It’s High Time We Stopped Generalizing About Millennials

From Fotolia.comFrom Fotolia.com

Think about three or four co-workers that are the same general age as you are.

Do all of you have the same points of view? Do all of you behave the same way?

Of course not. And yet, every day we are bombarded with articles that make broad generalizations about workers based on the year they were born. There is no more targeted group for these articles than the Millennial generation.

Broad generalizations don’t help anyone

I was listening to a story on Here and Now – on NPR, the last bastion of nuance – about the need to reinvent business education and the Dean of the Boston University School of Management proceeded to make this broad generalization about an entire generation of individuals:

The Millennial generation is wired slightly differently. The Millennials tend to be individuals … and I’ll just share a story with you from one of the larger financial services firms where they are talking about the fact that many of the Millennials want to work from home, by themselves at their computer, not have to engage with other people inside the firm or outside the firm. They’re basically saying ‘leave me alone, tell me exactly what you want me to do, leave the rest to me’… the lack of interest, in many cases, of being on teams, and the power of ideas, is a major challenge for virtually any significant organization around the world.”

This is a dean of a major business school insinuating that everyone that was born between the early 1980s and the early 200os is a loner who just wants to work at home on their computer and not interact with anyone or be a team player. It simply isn’t true.

Our experience does dictate our understanding of the world. And, yes, Millennials have a different experience with the world than Generation X and Baby Boomers.

A weak way to predict behavior

However, knowing the year someone was born is an extremely weak way to predict their behavior, just like knowing a person’s gender is a weak way to predict their behavior. A much stronger indicator of our future behavior is an individual’s preferences, and the profiles that exist for measuring those attributes span generations.

Let’s take this same scenario described above and put it in the context of a tool that measures individual preferences and behavior styles – the Everything DiSC Workplace Profile. DiSC is an extremely accurate tool that is well-backed by decades of research. In other words, it’s freakishly accurate. It categorizes individual behavior in four different ways – Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientious.

Here’s a very high level overview of each type:

DISCoverview

Everyone has a different style

It’s critical to understand that no style is better or worse than the others, and that every individual on the planet pulls from all four of these types – it’s not an all or nothing approach. However, we tend as a natural preference to gravitate to one, or at most two, of these styles. This is true regardless of the year you were born – the distribution across type is consistent across generations.

What’s more, individuals of certain styles tend to gravitate towards different types of careers. This is not a hard and fast rule, but here are a few examples:

  • You’ll find a disproportionate number of D’s in leadership and management positions.
  • You’ll find a disproportionate number of I’s in sales and marketing positions.
  • You’ll find a disproportionate number of S’s in counseling and social work position.
  • You’ll find a disproportionate number of C’s in IT and accounting positions.

It’s not that individuals with those types are the only people who can do those types of positions, or that individuals that are these types can’t do completely opposite types of work successful. These careers just cater more to their happy place.

With that in mind, let’s explore a different perspective regarding why the Millennials in the financial firm may have wanted to work from home with their computer. We know that the nature of financial careers – numbers, data, logic, reason – are very appealing to individuals with a high C type. We also know that individuals who are high C’s tend to enjoy working by themselves – they are typically introverts who are most productive when they are off on their own.

You can’t group people solely by generation

Is it possible that instead of it being a trait of all Millennials, the Dean was describing a trait of young professional that have a high C type? The type of people who may gravitate towards the type of career that you might find in a large financial firm?

Article Continues Below

Sponsored Content

[EBOOK] 5 Keys to Retaining Your Top Employees

Your competitors want your top performing employees. Do you have a company culture that encourages them to stay or go? Learn how these five keys can create a culture that employees love and would never want to leave.
300x300

Just like you’ll find young professionals who are high C’s, head over to a marketing agency and you’ll find young professionals who are high I’s on the opposite end of the spectrum, who thrive on working with people; Head over to a consulting company and you’ll find high D’s young professionals that are your natural charismatic leaders, able of rallying teams around goals. And so on, and so forth.

Grouping millions of individuals based on the 20-year-span they were born in and saying, with a straight face, that everyone in this group behaves the same way is an absurd notion. It’s also an easy way out.

Understanding why employees behave the way they do in the workplace – particularly those who are not like you – is much more complex.

Hopefully, this article has shed a very small bit of light on a different approach to make one key point – stop generalizing by generations. There are better ways to think through these issues, and better ways to approach your employees of all ages that relies on their innate preferences rather than their age.

This was originally published on Zen Workplace.

  • steventhunt

    Karlyn, thanks for calling attention to this dangerous trend of stereotyping an entire generation. I frequently present and often ask millennials in the audience if they are tired of the discussion about millennials being a certain way. Virtually all of them say its annoying.

    Imagine if the head of a company said, “we employ a lot of baby boomers and we’ve found that most baby boomers really aren’t that interested in career advancement – they just don’t have the drive of employees in other generations since many of them are thinking about retirement”. I doubt people in the baby boom generation, or any other generation would appreciate being characterized in this way. Yet for some reason people seem comfortable making similar sweeping generalizations about the millennial generation. I’d like to see less focus on labeling the preferences of generations and more focus on understanding the preferences of people.

    You might appreciate this blog I wrote awhile back on TLNT entitled “are millennials different or just younger”: http://www.tlnt.com/2014/03/20/are-millennial-employees-truly-different-or-just-younger/

  • Steven Ross

    Great point of view and totally supports research my organisation conducted in December 2014. Looking at responses from 1000 business leaders and 1000 “Gen Y” employees (using the 18 – 34 bracket) in the UK, we discovered the preconceptions about careers for this generation are wide of the mark.

    Given that as humans we are natural modellers and pattern spotters, you can understand why people like to make labels and then stick them on others, but in an increasingly competitive talent market, the winners will be those organisations that design career deals and development initiatives which focus on individuals much more than trying to squeeze colleagues into generic cohorts.

    I’m running a webinar on this topic and some take outs of the research next Wednesday 18th March at 1300GMT. If you want to join in, please sign up at http://careersweek.penna.com/

  • Gregory Suhr

    Isn’t saying “we” should stop generalizing something of a generalization?

  • Richard

    Doesn’t discussion about them “generalize” them?

  • Mike

    Well that’s odd. As a millennial, I read all articles I can about us. To get an idea of how we are viewed so I can best approach a boss or colleague. Every one of them stated how we like to work in groups and network as much as possible. And in my short career so far, that is what I’ve seen. This is the first “loner” description I have ever seen.
    Most articles say the following about Millenials:
    Work in groups
    Likes changes in day to day tasks
    Needs constant feedback (good or bad)
    Get frustrated with system/process roadblocks
    Have minimal desire to spend any extra time at work

    • steventhunt

      Mike, please forgive me if this comment sounds a bit snarky, but just about every person I know could be described as likes to work with groups, likes changes in day to day tasks, gets frustrated with roadblocks, and has minimal desire to work more than they have to. In the history of humanity has there ever been a generation of people who dislikes working in groups and actually enjoys roadblocks and working more than is necessary? Sure there are a few people in every generation who intentionally leave society to live a life of hardship in the wilderness, but I can’t think of any generation where hermits are in the majority.

  • Mark-X

    You don’t seem to understand what a “generalization” is. A generalization does not necessarily apply to every single person in the group that is being generalized. A generalization is an oversimplified and broad look at prevailing/popularized attitudes or actions.

    Furthermore, certain generalizations are useful. If you can generalize that millennials are not buying homes at the rate of previous generations, it would be useful to look at the specific reasons why. But you would only look at those reasons if that generalization is found to be true.

  • Pierre LaPlante

    In order to keep its economy going, the US imports highly intelligent, well educated Asians for the Professions. That began with many Boomers who hallucinated during the Culture Revolution of the 60s and 70s. The epidemic continues.

  • michael1234

    Its high time we stop generalizing, so were going to post a stereotypical picture of a millenial taking a selfie to show this…

  • Julie

    These generalizations are
    common, and normal. The baby boomers were generalized as the original
    “me” generation who watched too much TV and had lackadaisical attitudes
    about working for “the man”… Gen Xers were generalized as
    video-game-playing dolts with no ambition. Millennials are generalized as
    tech-dependent, basement-dwellers, who have no interest in fulfilling careers. Each
    generation appears to be more lazy and screen-dazed than the previous
    generation. In a couple decades, it will
    be the Millennials kvetching about the next generations’ lack of interest and
    over dependence on… something.

  • oy

    Sounds like it was written by a whiny Millennial.

  • jj

    Ds and Cs are the only ones that matter. The social butterflies are a waste of time for actually doing work. That’s what after about 2 or 3 is for and the weekends.

  • http://www.arielmarketinggroup.com/ Amy McCloskey Tobin

    LOVE this post. I started our Millennial Think Tank to debunk so many of the generalizations made about Millennials, and then our GenX and Boomer Think Tanks for the same purpose.

    The reality is that many factors weigh into how any individual sees and navigates the world.