The Demand Solutions Blog

Millennials Are People Just Like Everyone Else

by Donald Davidoff | September 21, 2016

Millennials Are People Just Like Everyone ElseI was recently reading the April issue of Harvard Business Review (yes, I know it’s September now; that’s just how behind on my reading I am), and there’s a fascinating article by Bruce Pfau entitled “What Do Millennials Really Want at Work? The Same Things the Rest of Us Do.”

Those of you who know me know that I typically take a skeptical view of any and all claims of how something (or someone) is “different” until I see data as evidence to back up the assertion. While it makes me occasionally be a bit of a curmudgeon, I find it also serves me well in avoiding lurching from one “shiny new bangle” to another.

This has never been truer than with the plethora of articles and consultants exhorting us to understand the strange, exotic beast known as the Millennial. When I read how Millennials want purpose in their jobs and like to work in teams, I immediately think, “Don’t baby boomers and Gen Xers want purpose? And don’t they enjoy working on teams? I know I do.”

Now there’s some real evidence to back this up. As Dr Pfau, KPMG’s Vice Chair of Human Resources and Communications puts it, “While pithy descriptions of what makes Millennials unique are presented as self-evident and seem to have a ring of truth to them, very few are supported with solid empirical research.” To the contrary, he points out that there’s a growing body of credible research showing there are far more similarities than differences between generations…and even when there are differences, they tend to be differences of small not large degree and certainly not differences in kind.

In an IBM Institute for Business Value report, the difference in the percentage of Millennials with certain attitudes was within a couple of points of that of Gen Xers and Boomers. These include things like their desire to:

  • Make a positive impact on their organization
  • Work with a diverse group of people
  • Help solve social or environmental issues
  • Manage work-life balance
  • Become a leader in their organization
  • and many more things

It’s true that Millennials change jobs more frequently, but that was true of the other generations when they were of the same age. So “job hopping” is really a function of age, not generation. In fact, Ben Casselman of fivethirtyeight.com was quoted in this article saying, “The myth of the job-hopping Millennial is just that — a myth. The data consistently shows that today’s young people are actually less professionally itinerant than previous generations.”

This really shouldn’t surprise us. We’re all humans, so why should we think basic motivations would change dramatically just because of birth year. Millennials grew up with technology which may cause tendencies to use technology somewhat differently (e.g. my daughters hardly ever use their mobile phones to make phone calls), but that doesn’t mean that their dreams, desires and fears are really much different than mine were when I was their age.

So don’t fall prey to consultants peddling a good sounding story that plays to our desire to categorize our people when there’s no data behind it. Provide opportunities for your teams to contribute, grow and prosper; treat them as individuals with their own individual needs; and respect their need for fulfillment and life balance, and you’ll do fine. Words to live by with any Millennial…or Gen Xer…or Baby Boomer. And I’ll bet with many generations yet to come!

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