How to Improve Your Managerial Skills by Viewing Millennials as Whole Beings
It’s unfortunate that Millennials have been restricted to two-dimensional portrayals. While managers, and the general population, would benefit from a full, robust sketch of who Millennials are as a generation, the people doing the sketching are amateur artists making assumptions, and therefore drafting line drawings instead of the full, 3D renderings that Millennials (and every generation) deserves.
Differing depictions of Millennials
Everyone seems to want to throw in their two cents about the Millennial generation. Spoiler alert: Though some of these are more favorable than others, they all fail to give an accurate, fair, and thorough accounting of this complex generation.
- The media’s version: The media doesn’t benefit from reporting on the middle ground (that’s not how you sell magazines or get a high click-rate), so the media’s versions of Millennials are either: “These kids are the best thing since sliced bread and are coming to save the world!” or “This new generation will be the destruction of everything good that we’ve fought so hard to build. They must be subdued!” These extreme versions of Millennials, either on the positive end or the negative end, are what you so often see plastered all over magazines. And you know why? Because the title “Lock down the hatches: Millennials will destroy the working world as you know it” on a cover is a surefire way to make magazines fly off the shelves.
- The focus-group-of-one version: This depiction of a Millennial crystalizes when people base their opinions of all Millennials on one memorable person. They may have encountered a Millennial like Randall: He embodies all the Millennial stereotypes and amps them up to a level that paints his entire generation in a horrible light — he’s always on his phone, is never on time, has no work ethic to speak of, boasts about his weekend getting drinks with a band that no one has heard of, frequently shares horrible ideas with upper level management, and so on. Or, they may have encountered a Millennial like Claire, who is seemingly perfect, cutting-edge, full of great ideas, ambitious, and considerate, and therefore makes her generation just so much better than the others. Either way, these scenarios, yet again, echo the two polar opposites of the spectrum. They’re based on a focus group of just one.
- The water cooler version: It’s a sad consequence of human nature that a shared love of talking about bad stuff trumps a shared love of talking about the good stuff. At work, colleagues become comrades when they vent around the water cooler (or Keurig machine): “Can you believe he went up to the CEO today?!” or “I’m so frustrated; I need to coach her through every step of every project!” or “Why do we keep hiring all these young people if they’re just going to leave in two years — it’s a waste of time and money!” These conversations tend to be reactionary, tainted by frustration, and only reinforce Millennial stereotyping.
- The just-like-my-kid version: This Millennial depiction blossoms from a person (usually a Boomer parent) saying something like: “I have a kid. She’s a Millennial. She can do no wrong. She’s taught me so much about the world. She knows so much about technology. She’s basically brill (that’s a cool word I learned from her that is short for ‘brilliant’). We should put all our faith in Millennials because they’re coming to save us from our wicked (or hopelessly antiquated) ways.” Some parental bias is obviously at play here, and so we have another portrayal of Millennials that just doesn’t capture the generation as a whole.
Finding the why behind the what of millennials
In every one of the previous examples, the data is contaminated. Either the sample size is far too small, the data gatherer is biased in some way (as in the parent-to-kid association), or there’s some ulterior motive (the media is looking for click-bait). But perhaps the biggest reason the preceding information borders on inaccurate is that each version depicts what a Millennial is and ignores why he is that way.
Now, as you may imagine, there’s no straightforward answer behind the big “why” for the entirety of the Millennial generation. For every individual member, the why behind their actions, preferences, traits, and motivations is a complex and complicated tangle of many different factors. It’s an intersection of where they were born, who their parents are, whether they’re introverts or extroverts, the kind of education they received, whether they grew up in a small town or a big city, their race and gender, and the list goes on and on.
When you look at Millennials collectively, the root of understanding them as a cohort, or truly “breaking into the Millennial mind” comes from studying the collective experiences they had as they were in the midst of their formative years.