Enough with Millennial Stereotyping, Folks!

Posted on November 30, 2015

By Joanna Kulesa

When I go to a concert or music festival, which as a lifelong music fan I do a lot, I interact with many younger people. Invariably, they are friendly and kind. They seem to genuinely enjoy talking with my husband and me, both middle-age Baby Boomers.

When I look around the office of my Silicon Valley PR agency, where more than half the employees are under 35, I see smart, hard-working, fully-engaged professionals.

Yet from what I read – amusingly summed up here — and hear in conversations with my peers at cocktail parties, millennials are some combination of spoiled, shallow, entitled, unmotivated, disloyal and narcissistic.

You grumpy old bastards can get off my lawn. The kids are alright.

Look, I’m not suggesting that all sweeping generational generalizations are BS. I have noticed some traits among millennials in the workforce that seem to stand out. They hate feeling like a cog. They need to sense that their work matters –and they trust their hearts to tell them if that’s the case, not because you said so. They crave authenticity. This LinkedIn article that recently got a lot of attention captured the millennial mindset.

The fact is, generational stereotypes, like all stereotypes, are tricky stuff.

Baby boomers, according to the American Psychological Association’s list of “defining work characteristics” by generation, are optimistic, emphasize teamwork and cooperation and are ambitious workaholics. Think of the Boomers you know. I bet that for every one who proves the stereotype there is an exception.

Boomers also were supposed to be out of touch with technology. Guess no one told that to Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Mark Cuban, Tim Berners-Lee or any of the millions of middle-age folks incessantly posting cat and dinner photos on Facebook.

Generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1981, are skeptical, self-reliant risk-takers who balance work and personal life, according to the APA. Well, that describes people I know of all ages.

Generational stereotypes remind me of the daily horoscope trick of writing words for one sign when they really could apply to any. Millennials need to feel their work has a higher purpose? Isn’t that a major Boomer trait?

We need to ask ourselves: Why do we seem to rush every 15 years or so into slapping condescending labels on a new generation? Is it just the age-old phenomenon of one generation observing differences in the next and blindly declaring them to be negatives? Is it because it all makes for a convenient hook for provocative articles?

How real are the qualities (or lack thereof) we ascribe to younger generations, and which are just the foibles of youth?

The bottom line is: It’s always wrong to pre-judge, whether an individual or an entire generation.

The whole discussion of millennials being “different” has gotten tiresome and silly. A Pew Research report in May put the number of millennials in the workforce at 53.5 million, with 52.7 million Gen Xers and 44.6 million boomers.

Millennials are now the largest group. Deal with it.