Are Millennial Employees Really That Different?

Published: May 13, 2016

 Workplace Issues       
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If you're anything like me, you're probably sick of reading anything with the word Millennial in the title—especially if it seeks to explain the likely habits of an entire generation of people. By now, we should probably all have got the picture: there are a lot of them hitting the workforce, and <gasp> they're not like the rest of us.

So we should be scared, right? All these kids with their new-fangled ideas on how they're going to live their lives, not give in to the man, do things on their own terms.

Take, for example, this chart, handily compiled by the folks at Statista from a recent report by Deloitte:

Infographic: Millennials Believe In Life After Work | Statista

I mean, just who do these millennials think they are, with their focus on living lives that aren't completely consumed by work?

Spoiler: they're all of us, ever.

Which generation hasn't come up thinking that they'll be able to bend the world to their will? Certainly not mine (I'm in that strange age bracket where I don't meet the technical definition of a millennial, but am too young to consider myself a genuine Gen Xer either). When my cohort were in college, we spent many a hazy night and early morning opining  about the flaws of the adult world we were about to be cast into, and vowing that we'd do things differently if we only got the chance.

Before me, large segments of my parents' generation seems to have been exactly the same: the summer of love and the societal changes of the 1960s didn't happen because people were satisfied with the status quo.

The problem that we have in trying to put a finger on exactly how different this arriving generation of workers is from those that went before, is that we're lacking in data about previous generations captured when they were the same age. You want to know what I valued in an employer when I was 21? I could give you an answer now, but it would probably bear very little resemblance to what I would have actually said back when I thought I knew everything there was to know about the world (a notion that I was quickly disabused of when I met it beyond the walls of my college!).

That chart above? That was the result of a survey of 7,700 millennials in 29 countries around the world. You want data on that many people with that kind of geographic spread as recently as 1995? Good luck trying to find it—if you're lucky, you'll be digging through academic studies based on a couple of hundred responses from people in towns within a 250-mile radius of wherever the researchers happened to be based.

And I wish you even more luck trying to find anything that asks about work-life balance: as a concept, that wasn't even on the radar of most businesses until the past couple of decades—with a large part of the reason being that people who worked 9-5 jobs and then went home to houses without internet connections could take work-life balance for granted.

So while the information in that chart is interesting in its own right—a worldwide sampling of millennials seems to care more about work-life balance than career progression—it's lacking what would truly make it interesting: the ability to make a useful comparison with previous generations' attitudes.

Without that, all we can do is make guesses about how different the Millennials are. My guess: they're not that much different at all; which means that they've only got about 20 years before they're the ones complaining about the lack of work ethic in the generation of kids that will follow them.


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