Managing Millennials and Rejecting Stereotypes

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

One of the major goals in trying to break into the Millennial mind by a scan of the major events and conditions is to try to understand them better and break down the disconnect between the Millennial persona and the harmful stereotypes. Let’s debunk some of these more common Millennial stereotypes by using the understanding of the formative years. Here are some of the more common stereotypes:

  • The entitlement stereotype:
    • Where it comes from: There’s a perception that Millennials are so entitled that they feel they deserve to be promoted, and that they deserve the right to walk into the CEO’s office without first having proven themselves worthy.
    • The kernel of truth: Because of experiences like growing up in the time of the ever-increasing upgrade cycle, Millennials do have an expectation that they’ll be able to move up the ladder at a fairly quick pace.
    • The debunking: There’s a difference between entitlement and expectation. Entitlement suggests a claim or a right, whereas expectation suggests a strong belief that a thing will happen. Millennials, because of their experiences as youth, do have an expectation that they will move up the ranks swiftly, but not because they have a claim or right to it, but simply because that’s the way they’ve experienced the world, and they expect the workplace to operate in a similar way.
    • Why it’s dangerous: Entitlement equals a spoiled brat, and that’s a harder thing to work through and look past. Expectations can be adjusted, based on the reality of the organization and what the Millennial can expect to see. It’s the difference between, on the one hand, writing someone off as childish and, on the other, giving her a realistic timeline to operate off of.
  • The narcissistic stereotype:
    • Where it comes from: Millennials show up in an organization and want to flex that disruptive muscle. They want to change the way things have always been done, and they’re confident that they have worthy ideas that should be implemented. This does not often lead to favorable opinions from other generations, who ask themselves, “How dare you think that you, a newbie, know more than the people with decades of experience who set up these systems in the first place?”
    • The kernel of truth: Boomer parents did tell their Millennial kids that they were special. They were raised believing they have talents to contribute and a voice that should be heard.
    • The debunking: Yes, Millennials do believe they have great ideas. Their belief may or may not be true, but they aren’t narcissistic enough to believe that those ideas should always be acted upon. They are very willing to be coached through the rotten concepts and react favorably to a mentor who is willing to show them where they went wrong.
    • Why it’s dangerous: By writing off Millennials as narcissistic and self-involved, some decision-makers will be completely deaf to any and all ideas that come from this generation. They’re missing out on new enthusiasm, fresh takes, and some truly golden nuggets of thought.
  • The lazy/no-work-ethic stereotype:
    • Where it comes from: “Are your work hours strictly 9 to 5?” “Can I have a two-hour break at lunch to get my yoga practice in?” These questions and others like them lead older generations to believe that Millennials just don’t have the same work ethic as they do.
    • The kernel of truth: The truth is, actually, that they don’t. But that doesn’t mean they don’t work hard. Millennials just work differently.
    • The debunking: Because of technology, Millennials can work from anywhere. They have integrated work and life so that they can be flexible in their work schedules but also make sure they get things done. Sure, they may get done at 11 p.m. from their couches at home, but they get done.
    • Why it’s dangerous: When managers cling too tightly to the idea that hard work can only be measured by long hours in the office, they risk losing a generation that works just as hard as the ones that came before them, albeit in a very different way.
  • The no-respect stereotype:
    • Where it comes from: When you’re bold enough to send a personal email of introduction to the CEO on the first day, there seems to be no humility to speak of. The generations that have played by the rules of etiquette and respecting hierarchy are completely thrown off when a Millennial enters the scene and starts referring to your boss as Jane instead of Ms. Finch.
    • The kernel of truth: Millennials are used to access to any and all information, as well as access to people in positions of authority. They don’t see the world as a hierarchy, but more like the networked virtual world they grew up in. This can be off-putting when put into practice in the workplace.
    • The debunking: Millennials do have great respect for leaders; they just show it in a different way. They want to connect with them and tap into the expertise and wisdom that these figures can offer. They may go about approaching them in the wrong way, but it’s less a sign of disrespect than it is a sign of enthusiasm and eagerness to learn all there is to know.
    • Why it’s dangerous: Oftentimes, when people feel a lack of respect, they respond with terse-worded reprimands. If, indeed, that’s what was happening, that response would be justified. But because it may more appropriately be viewed as enthusiasm, sharp shut-downs are tantamount to telling a Millennial her efforts/passion/energy isn’t wanted.
  • The tech obsession stereotype:
    • Where it comes from: Selfies, Snapchat, constantly checking Facebook feeds, never having their smartphones farther than three feet away from them — the root of this stereotype isn’t hard to identify, but some things are other than what they seem.
    • The kernel of truth: Though arguably much of the world is dependent on technology, Millennials grew up with it. They may lean on it even more than generations past because they’ve never known a time without it.
    • The debunking: Rather than saying “It’s not true,” the debunking here is more about saying “Is this really such a bad thing?” Oftentimes when they’re on their phones in a meeting, they’re actually sending an important and timely email. They may be on Facebook every now and again, but what you don’t see are the times when they’re working from home at 10 p.m.
    • Why it’s dangerous: Undoubtedly there will be Millennial employees who use technology as a distraction, not a productivity tool. But taking away the technology they use to improve their workflow, or placing firm social media restrictions without first asking questions and trying to understand their perspective, is sure to demotivate.