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Four myths about managing Millennials

George Blacklock

Are Millennials really so different at work from Generation Xers and Baby Boomers? Amy Gallo, writing for the HBR Blog Network, says not.

Comparing the research of two academics, Gallo concludes that most of the myths about young people in the workplace are untrue, and that managing Millennials isn’t so difficult.

Myth 1: They’re completely different from “us” at that age. Peter Cappelli, George W. Taylor Professor of Management at The Wharton School, says there is no serious evidence that Millennials are any different from other generations. Young people will always behave differently to old people and have different obligations, he argues. But this does not mean that Millennials have a different disposition at work to people from earlier generations.

Dr Jean Twenge agrees. Twenge is a Psychology professor at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me. She and her fellow researchers used a “time-lag research method” to compare people in their 20s and 30s today with those same age groups in the 1960s and 70s. Twenge found only small differences in attitudes towards work.

Myth 2: Millennials favour more altruistic work. Twenge’s research shows that, if anything, Millennials actually put less emphasis on altruistic work values than Boomers did at the same age.

Analysing data from U.S. high school seniors in 1976, 1991 and 2001, Twenge found that Millennials are less likely than previous generations to want a job that benefits society. They are also less likely to want to work in social services or as a social worker. In fact, Millennials are also less likely to donate to charity or to show empathy for those outside their immediate circles.

Cappelli does not feel this data is particularly revealing of the Millennial generation: “If young people are more narcissistic than old people, so what?”

Myth 3: They want a better work/life balance. Twenge found that a greater emphasis on leisure time was something that had been increasing steadily over the generations, with GenX valuing free time more than the Boomers, and Millennials valuing it more than GenX.

Millennials were twice as likely to desire a job with more than two weeks’ holiday than Boomers. And almost half of the Millennials studied wanted a job which allowed a lot of free time for doing other things. But it’s easy for managers to overemphasise this difference, warns Cappelli. All young people want to get out of the office and enjoy their out-of-work time, he argues.

Myth 4: Millennials need special treatment at work. Cappelli feels that giving Millennials special treatment at work is “ridiculous”. Rather than assuming that the Millennials you employ need to be treated differently, Cappelli advises getting to know each person individually. He also advises managers to bear in mind their employees’ other differentiating qualities – ethnicity, gender, background – and not just focus on their age.