Don't Believe The Hype: Unlabeling Millennials

Ever since the CoBies — Google’s multidirectional Conference Bikes that transform going for lunch into a team-building exercise — the image of millennials in the workplace has turned into a kind of perpetual second-guessing. So young, so self-possessed, so smart, so not into phone calls! So what else do they want?

This kind of approach is both fascinating and frustrating to HR in general and thought leaders especially (Ahem). It’s also beside the point. I’m not one to place labels on people. The “new generation” customarily befuddles the older; the older generation usually wants to take it upon themselves to school the younger. One difference here: millennials’ facility with digital, mobile and social means that they tend to be the teachers. But that same digital dimension also stimulates a vexingly stubborn case of us and them.

Get over it

Yes, millennials did seem to arrive fully dressed (in extremely skinny pants), with tools — as if born texting, that first infant cry a hashtag. But that’s just confluence. And taking to mobile and social like fish to water? That deserves credit, not headshaking.

The very term millennial has marketing-ploy written all over it; and that works contrary to the role of HR, which is to recruit talent. Here’s the basic premise to recruiting talent: Recruit talent. The best candidates for the position, not generations, not mystique. Hu-mans. Also, it’s a recruiter’s or hiring manager’s job to see past hype and stereotype in order to create an authentic and constructive relationship between candidate /new hire and company. So let’s look at two millennial trends and see what they really mean.

Millennials don’t care about money

A recent Case Foundation study found that 55 percent of millennials are influenced by cause work when deciding to join a company. Meaning and mission clearly play a role in their employment choices.

Look again: That doesn’t actually mean they don’t care about money. Yes, many millennials are concerned with causes, and given issues like climate change, that’s not surprising. Nor are millennials the only generation to consider the ethical value of work.

But this may be a savvy adaptation on the part of these here kids. Studies show that millennials are on track to be the most educated generation to date, according to the Pew Research Foundation. They’re also saddled with debt: a White House study puts outstanding student loan debt at over $1 trillion by the end of 2014 — partially due to greater enrollment among millennials. And despite the job market heating up, millennials are still underemployed, and making lower starting wages since the economy’s tumble. This puts looking for work with more than just a crappy salary in a different light. Sort of a silver lining, look at the bright side kind of light.

Millennials want to know the Big Picture

When interviewing and talking to recruiters, millennials want to know more than just the nature of their particular job. They want to know about how they can grow, what they can expect to accomplish, and how they can fit into the mission of the company.

In truth, transparency is always better: it’s far more productive in the long term for a recruiter to paint the whole picture, not just the small stuff. This promotes a better fit for candidate and company, which leads back to a holy grail in HR: retention.

Even from a company perspective, big picture conversations offer far better indicators for a good ROI. But here’s another point: given that millennials came of age and streamed into the job market at a point when jobs were drying up and the economy was tanking, there are plenty of practical reasons to want to be informed about growth and the potential for accomplishments.

Again, look at the economy: The job market is improving, but there’s a new kid in town, Generation Z. Actually, as a recruiter, I’d take the millennial request for the bigger picture as a plus: it speaks to commitment. Which refutes the “job hopper” mis-label that sometimes gets stuck on millennials. It also makes them more like everyone else, not less; the quest for engagement and growth at work is not unique to people under the age of 34. This is an everybody issue.

Soon enough, millennials will be the new normal; they now comprise a solid one-third of the workforce not yet hitting retirement age. High time to consider talent the fulcrum, not generational trends. Yes, each generation offers a skill set and a mindset more suitable to certain positions or purviews than others. But that’s a sweeping overstatement. No matter the organization, mission or corporate culture, whether employees travel on wacky team-building googlecycles or in drab shuttles, whether in Silicon Valley or Duluth or Madras, different generations all contribute their part to a workforce, and each individual employee is what matters. The sooner we stop trying to get the label to stick, the better our chance to not become unglued in the process.


A version of this article has been published on MillennialCEO on 4/20/15

5 Career Principles to Activate Between Generations

The shift is happening. This year, Millennials will be the largest generation in the American workforce. One in three employees are Millennials, and more are coming. Preventing a generational shift is impossible. We have a choice:

  • Do we demean a generation?
  • Do we activate a new generation?

It is that simple. Do you hold people back and blame it on youth, or do you find a way to activate the talents of the next generation?

Each generation has a responsibility, not just Millennials, Gen Xers, or Boomers. There are certain career principles that withstand the test of ages, and we need to boost them in how we develop our careers and lead forward.

Career Principles to Activate Generations

1 – Engagement is dead. Activism is the new standard.

Being on the defense is not a complete strategy. Employees are put on the defense too often. In a recent Weber Shandwick report, Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism, 42% of those surveyed experienced a major event at work (e.g., lay-offs, merger or acquisition, crisis). Uncertainty may be one of the reasons why employee engagement is only at 30%.

Engagement is a low standard, rarely keeping our career fresh. Activism entails challenging conversations, involvement in industry groups, greater cross-functional understanding, and leading in positively unexpected ways. Activism is a new career mindset where we are in more control of how we solve problems and how we interact with others.

No one can control the major events. We can control our mindset in how we navigate and lead through the mazes. More than self-control, this is career control, and an activist mindset is a constant principle for career success.

2 – The status quo stunts growth. Always learn something new and advance your leadership capabilities.

Learning something new may be self-evident, especially with a dash of activism. However, learning is only the first step. What we absorb and then adopt is the only real way to enhance our leadership capabilities.

Learning is a mental activity. Converting what we learn into tangible actions is career growth activity. We need both to be relevant.

3 – Life is short. Strengthen those who will lead next.

We tend to forget, but life is short. Someone will take our role. Two questions arise:

  1. Do we want to leave the next leader stronger?
  2. Do we want a positive legacy to lead forward?

Mentoring is an age old principle that needs to be activated with new energy and conducted more boldly between young and old. The energy and boldness come from a mix of inspiration and challenge – tangible yet ambitious.

Mentoring is more than a baton being passed; mentoring is lessons learned and heard.

4 – Something old, something new – the twines that bind for strength.

New generations entering our workplaces is not new. Treating young leaders with a disdaining attitude is self-centered and unproductive. Diversity delivers strength, an ageless principle.

Diversity means activating talents across many dimensions. Through diversity, we solve problems in better ways. Through diversity, we innovate in ways thought unimaginable. Through diversity, we enhance our empathy skills.

We become more well-rounded and resilient. Being intertwined builds strength.

5 – Connections alone are not enough. Collaborate to thrive.

Through social channels, our connections reach across boundaries. Unleveraged, our connections are merely communication channels. When we activate our connections into collaborative relationships, we use the talents of all involved and gain greater momentum in our initiatives.

There is a spirit to cooperative efforts that is understood when we experience them. We need to build collaborative relationships more often by delivering clarity of mission, authority to act, and accountability on what should be achieved.

Activated Generations, Renewed Career Principles

Our workplaces are turning into activated communities. Our careers are tapping into our inner potential for a greater purpose. All combined, profit grows. Businesses gain in strength and growth. People gain energy by being activated in more meaningful ways.

Some career and leadership principles withstand the test of time while being refreshed by a new generation. We are in this time now. Let us activate them!

Do Generations Matter At Work?: #TChat Preview

Originally posted by Matt Charneyone of #TChat’s moderators, on MonsterThinking Blog

In 2012, the first members of Gen Y turn 30.  And while thought leaders and academics continue to depict millennials as this strange, unprecedented breed to be studied and analyzed (Bieber fever being an obvious symptom), that generation’s cutting edge has been busy acclimating into the workforce, where they’ve been for over 5 years.

Of course, this potentially disruptive force on the workplace entered a market where the workplace was already disrupted by forces far stronger than helicopter parents and socialized narcissism.

Contrary to popular myth, it’s not Gen Y who’s changing the workplace; it’s the workplace that’s changing Gen Y.  Those lucky enough to get the paucity of jobs are no longer naïve idealists, but battle hardened survivors.

While some Gen X and Boomers struggle with being overqualified, most of Gen Y haven’t had the chance to pick up those qualifications.  This new world of work, of virtual offices and inter-connectivity and contract gigs, looks a lot like the kind of impact Gen Y workers were supposed to have made. Instead, they’ve inherited what’s become their – and our – collective reality.

They call Gen Y digital natives, but in fact, most of those millennials in the workforce remember life without an internet; those who can’t remember life without social media are still in diapers.  When those true “digital natives” enter the workforce, the millennials of today are going to look a lot like Gen Xers do now.  Who’ll look a lot like Boomers today.

For Gen Y, home ownership is likely a dream that will never be realized; so too is the possibility of a defined and linear career path, job security, employer benefits, pensions or a gold watch at retirement.  Even retirement itself looks iffy.

So, it  turns out that generations in the workplace share more in common than a workplace.

We’re all just trying to do the best we can, while learning as much as we can along the way.  And aspiration is a trait that transcends generations.  We’re hoping to do the same with tonight’s #TChat, where the topic tonight is: “Do Generations Matter At Work?”

Do Generations Matter at Work?  – #TChat Questions and Recommended Reading (3.1.11)

Whether you’re a Boomer, a Gen Xer, a Millennial or an “other,” we hope you can join the #TChat conversation about generations at work tonight at 8 PM ET.

Here are the questions we’ll be discussing, along with some recommended reading to help inform, and inspire, your understanding of tonight’s topic of generations in the workplace.

Q1)  What myths exist about workplace generational dynamics? Generational realities?

Read: Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number by Matt Charney

Q2)  Are there emerging personality traits, skill sets for hiring GenY, GenX, Baby Boomers, etc.?

Read: The Non-Generational Talent of American Workers by Peter Weddle

Q3)  Who is currently the most “invisible” generation in the workplace and why? Most “visible”?

Read: Just Shut Up and Listen to What Younger Workers Have to Say by Ron Thomas

Q4) How do savvy workplace cultures recruit, engage, manage and lead all generations?

Read:A Modern Perspective on Generations and Engagement by Ryan Estis

Q5) How does new media and global connectivity help/hinder generational gaps in the workplace?

Read: The Aging Workforce and Gen Y: Bridge the Social Media Generation Gap by Rob Salkowitz

Q6) How can inter-generational workforces spark innovation and evolve culture?

Read: The ‘Whys’ for Gen Y: Workplace Culture Considerations by Heather Huhman

Q7) How does the term “reverse mentoring” help bridge generational divides in the workplace?

Read: Manager’s Tips to Mend Intergenerational Communication by Kate Wildrick

Visit for more great information on #TChat and resources on culture fatigue and how to overcome it!

Our Monster social media team supports the effort behind #TChat and its mission of sharing “ideas to help your business and your career accelerate – the right people, the right ideas, at the right time.”

We’ll be joining the conversation live every Tuesday night as co-hosts with Kevin Grossman and Meghan M. Biro from 8-9 PM E.T. via @monster_works and @MonsterWW.  Hope to see you tonight at 8 PM ET for #TChat!