The HBO show Silicon Valley epitomizes the stereotypical millennial. Credit HBO
We’ve all heard it before.
Heck, one 60 Minutes expose portrayed them as so dependent that if their boss says anything negative about their performance, the boss can be sure to get a phone call from their mother within 20 minutes, demanding an apology.
They are obsessed with themselves, but want to do work that helps others. They are changing the world with new technology, but are lazy and unmotivated. They put money above all else, but they are broke.
Who am I talking about? The millennial, of course, the most unusual of human species that seem to be, much like alcohol, both the cause and the solution to every one of the world’s problems.
Oh, and the worst part of it all? Companies actually have to, you know, employ them. And they are scared, to the point that they are hiring consultants to figure out what the heck to do with these people (people used in the loosest term possible).
Well, I guess it is time for me to step out from behind the curtain and reveal who I really am: a millennial. And, frankly, I think all these articles about millennials are bunk, with a capital B.
As I said, I’m a millennial (albeit at the tail end of considering myself one), and I work with four other guys at our office who are all within two years of age with myself (basically ages 29-32). While we all get along great, do you know what us five have in common?
Not much, really.
Some of us are into sports, others into technology, one nerd into comic books (okay, that one is me). And we have much different work preferences as well, as some of us prefer a structured environment, others are more independent and some enjoy the spotlight while others prefer to work in the background.
Do you know why?
Because, believe it or not, we are all different people. And, ironically enough, I think I have more in common with my father, who is 66, at least from the “best-way-to-manage-me” perspective, than I do with the four other millennials I work with.
Grouping us in as if we were one, massive person who can be dealt with in one single way is ridiculous. And any line of thinking that clumps people into one massive group, rather than seeing them as they should be seen – as individuals – is hopelessly misdirected.
After all, could you imagine if someone wrote an article stereotyping people with brown hair? Or, even worse, if there was one stereotyping people based off of their gender or race?
Those articles would be universally seen as ridiculous, arbitrary and offensive to the group that is being generalized. The same could be said about articles that view millennials as one indistinct block of people.
The Business Takeaway
For generations, elders have railed about youths, saying they are lazy, irreverent and won’t fit into their culture. Heck, in the 1950s and 60s, the establishment was petrified of hippies and beatniks and a new generation that believed in freedom and love.
Now, that generation has grown up, and is making all the same generalizations about the next wave of people to take over the workforce. And they are as inaccurate as they were 50 years ago.
Those generalizations, if accepted, can have major consequences to organizations as they grow. For example, there is a generalization out there that younger people are more energetic and open-minded, when psychologists have found no such link.
Instead, psychologists pretty much agree that a person’s personality is their personality, and it is relatively constant throughout their life, and that includes their energy level (unless they experience something incredibly traumatic). So you hire a young person because you think they have energy, and they wind up being a lump.
Smart businesses can gain an advantage by viewing people as individuals who either have the skills and personality they need or not, instead of lazily viewing people in big groups. And therein lays the best way to hiring and managing millennials: stop seeing them as millennials, and just see them as Steve, or Mike (or Paul).
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