Are Millennials Really Different From the Rest of Us?

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I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.” ~ Hesoid, 700 BC

Strawberry Generation.

Millennials.

Generation Y.

These terms are commonly used to describe the generation born between 1980 and 2000.

We’ve heard lots of horror stories about these Gen Ys and Millennials and the Internet is full of articles and stories about them. In fact, I have heard first-hand horror stories about Gen Y workers in our workforce.

But seriously, are they any different from the rest of us? If yes, then what and how are they different from the rest of us Gen Xers and Baby Boomers?


Comparing Gen Xers with Millennials

To begin with, I belong to Generation X. So you probably can guess my age.

As far as I can recall, when I was in my twenties, I had very similar experiences as today’s Millennials. Unkind and disparaging comments were made against my generation. It was not uncommon to hear comments about how my generation was a useless generation compared to my parent’s generation and the one before.

Some of the comments passed by the previous generation included remarks such as “These youngsters are so useless” or “These youngsters don’t know what they want in life” or “Life is too good for these young people”. Or worse, we were just “good-for-nothings”.

The problem I see with these comparisons of people of my Generation with those of the previous generation is that it is not a fair comparison at all. It is not an apple-to-apple comparison.

Comparisons of people of my Generation with those of the previous generation is that it is not a fair comparison at all. It is not an apple-to-apple comparison.

What I Really Cared About When I Was in my 20s

Truth be told, when I was in my twenties, I had no clue what I wanted to be. I had no clue what I was good at. And I had no clue what I should do for the rest of my life.

But after I started working, I wanted to climb the corporate ladder. I wanted to achieve more than what my parents achieved. I wanted to be promoted as quickly as possible, and I wanted to earn higher salaries every year. I too, wanted that dream job, that dream home and that dream car.

I would think of different ways to climb the corporate ladder and achieve what I wanted. And if I couldn’t get what I wanted in the current organisation, I would look for opportunities in other organisations that would give me the chance of moving up the corporate ladder faster. I was always on the look-out for a short-cut to success.

So I never stayed in one job for more than 3 years. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I started to mellow down and stayed on a job for 13 years.

So how is this so different from the current Generation Y?
They too want to get promoted. They too want higher salaries. They too want to be recognised.

The fact is, inter-generational comparisons are not doing all of us any favours. It only highlights the biasness we have against the Millennials.

The fact is, inter-generational comparisons are not doing all of us any favours. It only highlights the biasness we have against the Millennials.

It isn’t a Fair Comparison

In most cases, when we compare ourselves with the younger generation, we are not doing justice to them and to ourselves. How do we compare a 40+ year old Generation Xer with a 20+ year old Millennial? How do we reconcile values of a 40+ year old with that of a 20+ Millennial?

When I was in my 20s, ALL that mattered to me were status, salary and a lifestyle that others would envy. I wanted a nice home. I wanted to drive the coolest car. I wanted to go on long holidays. And I wanted that senior job title.

Now that I’m in my 40s, my values are entirely different from what they were when I was in my 20s. I no longer crave for recognition. I no longer care what type of homes others live in or what cars they drive. And I don’t give a hoot about what others think of me.

What matters to me now are a happy home and family; to spend quality time with good friends over a meal or a great conversation; to enjoy life’s journey for whatever its worth.

When I was in my 20s, ALL that mattered to me were status, salary and a lifestyle that others would envy. I wanted a nice home.

What Your Parent’s Generation Said about YOU

Now if you are a Generation Xer, think back to your younger days — when you were in your 20s.
What were your priorities back then?

What were those years like? What were your values? What was your aim in life? What did you really care about? What did you really want to do?

And most of all, what did your parent’s generation say about you and your generation?

I would go out on a limb to say that they said very similar things about you and your generation, as we do the younger generation today. I’m sure they experienced similar frustrations as you do now with the younger generation.

I would go out on a limb to say that they said very similar things about you and your generation, as we do the younger generation today.

Are There Any Differences At All?

Now I wouldn’t say that we were exactly the same as the Millennials when we were in our 20s. There are definitely differences between a 20-something Millennial and the 20-something you years back.

The good old 1970’s are not the same as the rolling 1990’s.

So what are the differences?

For starters, we never had iPhones and iPads back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And we sure didn’t have WhatsApp and Telegram. The 20-somethings today prefer to text their friends than to have a face-to-face conversation. They prefer to “Google” than to go to the library to do research. And they prefer to shop online than to make their way to a bricks-and-mortar store in Orchard Road.

In addition, economic life cycles are getting shorter and shorter. And so are the expectations of the younger generation. Gen Xers may have expected a promotion every couple of years, but a Millennial today would expect a promotion every year or so. (Yes, I know some who expect to be promoted just 2 months into their new jobs, but these are more the exception than the norm. And I would venture to say that these are the ones who stick out like a sore thumb attracting the unkind comments levied against the entire generation of Millennials.)

The Secret to Engaging Millennials

The fact is most Millennials are still quite sensible. They know what is realistic and what isn’t. I have hired and worked with 20-somethings before and they were a fantastic bunch of people. They gave me no problems and we all enjoyed a great working relationship for many years.

And the secret to that great working relationship was because I took care of their career paths. I took pains to plan their career paths and to help them move forward in their careers. I gave them opportunities to discover their strengths and to shine. I gave them the space to make mistakes and to grow in their jobs. And I gave them the opportunity to learn new things on the job.

Now ask yourself: When you were in your 20s, did you wish your boss would do all of these things for you? To look out for you? To help you progress in your career? To take care of your professional development?

If your answer is yes to any of the above, then what is so different about you and the 20-something Millennials of today?

When you were in your 20s, did you wish your boss would do all of these things for you? To look out for you? To help you progress in your career? To take care of your professional development?

What the Research Shows

Research after research have shown that generational differences are greatly over-hyped. As Bruce N. Pfau said in a recent Harvard Business Review article: “Part of the reason is the proliferation of poor ‘research’ or overreaching and invalid conclusions based on otherwise valid facts. The most glaring examples of faulty research are ‘studies’ of Millennials that lack comparisons to any control groups of other workers or young people of other generations… in addition, it is also more attention-grabbing to talk about differences among groups and changes in the workplace than it is to report on how alike they are.” (Harvard Business Review, April 2016, “What Do Millennials Really Want at Work? The Same Things the Rest of Us Do”)

And in a paper by Profs Brent Roberts, Grant Edmonds and Emily Grijalva, they concluded that the differences between generations is “an aging phenomenon, and not a historical phenomenon”. In other words, we are unconsciously comparing two generations of completely different age groups, and completely different values. And that leads to a seriously flawed conclusion about the two generations.

In the words of Roberts, Edmonds and Grijalva, “The fact that one can find complaints about the younger generation being more narcissistic going back to Hesiod helps make the point that every generation is Generation Me. That is, until they grow up.”

Conclusion

So perhaps the next time you are tempted to point your finger at a Millennial and accuse them of being frivolous, shallow, and irresponsible, it might do well for you to remember that you are probably looking at them through your own pair of coloured lenses.

Author Bio

Steven Lock is the Founder of FutureTHINK! Training & Consultancy LLP. He is a Trainer, Author and a Leadership Coach. Steven brings with him 20 years of corporate experience.

Steven is passionate about helping organisations transform their teams into high performing teams. He does that by first helping organisations identify and hire the right people, and then training their leaders and managers on how to manage and lead their people to achieve peak performance consistently.

Steven is the developer of The CAAP® High Performance Model. The model focuses on Culture (cultural fit), Attitude, Aptitude and Personality dimensions of their employees and job candidates. It is a highly practical, effective and proven approach.

Steven believes that for organizations to be truly successful and perform at their highest levels, they need to shift their mind-sets to having the RIGHT people on-board – and not necessarily the best or the brightest.

Steven is the author of two books:

    • “Hiring for Performance: The CAAP® Model to Hiring and Building High-Performance Teams.”

    • “The Right Talent: The Agility-Focused Interviewing Approach™ to Hiring the Right Candidate Every Time.”

He is the developer of The Leadership STYLE Report™ that is based on Dr. Daniel Goleman’s research on leadership styles.

Steven has been interviewed twice on MediaCorp’s live radio show The Breakfast Club on 938FM, and has contributed numerous articles to Singapore Business Review, ST Recruit, SHRI Human Capital, LinkedIn and other publications.

His comment on Team Collaboration has been quoted in the Harvard Business Review OnPoint Magazine.

Steven is certified in MBTI® (Step I & II) & DiSC® Personality instruments.

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June 8, 2016

One thought on “Are Millennials Really Different From the Rest of Us?”

  1. Seems to me like a vicious cycle. Many Gen Xers like us today are in fact also parents of Millennials. Their behaviours, mentalities, attitudes…..etc are probably the by-products of how their Gen Xers parents raised them up.

    Gen Xers are also partially responsible for the technologies and IT gadgets which the Millennials are so hooked on. We are the generation who developed and revolutionized the world today with those technologies in the 90s and early 2000s.

    Yes the Millennials are indeed no difference from us, Gen Xers in that like us in our 20s, they too have career aspirations and expectations although in a different time era.

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