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Your Thinking on Millennials is Wrong

Graduates with one "Hire Me" on top of the cap.There. I said it. You are wrong. Wrong about millennials, wrong about their place in the workforce, and wrong about how you are trying to gain their attention (long enough) to work for you. Just. Plain. Wrong. On at least three counts.

Point 1: Trying to Get Millennials to Play YOUR Game

First, the prevailing wisdom is, largely, concerned with how to motivate — sometimes trick — millennials to blend into your current organization and its values. This is expected because it is what has been done for the most part, generation after generation, with only evolutionary changes happening as successive generations have become the majority. The error in thinking here is that the same treatment as happened to us is both fair and productive for a generational gap that is, in many respects, as big as the gap between the GI Generation (sometimes the Greatest Generation) and Gen-X. Millennials aren’t just younger and more tech savvy, they are the first digital natives and are, consequently, different both epistemologically and ontologically, which leads to the next two counts.

Point 2: They Don’t Know How YOU Know What You Know — Or Trust It

Epistemologically, millennials are beyond a world where facts and figures must be retained in their heads for ever, as static nuggets on which to hang application. Millennials are fundamentally different in that they are used to looking up those knowledge level things at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy on an as-needed basis. Where previous generations focused on memorizing the state capitals and a few key dates from history, millennials are among the first generation to have that information just a few keystrokes (or voice commands) away. To them, understanding begins at higher levels of learning because they generally start with questions and then look up the relevant facts, then ask more questions, etc., searching as far and wide as their curiosity could take them.

Previous generations, on the other hand, began with a necessarily limited volume of data in their heads and in few and selected texts on which to form all inquiry. Because of this go-to-the-source attitude toward data and a fundamental understanding of the nature of how much information there is “out there,” your millennials are not likely to trust or even try to contribute like everyone else in an environment where everyone works on high-complexity tasks entirely out of flawed and temperamental memory.

Point 3: Many Foundations of Reality Are Fundamentally Different

Ontologically, and largely because of their understanding of “out there” with respect to the availability of knowledge, millennials are unlikely to respond well the previous generations’ “because I said so” as the bottom line for reality. Among the tangle of themes within the workplace, they have different answers for questions of meaning in life and the role of job and career in that life, and many of those answers are fundamentally different than previous generations. They aren’t “afraid of hard work,” as some of my coworkers might indicate; rather, they are not willing to participate in pointless, rote repetition of tasks without end just to earn a pay check when other options are available.

For many millennials, the job or career is part of life, not an eight-hour-per-day trade we make to have a life. They need to feel that what they do makes a difference to someone — not necessarily globally, but to those they touch. They are not likely to glom on to the highest mission of the organization as a proxy for their seemingly disconnected day-to-day. Before you get snippy with your latest hire because she doesn’t seem to “get” what you are doing, make sure you “get” why she should be doing it.

Moving On With Millennials

Deep-down, the important thing is to understand that millennials and, soon, Gen-Z are not younger more tech savvy versions of you. These generations are fundamentally different because of the speed of change that has happened during their lives and even before they were born. Forcing them into the form of older thought and work processes is a losing proposition for both of you. For the millennial, they will be disconnected and will move to something more satisfying. For you, well, just think of the cost of turnover. And your own frustration. Take these younger generations as they are and leverage them instead of trying to change them. Seek to understand not to “deal with” and you’ll be headed in the right direction.

About the Author:

Dr. Philip D. Mann is an experienced trainer, speaker, and problem solver who gets things done. His primary expertise is employee engagement and the people side of how organizations grow and (resist) change. He also knows a thing or two about the government works, and those principles apply to all large, bureaucratic structures. If you need help getting things done, reach out to Dr. Mann here on LinkedIn or at

Published inBenefitsDecisions and Decision AnalysisEmotional Quotient (EQ)Employee EngagementLeaders and ManagersLinkedInMillennialsRecruitmentRelationshipsUncategorized

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