Break the stereotype about Millennials

February 25, 2016

Berlin, Germany

Build a successful team

Millennials, more than any other generational group, are being managed according to stereotypes.  There are endless how-to books and seminars.  These stereotypes have become unfair labels.

The workplace has been trained to lead Millennials according to these three myths.

Three myths about Millennials

  1. Millennials have been handed every thing on a silver platter by overindulgent parents and expect the same gratification from their employer.
  2. Millennials are lazy from a lifetime of playing video games and unprepared for the realities of hard work.
  3. Millennials, due to their avid use of technology, are accustomed to everything being on-demand and customized which has led to high expectations.

I’ve often wondered why leaders think that only Millennials are innovative.  I know many who are and many who are not.  I also know there are many culture changers who are Baby Boomers, the most influential of all having been Steve Jobs.  Innovation is not about the generation, but about the individual.

Individuals need to be addressed according to their unique skills and abilities. The process of categorizing people according to generational labels is not accurate nor is it effective.  The way leaders need to communicate is not determined by a generational category, it’s according to each individual.

Multiple communication channels

There are many ways to connect with people that you would want to have on your team. It's important to communicate through many mediums to engage with and connect with potential team members - regardless of their generation.

The influence of technology

There are three primary stereotypes about Millennials and how they relate to technology.

  1. Millennials view technology more positively than any other generation.
  2. Millennials are more comfortable adopting new technologies.
  3. Millennials are always connected and prefer to interact via technology, rather than face-to-face.

Another myth is that Millennials view technology more positive than any other generation could be considered an insult to older generations who invented the Internet and computers.  Each generation has a variance as to how many people are more or less technologically savvy.  Managers need to take the time to understand the preferences and technical skills of individuals as opposed to generations.  

When a team is choosing the right technology to use, it’s important to take time to do research and to involve the team in the process.  It’s also very important to not determine technical prowess based on generations.  Technology use and comfort varies based on factors other than age.  Managers should ignore the stereotypes and embrace the individuality of team members.

Changing organizational culture  

Many companies have used generational labels.  As they become aware of the ineffectiveness of this type of stereotyping and begin working with their team as individuals, they are able to enable people to become more effective and bring about organizational change.  

Jessica Kriegel in her book, Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit From Ditching Generational Stereotypes[i] presents 6 steps towards creating awareness and changing the vocabulary at your organization.

Be a role model.  Don't read articles about generational differences or encourage people to write about it. Increase communication and understanding with your team and discover areas where you have been influenced by the “generational differences” machine.

Spread the word.  Speak up when you notice generational stereotyping. Most people do not challenge the concept.

Create a coalition of change agents.  Encourage like-minded people to begin looking at team members as individuals and not categorized by generational labels.

Review your collateral. Determine to what extent generational stereotypes is an issue and then tailor communication materials accordingly.

Organize a campaign. Build trust amongst the team by communicating a mutual understanding of the disadvantages of generational labeling.

Evaluate your success.  Review if there is a shift of culture because the awareness of the negative impact of generational stereotyping.  Celebrate the success.

In a society that features generational differences as a primary method of categorizing teams, the perspective presented by Jessica Kriegel sheds light and brings clarity to a very discriminatory process of approaching teams.  It’s imperative that managers and leaders look at their team members as individuals and cease to categorize them by the decade they were born in.  It would be inappropriate to categorize people by their ages and the process of generational categorization is equally wrong, but done continually.

It’s empowering for me to realize that the intuition I’ve had to look at Millennials based on skills, not on an inaccurate and biased labeling process.  I plan to build a strong team and celebrate the various skills and abilities of each person individually.  When any managers celebrate and develop individuality, people are guaranteed to excel.

I’ve always appreciated the energy and enthusiasm of those in their twenties and thirties, but what I realize I love more than that is the opportunity to develop innovative leaders.  The individuals I work with are chosen by their skill, willingness to grow and their ability – not their age.

Written by Karen Schenk

[i] Kriegel, Jessica. Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit From Ditching Generational Stereotypes Hoboken, NJ : Wiley; 1 edition (Feb. 10, 2016)