Will Millennials always be preceded by their reputation at work?

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Every time a generation rises into the workforce, there’s a negative stereotype that goes with them. Baby boomers, for example, were authority-questioning, free-loving hippies. The latchkey kids of Generation X, on the other hand, were a bunch of cynical loners. Then came the babies of the 1980s…

Millennials, or Gen Y, the newest generation to enter the workforce, are no different. As “60 Minutes” once put it: “[Millennials] were raised by doting parents who told them they are special, played in little leagues with no winners or losers, or all winners. They are laden with trophies just for participating, and they think your business-as-usual ethic is for the birds. And if you persist in that belief, you can take your job and shove it.”

As a result of their “coddled” existence, when it comes to their careers, the common perception is that Millennials are needlessly impatient, demanding and fickle, and that they come to the workforce with unrealistic expectations for salary, advancement opportunity and flexibility.

Though generational stereotypes are typically exaggerated, they also don’t appear out of thin air. Given the following attitudes expressed by Millennials in various surveys, for example, it’s not hard to see where the perception of the Gen Y groupthink came from:

  • According to a report by technology company Johnson Controls, 34 percent of Millennials expect to stay in a job between one and two years. Fifty-seven percent expect to stay between two and three years.
  • The same study reported that 56 percent of Millennials prefer to work flexibly and choose when to work.
  • According to a survey by marketing agency Mr. Youth, Millennials said the No. 1 reason for switching jobs was, “I just needed a change.”
  • Seventy-three percent say that a good workplace is one in which managers give  “continuous, ongoing and informal feedback,” according to a 2010 study by recruiting firm Career Edge.

While all of the above certainly emphasize the Millennial “it’s all about me” stereotype, there may soon be a shift in this way of thinking, since thus far the job market hasn’t really lived up to Gen Y’s rosy expectations.

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 37 percent of Millennials are unemployed, the largest percentage in this age group in more than 30 years; 10 percent have recently lost a job; and, while 79 percent of Millennials have completed at least some college to date, 41 percent are employed in jobs unrelated to their fields of study.

This reality check will certainly color the way Gen Y sees their respective career paths going forward, right?

According to a new study by DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board called “How the Recession Shaped Millennial and Hiring Manager Attitudes about Millennials’ Future Careers,” Millennials might think so, but managers don’t necessarily see a change. It seems there remains a discrepancy between Gen Y’s view and the way they’re viewed from the outside.

For example, while 71 percent of Millennials reported in the study that “meaningful work” was now one of the three most important factors in determining their career success, only 11 percent of managers said that they thought meaningful work was most important to Millennials. Managers overwhelmingly believed that Millennials were most concerned with money, followed by having a high level of responsibility.

The study also found that older managers tended to have the most skewed perception of Gen Y. For example, 32 percent of Millennials ranked “time spent at work” among their top three priorities when choosing a workplace. In comparison, 52 percent of managers over 50 said that “time spent at work” was most important to Millennials, but only 31 percent of managers under 39 said that.

The one area where the generation gap didn’t exist? Pointing out Gen Y’s flaws. Both managers and Millennials said their top three weaknesses were “inability to receive criticism from leaders,” “ impatience with established processes” and “ineffective communication.”

What do you think about Generation Y? Do they live up to stereotypes in the workplace? Has the recession changed their outlook?

11 Comments
  1. Hi Kaitlin,

    Unfortuently, older generations as a whole will always stereotype younger generations. Gen Y’ers will have to work harder to prove themselves, but fortunately, they come prepare will skill-sets that are need in today’s marketplace — like social media. They need to use that to their advantage to breakthrough in the workplace!

    - Corey

  2. Corey, I believe each generation has been stereo-typed according to when they were born. I think alot of it is that people forget that we all are individuals also. I have seen this happen in each place that I have worked. I forgot who even thought up all of the word Gen Y’ers, ect.

    Becky

  3. I am a Gen-X Program Manager and could not be happier with the Millennials that I hired this year. I believe the recession has changed the expectations of this new generation and they are willing to work hard for everything they get. They also seem very grateful to even have a job and go the extra mile to let you know they are happy with their employment. I cater my management style to what works for each one of my employees (age range from 21-62!), and it seems to help move things along smoothly. Gen-Y is a different story – my experience is that they acted entitled. Millennials, however, (those right out of college in the past few years) seem to be applying themselves and make an excellent addition to the work force, at least in my experience.

  4. Millennials reflect the coddling offered by their parents. They have never had responsibility forced upon them, have never been told of their limitations and sefishness, and expect the world to cater to their wants and needs.

    Well, guess what! It doesn’t work that way. The world will be given to those who are prepared to take it. And right now, that appears to be the young peiople in China and India.

  5. The funny thing is, who could be more coddled than the baby-boomers who are now complaining about the current graduates? As a tweener (born too late to be a boomer and too early to be in with the boomer kids), I am stunned by the whining of the boomers. They simply road the wave of success brought on by the generation that survived the depression and won WW2. They have been so self-absorbed that they believe they did it all themselves. So we hear them blather on about “self-made man” and other nonsense as they ship all our jobs overseas and destroy the social safety net that has kept the country prosperous for the last 60 years so they can keep a few more tax dollars and send the rest to the greedy uberwealthy.
    I hope the millenials have enough common sense to start standing up for themselves and the country. Take it back!! On Wisconsin, we need movements like that in the rest of the country. Jobs for U.S. not subsidized slave labor in China and India.

  6. I think a lot of the stereotypes about Millennials are really just characteristics of youth. If you compared baby boomers at age 22 to today’s 22-year-olds, they would have probably been equally impatient to advance and have equally unrealistic expectations about advancement. Once they’re in the real world for a couple years, their expectations and self awareness become more in line with reality. Here’s my take: http://community.advanceweb.com/blogs/events_1/archive/2011/04/22/recession-delivers-reality-check-for-millennials-in-the-workplace.aspx

  7. Lauren, As a boomer, first class, I have to agree totally with you. But people forget that the Depression and World War II were forced on earlier generations, most of whom came directly off farms. They were groomed to work.

    As the years pass, we will have fewer and fewer people living with daily responsibilities from birth onward. Each succeeding generation will have less of something before them and more of something before them. That is life in our post industrialized world and America.

    But, we need a lot more jobs for people to work at or more open environments for each generation to create new employment opportunities for themselves and others.

    • Great Response.
      Your education and knowledge definitely shows. Thanks for actually knowing about the topic. Most comment with no expertise besides their “Ph.d in internet discussions.”

  8. Pingback: From Millennial to Millennial | A Blog by Cassidy Davis

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