Why you should stop calling your millennial employees ‘millennials’

Things were better when my parents were young. I know this, because they’ve told me. Often. If I had less respect for your time and mental health, I would spend the rest of this article giving you a technicolour account of Utopian childhood in the fifties and sixties. I’d explain why kids were happier before TV, and lament the loss of innocent joys.


But I won’t, even though truthfully (don’t tell my folks), I’ve always loved those stories. As a boy, it amazed me to know that, once upon a time, you could catch the bus into town, buy popcorn and ice cream, watch a movie, and catch the bus home, for less than the price of the chocolate that was melting in my hand. My mother or father’s nostalgia was infectious, and the heartwarming memory that was being shared always made me feel oddly cosy. Now that I have my own kids, I am partly horrified, partly amused, to find that I too possess that strange impulse to reminisce and warble on about the past. It’s a peculiar thing, but it seems to be quite human.


An offshoot of this apparently universal tendency is the pastime of pointing fingers at younger generations. It’s the meat in sentences that start with ‘In my day…’ and ‘The trouble with young people today is…’ and we’re all familiar with rest of the script, because it hasn’t changed much in 100 years. It’s apparently normal for an ageing generation to frown down upon the values and behaviour of the generations that follow, but in the last decade these traditional mumbles and mutterings have become an all-out assault. The target? Millennials.


Millennials (born between roughly 1982 and 2000) have received more press – most of it bad – than any generation before them. They have been analysed, categorised, criticised, and chastised with a fervour unprecedented in popular culture. Though commonly known as Generation Y, this set has also been called The Dumbest Generation, The Me Me Me Generation, and some other things not printable here. Millennial employees, especially, have been cast as lazy, self-entitled, narcissistic, tech-obsessed, shallow, and disrespectful.


With such a large amount of research being invested in understanding millennials, some of these judgements are backed by hard data, but for many Gen Y’s it’s all starting to feel a bit like millennial bashing. The term ‘millennial’ has become a loaded one, and according to Pew Research Centre, only 40% wish to be identified with the label. Why is this important to employers of millennials? Because millennials show lower work engagement and higher job hopping than any other generation, and anyone looking to retain millennial staff needs to start by understanding their worldview. And that starts by NOT calling them something that might feel like an accusation.


To increase employee engagement and reduce employee turnover, it is critical to understand what motivates your staff to get up and come to work in the morning. The work environment is only one aspect of the story; to get a complete picture one needs to be able to hold the perspective of your employees.


Managing millennials in the workplace can be difficult, but it is made considerably easier when one understands the values that they subscribe to, the qualities that define their generation, and what they need from their employer to feel a long-term commitment. As Simon Sinek says, the reality of the modern workplace is that, like it or not, it is up to organisations to take responsibility for developing their millennial workforce. And development begins with awareness. To ignore this could cost organisations dearly – certainly far more than a box of popcorn, and ice cream cone, and a bus trip to the movies.

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