Millennials: Exaggerated Mythology

What do millennials really want from work? How do we engage them?

We have all heard the stereotypes of millennials: the horror stories from the workplace, the self-entitled attitudes that breed laziness and poor work ethic. A survey by found that more than 85% of hiring managers and human-resource executives feel that millennials have a stronger sense of entitlement than older workers.

But how did we develop these ideas about millennials? According to accounts pervading the media, this generation clings to unrealistic expectations and demanding attitudes.  These “trophy kids,” or workplace nomads, require constant attention and guidance, and they demonstrate fleeting loyalties to employers when better options arise.

Yet these perceptions are, more often than not, simply exaggerated mythology: According to a recent study conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value, millennials have desires that are largely the same as those of their predecessors: job security and stability remain a primary concern. While findings assert that millennials crave too much versatility and flexibility, we all strive for a balance between our professional and personal lives, in addition to work that we find engaging and compelling.

The frequently cited statistics fail to take into account the critical skills of young entrepreneurs and tech-savvy teens who display unique strengths in social networking, teamwork, technical skills, and multitasking. Millennials’ proficiencies with technological strategies can ultimately complement today’s workplace, rather than conflict with it. Because these young people have all the tools and assets to be highly effective in today’s workplace, coupled with their numbers—they will account for approximately 50% of the U.S. workforce by 2020—it would behoove us to find ways to effectively engage and embrace them.

In addition to their prowess in the digital sphere, millennials are generally characterized by a kind of pragmatic idealism and iconoclastic thinking that has the potential to enrich the workforce. We all want to feel that our work is valuable—that it can make a concrete, tangible difference. By using millennials as the catalyst for change in the workplace, and harnessing their deep-seated desire to make a positive difference in the world, we can further integrate social responsibility, and adopt new and improved ways of doing business.

What can you do?  Ultimately, the most operative retention tools do not include after-work happy hours, fully stocked kitchens, or the installation of ping pong tables and couches. Rather, by creating work environments that promote day-to-day connectedness and cooperation, we can establish an engaging social and collaborative culture. By valuing relationships, empowering employees to be agents of change, and offering challenging work environments, we can collectively enhance our work, share new ideas to solve upcoming challenges, and connect everyone to a larger purpose and mission.

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