What’s the Deal with Millennials? 

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According to Google Trends, people have become increasingly interested in generational differences in the past few years. Every day, a slew of articles is published with some variation of the title: “This is how we’ve always done it, but how will Millennials do it?!” Back in 2013, Time Magazine published a special issue on millennials, which opened the floodgates of criticism. Zoom around the internet, and you’ll find that people don’t have the highest opinion of millennials:

  • Millennials love selfies, but don’t like themselves.
  • They want meaningful work, but don’t want to work.
  • Millennials want to take risks, but are afraid of loss.
  • They are addicted to social networking but don’t like social interaction.

Before we go further, let’s take a step back. A “millennial” is someone who was born between the early 80’s and mid 90’s (no one agrees on exact dates). A millennial is anyone old enough to remember cassette tapes, but young enough to have been raised on CDs.  Also known as “Generation Y”. By 2020, half of the workforce will be millennials. Despite this, many employers are struggling to find and adapt to recent graduates. Ironically, recent grads are still struggling to find employment.

In 2013, 89% of companies stated that millennials are not ready to enter the workforce. Another survey said less than 50% have desirable skill sets. McKinsey and Company identified that:

  • 61% of new graduates are unhappy with their careers.
  • 57% of employers agree that they cannot find enough skilled entry-level workers.

Another study assessed survey results of 2,322 students over a 4-year period. The results show that 45% of students did not improve in skills employers seek until the last 2 years of college (critical thinking, reasoning, and writing). In turn, recent graduates are struggling more with unemployment than previous generations.

Who Can We Blame?

Earlier this year, TED talk legend, Simon Sinek answered some questions about millennials in a live interview. Some are hailing this video as “The Interview that Broke the Internet”. Sinek reaffirms that millennials are entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, and lazy. He claims this is because of:

  • Failed parenting strategies
  • Addiction to technology
  • Instant gratification
  • Consumerism

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Sinek concludes his interview by praising the creativity and potential of millennials, but it’s about as comforting as someone saying  “It’s not you, it’s me.” Sinek isn’t the only one to hold this opinion of millennials. There is a lot of research backing up his claims, but I’m not sold on his premise.

After doing some of my own digging, I found many articles that support the opposing viewpoint. One article cites several research papers explaining how Sinek may be wrong. Another, by the Harvard Business Review, found that millennials share many of the same traits and trends as older generations. This article concludes that millennials aren’t an anomaly, in fact, they are very average. Millennials are what some scientists may call “young”. This sate of “young-ness” often comes with narcissism, entitlement, and laziness.

Who’s Right?

One side says that millennials are flawed anomalies, the other side says that millennials are average. So, who’s right?

Well, the conversation itself may be flawed. We can dissect the character traits of any group people into infinitesimal segments. We can blame parents, technology, vaccines, gluten, and the media all we want, but the real question shouldn’t be “What caused this?” The question we should ask ourselves is “What next?”

The Next Generation Leadership Series

For the next couple months, we will be addressing this question through our newest articles series about young leaders. Our goal is to help make sense of this situation to inspire better solutions. Much of our research comes 25 years of management studies and by working with over 2,000 students.

Our motto is “Make Life Simple”. Natural Laws govern everything around us, even the workplace. As you continue to read this article series we hope that you will something new about how:

  • Employers can improve relationships with young employees.
  • Parents can better understand their children’s career aspirations.
  • Young professionals can use their generational differences to discover their own success.
  • Students can improve their chances of finding work by understanding the older generation.

Next month, we will look at the simple natural laws that causes the majority of conflicts in the workplace, and how it relates to the millennial issue.