millennial taking selfie

More Millennial Misunderstandings

Raise your hand if you’re sick of hearing about Millennials. Scrutinizing this generation, from their tech habits, work style and buying power to their social attitudes and politics has become something of a national pastime. Are they really such strange creatures?

notebook-1064660_1920Millennials themselves will be the first ones to tell you they aren’t. It’s easy to scratch the surface and use words like “entitled”, “lazy”, “narcissistic”, etc. without thinking about the world today and its influence—or what might be really driving behavior. So before you read another article about how Millennials are so different, consider some of these Millennial stereotypes:

Looks like: Laziness
Really is: Seeking Flexibility

Perhaps more than any generation before them, Millennials are challenging traditional workplace rules. For the generation who grew up with technology, the line between “work” and “life” has always been blurred. To them, work is that which gets done—it’s not a geographic location or a specific time. They’re looking for organizations that support flexible work schedules, remote offices and technology use because that’s what they are accustomed to. For Millennials, these aren’t perks, they’re expectations.

The modern workplace is responding. Many organizations are adopting a Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE model) in which employees are given high levels of flexibility and autonomy and employee performance is measured entirely on delivered results. In ROWE organizations, employees work when they want, where they want, and how they want. The ROWE model is fairly new and still evolving, and to do it successfully an organization needs to have a pretty kick-butt performance measurement process.

Looks like: Entitlement
Really is: Desire to Assimilate

I once worked on a team of very high performers, and as such, we were afforded a lot of freedom and autonomy over our schedules. Some of us started early to get out by 4 pm, others came in later to get kids on the bus, some of us took long lunches to exercise. It was understood that we were all in the office during core hours and would do what it took to get the work done.

When we brought a new college grad on to our team, she too started getting very flexible with her schedule right away. Entitled Millennial! was the outcry. Not so. No one told her that the level of flexibility we had was earned through good performance over time. She was just trying to fit in on the team. (PS—she was a rock star and got to our level very quickly.)

Looks like: Neediness
Really is: Collaborative Spirit

To pragmatic and self-sufficient GenX managers, it can look like Millennials struggle to work independently. Many Millennials want a much higher level of feedback than GenX-ers and Boomers are used to. Millennials came of age during a convergence of helicopter parenting styles and technology, and had strong feedback loops for nearly every aspect of their lives.

Raised in an era of team sports and activities, group projects and near-constant online connection reinforced the message to Millennials that collaboration was the best way to achieve a goal. They are used to group brainstorming, consensus building and team culture. For this generation, “teamwork makes the dream work” is how things get done.

We GenX-ers can relate to unfair characterization—remember we were labeled cynical, disengaged slackers. Looking back now, we were doing what every emerging generation did before us and what Millennials are doing now: simply reacting to the world around us (while confounding the generations who came before).


  1. You brought up some thought provoking ideas about how mills are perceived and how they view themselves. Excellent!

  2. YES! My boss has recently said how tired he is of hearing about millennials, which is funny because he has 2 that report to him. I love this post so much because it feels unfair how much of a bad rap millennials have been given. Thanks for helping to change the perspective on behaviors and desires so they’re not perceived so negatively!

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