3 Millennial Stereotypes that Are Misinterpreted

By Hannah L. Ubl, Lisa X. Walden, Debra Arbit

As with any generation, Millennials are saddled with certain misconceptions. Some of these include expectations regarding Millennial personalities and work ethic. Here’s a few you can ignore.

Millennials hate face-to-face communication

The assumption that Millennials don’t like face-to-face communication is understandable. Walk into any coffee shop, bar, or office and you will be greeted with downturned heads, faces lit by screens, and silence, with the occasional laugh-out-loud — even if he or she is sitting at a table alone. To make matters worse, Millennials are the first generation to use instant-messaging tools to “talk” to their co-workers rather than stand up, walk 15 feet to their manager’s office, and speak words.

While Millennials do spend many hours communicating via screens and feel quite comfortable doing so, it does not mean that they hate face-to-face interactions. Millennials are the generation that are often begging for mentorship opportunities and love to interact, network, and socialize with others; heck, many would sell their smartphones for a chance to get an audience with the company’s executives. (Okay, maybe not sell their phone, but perhaps give it up for a few hours.)

While Millennials do not hate face-to-face communication, they may struggle with it and need your help. This may be especially true for younger Millennials. They’re used to sending texts and instant messages because it’s their default mode of communication. Even phone calls, with the slightest suggestion of a human at the other end, can make Millennials nervous.

Rather than stereotype and scold them, coach them! It may seem remedial, but ask them if they’d like to listen in on your conference calls or audit your meetings. And even simpler than that: Model the behavior you’d like to see. If you’d rather a Millennial walk to your desk versus instant-message you, set the precedent by doing the same. And if all else fails, just straight up tell them what you expect or prefer. Millennials are a lot of things, but “mind reader” isn’t one of them.

The oldest Millennials are in their mid-30s and have a pretty good grasp of face-to-face communication. Many of them are now facing the challenge of managing a generation who can successfully function across five screens at work and have never lived a formative year without Wi-Fi. These Millennials may need your guidance to help them train in a skill that was once taught to them in a different way.

Millennials want to have fun all day

Most people can remember complaining to a parent or grandparent about work and being met with a response like, “Well, there is a reason it’s called the workplace and not the fun place!” [Insert eye roll here.] The fact is that Millennials (and hopefully all generations) believe that work and fun do not have to be mutually exclusive. No, Millennials do not think every working moment will be spent playing video games and drinking beer. (Nor would they feel too successful if that were the case.) But they do expect a little something every now and again.

So what gets misinterpreted here? It’s easy to assume that the more time you spend having fun, the less time you spend actually working. While there is a time to buckle down and get the job done, studies have shown that having fun at work not only builds stronger ties with co-workers; it can also improve the bottom line. A few stats for your enjoyment:

  • In a 2013 survey of more than 40,000 employees at 30 companies around the world, TINYpulse, a survey and research company, found that the number-one reason people liked their jobs was because they enjoyed the people that they worked with.
  • At Google, employee satisfaction rose 37 percent as a result of initiatives dedicated to employee satisfaction — suggesting that financial incentives aren’t enough to make for highly productive employees.
  • A study by economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness at work led to a 12 percent spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10 percent less productive.
  • According to LinkedIn, 57 percent of Millennials say that work friendships make them more productive.

Millennials are young and inexperienced

Many managers have to pick their jaws up off the floor when their new employee tells them they were born in the 80s or even, yes, the 90s. We’ve heard managers say things like: “It’s just so easy to dismiss them as a bunch of kids playing ‘office.’” This is hardly a new phenomenon: Everyone likes to poke fun at the newbie, and everyone got their share of teasing when they started working. However, there are a couple reasons to shift the hazing-the-newbie mindset:

  • They aren’t “kids” anymore. Sure, younger Millennials are still in their early and mid-20s, but leading-edge Millennials are in their mid-30s. In just a few short years, they’ll be celebrating their 40th birthdays. Many Millennials already have kids of their own.

Yet somehow, since the term “Millennial” entered the daily vernacular of popular media, it’s been used to reference all young people. That simply isn’t accurate. As a reminder, Millennials were born between 1980 and 1995, and in many cases already, they aren’t the youngest generation at the office.

  • They have no real-world experience. Millennials may have been less likely to work the cash register or flip burgers as youths, but if you ask any Millennial about her unpaid summer internships, you’re bound to get a long list of previous employers. What’s more, they’re coming to the workplace with a different type of experience: life experience.

No this doesn’t mean paying a mortgage or navigating the ins and outs of typical adulting. Millennials are more likely to have taken advanced-placement courses, travelled abroad, built a Habitat for Humanity home, or served in some sort of leadership capacity in their community. While some managers would prefer X amount of years in X industry or organization, try to figure out how you can capitalize on the experience Millennials do have.