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Millennial is Not a Dirty Word

I snapped this photo while walking to the train in New York City last month. The bold lettering and pithy message caught my eye. And I also noticed that other than shouldering the bag that read “MILLENNIAL IS NOT A DIRTY WORD,” the young woman looked no different from any other person in the crowd heading home after work. She wore sneakers with work heels stuffed into one bag, another bag over her arm, and walked with phone in hand. The thing is, the woman in front of her? See her? Same thing. Juggling multiple bags, phone in hand, earbuds in. But she was easily 20 years older. 

A lot of time and attention has been devoted to the ongoing conversation about the nature of the Millennial generation. Pundits are making their names and building careers on the premise of knowing who Millennials are, what they want, and what employers must do to recruit and retain them. The Internet is awash in articles and webcasts portending to know the answers. In all of this I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that we are more the same—colleagues of varying generational origin—than we are different.  

In reality, and i4cp’s research shows this, much of the hyperventilation is indeed based on hype (and not much data) to mold this group into a homogenized, badly behaved organism. I wrote about this back in 2013 fresh off of a study on the developmental needs of Millennials that i4cp did in partnership with ATD.  I said it then and I say it again three years later: The Millennial generation has gotten a bad rap.

What do Millennials want from their employers or prospective employers? The same things employees of other generational groups want: clear communication, clear goals, autonomy, they want to feel invested in, respected, and heard. They want to do interesting and meaningful work. They want appropriate incentives and rewards and to be recognized for their hard work and accomplishments. It’s not a mystery.

There is no argument that every generation in or entering the workforce comes with unique perspective. We at i4cp have been covering this issue for years. But what employers should focus on above all else is culture. If your culture and values are aligned with your brand message—an employee value proposition that simply stated boils down to “give us your best and we will give you ours”—you shouldn’t sweat how to attract or retain Millennials or “key talent” of any generation, gender, ethnicity, etc.

I know Millennials who have lifestyles and priorities that are solidly Boomerish. I have Boomer friends who are more in tune with Millennials in terms of the work they do, the benefits they want from their employers, the music they listen to, and the clothes they wear, than stereotypical Millennials. I could go on, but you get my point: “Millennial” is not a one-size-fits-all label that can be neatly applied to a group of 80 million humans.

Millennial is not a dirty word. Slacker isn’t code for Gen X. And just because someone is (by virtue of the year they were born) a Baby Boomer, doesn’t mean they are all members of a self-absorbed, me, me, me, it’s all about me generation (remember that rap?). Let’s pause and assess what our culture communicates about the value we place on our employees—all of our employees.          

In an upcoming webinar on July 28, author and Organization Development Consultant at Oracle, Jessica Kriegel will discuss her book, “Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit From Ditching Generational Stereotypes,” which addresses bias and how it affects the workplace and beyond and what we can all do about it.

Lorrie Lykins is i4cp’s managing editor and director of research services