I Can’t Work with These People! Understanding the Millennial Mindset  – Part 1

Ever wonder what planet your new hires are from? For most, it is called Millennialland. It is my homeland, and it is a whole different world than where Boomers and GenXers were born. So why are your younger workers from this strange land so hard to understand, manage and retain? Why is it that they lack the loyalty of those who came before them? Why do they need so much handholding in the workplace? And where does this tremendous sense of entitlement come from? Allow me to explain. 

Feeding the Stereotypes 

Now before you get mad about seeing another article that feeds the generational stereotypes, let me assure you that you are right. Generalizing people based on their birth years is crazy! We should stop doing that. Instead, we should get to know each person to determine his/her own individual personality, perspective, and motivators. But, there are reasons we put people into initial buckets by birthyear, and the research does not lie. 

There is an undeniable evolution of our society over time. Based on economic shifts, major events, and societal changes, we adjust our perspectives and priorities. Remember when pantyhose were required in the workplace? (Come on…aren’t you glad that time has passed, ladies?) Things change. And that means each group born at a different time is likely to hold varying opinions about things such as “professionalism,” which is subjective and tends to evolve over time. 

Being born in a certain generation does not give everyone in that cohort the same personality. It is more about the fundamental similarities they hold due to the time in which they grew up, and the way their parents raised them. 

Think about the Traditionalist workers (born pre-1945). For those who grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression, it is no wonder most of that generation identified stability, safety and security as their top priorities. We have evolved through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to want other things now that those basic needs have been met for most families in the United States. 

Skipping forward a few generations, Millennials were raised in a time drastically different than any previous generation, so it is no wonder we tend to have dramatically different views and priorities in life, and in the workplace. 

Before you read any further, please know that when I mention Millennials, it is not specifically about those born between 1980 and 2000; it is about those who have a Millennial mindset, which was most likely derived from the way they were raised. An “old soul,” for example, could be a Millennial by birthyear, but if that person was raised in a military family, on a farm, by grandparents, or in a conservative town, it is very likely she does not have a typical Millennial mindset. 

So today, I’m going to address some specific issues we see organizations dealing with as the gaps between different workers seem to widen every day. 

Why Do They Need So Much Handholding? 

The biggest difference I can find between GenXers (born 1965-1979) and my Millennial peers is our overall level of self-reliance. Many managers, GenX ones in particular, have no trouble sharing their frustrations about new hires having an inability to figure out problems on their own. They feel the newbies need way more handholding than they themselves ever received in their 20s. I believe this huge difference derives from the GenX pre-teen experience called the latchkey years! 

Many GenXers were at some point latchkey kids, getting themselves home safely after school, making a snack to eat, and finishing their homework (without help from Google). They learned at a very early age how to be resourceful, figure things out on their own and solve most problems they faced alone. This became an incredibly valuable skill set in the workplace later. 

According to US Census data, the number of latchkey kids plunged 40% from 1997 to 2013. This was largely in part due to an increase in federal aid for after-school programs during that time, and the growing fear of “stranger danger” among parents. 

When CNN launched in 1980 as the first 24-hour news channel in the US, it changed our country. Before this expansion of coverage, most criminal incidents were only covered by local media. But with a full day of CNN programming to fill, people from Denver would now become aware of small-town Maryland news, such as the kidnapping of 6-year-old Michelle Dorr from her own front yard. The 1980s also brought a tremendous rise in “true crime” news shows such as “Unsolved Mysteries” in 1986 and “America’s Most Wanted” in 1988, both playing a part in scaring parents to death about leaving their children unsupervised. 

Since most Millennial kids did not have that latchkey kid learning environment during their early years, we must learn it elsewhere – often at work. Today, managers should not expect most new hires to hit the ground running or be able to handle the “sink or swim” on-boarding method once used for GenX newbies. Many do not have the tools to be successful in that situation or environment. That means a “throw-them-to-the-wolves” training strategy will not be as effective for new hires as it once was. You will lose several great workers within a year because you “didn’t have their back” or they felt you “set them up to fail.” Today, it is more important than ever to provide more effective resources and mentorship to gain trust and build your staff’s confidence in their skills. 

Keep Reading: Part 2

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