A senior manager shared with me the struggles of managing a millennial staff member. In her view, this person was unfocused, delivered poor quality work yet wanted more responsibility even though she wasn't learning from feedback. The manager was convinced this was due to the staff member being of the Millennial generation.
It's not the first time I've heard the view that the Millennials are going to be difficult to manage because they are somehow different to us.
Millennials are the largest growing demographic. In the United States and United Kingdom, they make up about 20% of the working population. The figure jumps to 30% in China and India.
In the US, Millennials are set to overtake the Baby Boomers in 2015 as the largest living generation.
And there is some truth in the view that the makeup of Millennials matters on many levels. As leaders and managers, we will be responsible for motivating them. And as consumers, they will be buying the products and services of our corporations. But how are they different from the other generational cohorts like Gen-X and Baby Boomers?
It's clear they've grown up in a different time to many of us. In a delightfully maths-like investor perspective from Bank of America Meryl Lynch, Millennials are summarised in key words such as 'adventure', 'collaboration', 'connected', 'digital', 'diverse', 'educated', 'international', 'liberal', 'me', 'now', 'sharing', 'sceptical', 'social', and 'values'.
BoAML suggests to their investors that there are distinct sectors that will benefit from this growing generation. Some unsurprisingly like technology and the sharing economy, while others like drinking, dining and health and wellness, education - and women perhaps more so.
In a report from IBM entitled "Millennials: Myths, exaggerations and uncomfortable truths", many assumptions of this generation are challenged. The myth that Millennials are digital addicts who want to do everything online is apparently not true. By example, their top three learning preferences are in-person (conferences, classroom training, and learning by the side of a colleague). The research shows there is no difference between Millennial career goals and expectation to the older generations. And Millennials are not more likely than other generations to jump ship when the job doesn't meet expectations (that honour belongs to Gen-X).
And yet this perception that Millennials are so different and require different treatment appears to persist.
This is generational gap reminds me of my grandfather who would dismiss all the pop music I loved with a harrumph of "it's all boom-boom-boom". There was truth in what he was saying and he'd checked out of the conversation at that point. He was not going to make any attempt to understand the diversity and range in 80s pop music. The conversation was closed.
Much like my grandfather, we are in danger of making the generation of Millennial the very reason why we can't connect. Studies such as the one the US Potato Board - "Understanding Millenials – how potatoes fit into their lives" suggests to me we are taking the generational differences a step too far. Unsurprisingly, the Potato Board found no differences in the Millennial approach to potato over any other generations.
What does come across consistently in research is that Millennial biggest motivation is not money and earning potential, but the chance to work on exciting and interesting projects. Is that not true for all of us? Money is table stakes for most of us – whatever generation. And we get of bed, or struggle to do so based on the excitement and connection with what we do.
Millennials have as much diversity as other generational cohorts. Treating them as a homogenous group who have unique requirements in how we manage them isn't helpful.
In managing Millennials, we should treat them like we treat anyone else – as a human being with interests, hopes, fear and expectations unique. Be curious about the person in front of you - and don't let their generational label get in the way of being in good relationships.
Of course I'd love to hear your own stories of managing Millennials.