Understanding and Confronting Millennial Myths

first-5-icon-07Last July, we talked about the need to confront the “M” word. Just the term, “Millennials” can often be accompanied by sighs, cringes, and eye-rolls. The relative truth and falsehood of the various myths surrounding our generation have been hotly debated for years now, and it can get frustrating. While we may not be able to put a stop to the media furor, we can take steps to make sure we combat these myths each day at school and at work.

The first step is understanding what these myths are. Some of them are common—millennials are lazy, millennials are entitled, millennials are always on their phones. Some are less common—millennials don’t care about first impressions or millennials can’t make decisions on their own. Reading articles online, such as this Economist article, this one on FastCompany, or this IBM report, can help provide a better understanding of what stereotypes we’re up against.

Here are some stereotypes you might have to face and ways of challenging them.

  1. Millennials are entitled.

In an article in the National Review, David French said, “To be valued in the workplace, one must first demonstrate value that they’re valuable. So before making demands, try making an effort.” French is just one example of writers taking the stance that millennials feel entitled to praise and perks without working for them.

It can seem like we’re fighting an uphill battle here. However, one solution is explicitly reframing our “demands” as potential areas for growth when we talk to our coworkers and managers. Ensure that people know you’re looking for constructive criticism to improve your work, not praise. Incorporate other people’s ideas, and ask older colleagues to review your work. Show that you’re a team player.

  1. Millennials don’t stay at the same job.

Most of us have heard or read something along these lines. And to an extent, the numbers support it. Millennials are more likely to change jobs than older workers and do so more often. However, that’s not unique to millennials—all young workers, regardless of generation follow that pattern.

What’s more significant than mere job-hopping are the reasons we do it, like potential for job growth or the economy. These are reasons common to all generations. However, aiming to stay at least a year at any job can help provide a feeling of consistency, though some sources recommend staying for two to three years. When looking for a job, make sure you’re clear about your expectations for job growth.

  1. Millennials are always on their phones.

This is a general technology-related myth with many facets. It can manifest as the assumption that millennials prefer virtual contact to in-person conversations or that they share everything on social media.

In order to combat the idea that we prefer virtual interactions, try to communicate with your coworkers in person when possible and ask for regular in-person touchbases with your manager. Regarding phones, understand your work environment. In some offices, almost everyone has their phones on them and it’s more acceptable. In others, it’s almost verboten. If you’re using your phone to help you with your job, explain the value it brings to your supervisor.

  1. Millennials don’t care about performance.

The myth that millennials are constantly late, underdressed, and overly casual in the workplace is a pervasive one. If the articles are to be believed, we’re a bunch of slackers, who put in the minimum effort required.

And yet studies show that millennials believe that hard work and good performance are essential and that being late to meetings can damage your reputation. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest myths to combat, because there are clear actions we can take. Work on being punctual to meetings, maybe even early if possible. Take each task seriously, and if you have the bandwidth, try to help others with their projects.

  1. Millennials are terrible decision makers.

An article in Business Insider claimed “millennials are used to being a member of a tribe, not independent thinkers” and that “[w]ithout the collective voice of the crowd helping them, or their parents telling what to do, they don’t feel secure in their decision about what to do.”

Even though our connected generation has a reputation for crowdsourcing, an IBM report shows that millennials aren’t actually more likely than other generations—especially Gen X workers—to ask for advice before making decisions. Appearing confident and competent while also not seeming entitled can be a difficult challenge, but establishing what your role should be can help clear up confusion. Talk to your supervisor about what decisions you should be making by yourself and what you should consult others on. Having a mentor in your office can also help you get feedback on strong decision-making.

For more reading about millennial myths, check out these articles by Refinery 29 and Monster on common myths and how we can combat them. If you have any experiences with debunking millennial stereotypes at your school or workplace, share them in the comments below or email them to [email protected]. You might be featured in a future First 5 post!

This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.

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