news.”
After removing his tongue from his cheek, he goes on to devalue grouping a workforce based on generational differences. (He’s particularly looking at corporations grouping Millennials in the workforce.)
“…one of the primary functions of the media these days is to traffic in gleefully broad generalizations and criticisms of millennials, the more than 75 million Americans born about 1980 to 2000.”
Manjoo uses credible references from Human Resources Manager for Google, Laszlo Bock to back him up. Laszlo basically says Millennials are no different than any of us in the workforce.
“Every single human being wants the same thing in the workplace — we want to be treated with respect, we want to have a sense of meaning and agency and impact, and we want our boss to just leave us alone so we can get our work done.”
I can’t argue with that.
In fact, my purpose now is to debunk mainstream media’s stereotype of our largest generation in the hope of better understanding Millennials in the workplace. I’m constantly begging clients and colleagues, forget stereotypes when considering recruiting Millennials or coaching Millennial Leaders. I ask them to classify a recruit on a more solid basis than generational stereotypes, and that is by values.
However, it’s near impossible to dishonor the idea that largely values come from generational differences.
Millennials’ characteristics and values are mostly generationally common, we can’t deny it.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasoning behind grouping in generations.
According to Dictionary.com, a generation is:
“All of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively”.
A generation was once defined biologically, based on the average span of time between parents and their offspring –– 20-25 years.
Our generations are now not simply defined by when they born, it’s now a bit more about values.
An example, the Pew Research Centre in the US uses 3 categories to help classify a generation: Life Cycle, Cohort, and Period Effects.
Life Cycle effect, pretty obviously refers to a position in the life cycle, for instance it’s clear a 5yr old is of a different generation to a 65yr old, (and therefore probably have very different values) because of their stages in the life cycle.
Period effects are events or circumstances (wars, social movements, economic booms or busts, scientific or technological breakthroughs) that span broadly across social, economical, geographical and age defining groups and have a lasting impact on an entire population.
Cohort effects refer to the by-product of unique historical circumstances on a particular group of people ––a social change that has an effect on a group of people (a generation) during a time when they are in the process of forming opinions.
These are only guidelines though, and the defining of a generation still has goal posts that move.
Which is why I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the US data I was finding on Millennial behaviour when I dove into understanding Millennials. How are these reports and comments on Millennials from the US going to help my clients better understand Millennials in Melbourne, Australia, for instance?
So I did my own research with a local group. Just quickly tho…
Why is local data important?
Millennials in the workforce in Athens, Greece, for example, with the current unemployment situation, will most likely have differing expectations and behaviours than a Millennial in Norway where the job market is fantastic. This could be a determining factor on defining a particular generation based on geography.
Another example is the September 11 attacks in New York City, 2001. This has become an important marker for analysts drawing the line between Generation Y (Millennials) and the following, Generation Z.
‘911’ marked a time of great change on a global level. Socially, politically, and economically things dramatically shifted after this day. Analysts defined those that were of an age that remembered life before 911 as one generation (Millennial/GenY), and those too young to realise the impact (GenZ) as another. Makes sense, right?
The bottom line is, whether you believe in defining by group by its generational characteristics or not, stereotyping happens, and generation gaps exist.
And to close that gap in the workforce, particularly when focused on managing Millennials (or any other generation) it’s important to first determine the values of a particular generation if you expect to effectively coach and lead.
This is the case for both teams made up of people from one generation as well as hybrid, cross-generational teams.
It’ll be the values that determine your recruitment and leadership strategies. And the values that outweigh any other difference for successful teams.
In my experience values are shared across all generations, it’s just how we express them that may be different. This is where communication and coaching come in. How do you guide your communication techniques in the workplace?
Communicating with Millennials in the workplace is not a mystery, and it shouldn’t be seen as a challenge. You just need to unknow all the crap the media feeds us, and the rest is all pretty simple really. Download my free eBook and read my exclusive findings and insight on the most misunderstood generation of our time.
Written by Emily Jaksch. All rights reserved.