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Millennials: Are Trophy Kids Getting a Bad Rap?

Sensationalism in the media and countless books (including my own) about differences between the generations paint a picture about the emerging Millennials that might be more myth than right.

Today’s workforce is comprised of Baby Boomers (born 1945-1965),
Generation X (born 1965-1980) and Millennials. There are more than 80
million Millennials, also called Generation Y in the U.S. alone and
while many of them are already in the workforce, the rest are on the
verge of entering it.

For those of you who still get confused
between Gen Y, Gen WHY, Generation Y, and the Millennials, here’s a
reminder: These titles all describe the same group of young adults and
teens born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s.  They have also
been described aptly as the Digital Generation but not so kindly as the
Trophy Kids
If you have read anything recently or managed these young workers, you
might have learned that these Millennials expect preferential
treatment and may be difficult to manage.

Free Chapter - Millennial Generation  
New York Post film critic Kyle Smith’s recent review
on the movie Final Destination 5 includes his opinion about this young
generation.  Mr. Smith, along with a long list of authors, experts, and
business consultants before him apparently find the Trophy Kids
moniker a glove-like fit:

Young
adults born in the 1980s and early 1990s leaped out of nicotine- and
alcohol-free wombs to be deemed geniuses every time they passed a test,
awarded trophies every time they caught a ball and tucked into comfy
car seats on the victory ride over to their favorite sushi palace.

 

They
took groovy public-service internships at an age when their
grandfathers were sweating on assembly lines or being shot at by Nazis,
lived with their parents until they were 28, then proceeded directly to
their shrinks for marathon weeping sessions every time they messed up a
project at work. They’re as soft as pudding, and they know it. The
Greatest Generation didn’t need triathlons or X-treme skateboarding;
every Friday night was a thrill ride after manual labor and eight
Schlitzes.

While Smith’s perspective might be true for many Millennials, it
certainly doesn’t fit all. I for one – an older Baby Boomer – can
identify just as many of my peers (Baby Boomers) whose entitlement and
“soft-as-pudding” attitudes fit Smith’s opinion of Millennials more
than they do the hard-working, self-sacrificing memories of Industrial
Age and pre-World War II generations.  

Mr. Smith concludes his
review with “Previous generations constructed an amazing world — but
nothing new gets built anymore, and now all the old stuff is being held
together by rust.”  That might be true.  They did build an amazing
world but it’s not the Millennial’s fault that “all the old stuff is
being held together by rust.”  Millennials, and Generation X to some
degree, didn’t allow it rust – the older generations did.  Granted, the
Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers built much of our infrastructure
but then left it to younger generations to figure out how to maintain
and/or replace it. While the argument might be made that subsequent
generations are responsible for maintaining what prior generations
build.

But not a single Millennial can be held responsible for
slashed budgets that cut out funding for maintaining the old and
replacing with new.  And they aren’t responsible for the screwed up
educational system they passed through, underfunded entitlement
programs they inherited, and no-lose-everyone-is-a-winner games they
played in. In fact, the older generations “built” this younger
generation and now complains incessantly about what they created and
their inability and/or unwillingness to fix the mess they inherited.

Our
world also has evolved from a time when productivity was measured by
brawn to a world where brain power is the new economic engine. While we
do need manual labor to build and re-build our infrastructure, the
next chapter of our amazing world will be written by those who
“know-how,” not by those that “can-do.” Ironically, this story and the
opinions of others like Smith is nothing new. 

Older generations have been complaining about younger generations since the beginning of time. According to a new report released by Kenexa:

Upstart
generations and their sometimes brash attitudes and behaviors have
long been a cause for consternation among older generations….While
the sound bites proclaiming the differences between the Millennials are
voluminous, scientific research is scarce….we are still not sure if
Millennials are any different than any other generation when they were
young.

The Kenexa WorkTrends study, by tracking more than 25 years of
opinions, refutes the “malcontent” stereotype: Millennials are more
positive than both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. The study reveals
important trends that have significant implications for company
recruitment, engagement, and retention strategies.

Sixty
percent of Millennials also say they are strongly satisfied with their
organization as a place to work. Even more – 63 percent -report that
they have opportunity for growth and development at their company. When
it comes to pay, 42 percent of Millennials say they are paid fairly,
compared to 41 percent for boomers and 38 percent for Generation X. 
While those results are not something to celebrate, the Millennials do
not feel more jilted or satisfied than older generations.

The
study also examined attitudes about leaving their current organization
for better opportunities. Thirty-one percent of Millennials working
today are considering leaving their job while 27 percent of Generation X
is looking too.  Nineteen percent of Baby Boomers were looking too.
But if you look back to 1990, 31 percent of 27 year old Generation Xers
were considered leaving their organization, identical to today’s
Millennials.

There is no question that the attitudes and
characteristics of one generation may differ from another. But in the
end, many of the differences attributed to a generation are really just
typical of youth regardless of the decade in which they were raised.

What
do you think?  Are the Millennials a generation that will force the
world to conform to their values or is their behavior just past history
repeating itself? 

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