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Are Millennials Really that Different?

There is a lot of talk right now about millenials and their impact on the workplace.  You’ve probably heard the major stat that millenials will make up more than 50% of the workforce by 2020.  And no doubt you’ve heard all their negative characteristics – entitled, narcissistic, impatient, addicted to technology, unfocused, and undisciplined, to start.  Each generation seems to get a bad rap, but this one in particular seems to really be taking it on the chin.

All this potential impact and all this negative talk got me to thinking about whether or not the millennial generation is going to be that much different than those prior in their approach to work and their impact on organizations.  I wonder whether or not leaders in organizations need to go about things differently.  Ultimately, I believe the answer is both yes and no.

Let’s start with the fact that millenials are human beings.  They are not aliens.  They have the same basic human wants and desires as every other generation.  They speak the same language, they have feelings, they communicate, they eat food, they have relationships, they watch sports, etc., etc., etc.  They are indeed human.

If we begin with that baseline assessment then millenials are no different than the rest of us.  What is different is their perspective and that’s where leaders in organizations have to focus.

I was fortunate enough to guest lecture in an MBA class recently and there were two bright young women, recent college grads, who told me they just accepted jobs with a Fortune 500 company.  In our conversation they told me how important organizational culture was to them and that finding the right fit for their style and where they could have the greatest impact were deciding factors. 

Compare this to previous generations.  We looked for jobs.  A career.  A paycheck.  This generation is so much more enlightened than prior generations when it comes to their approach to careers.  As someone who has taught an undergrad course for almost a decade, I can vouch for the fact that these young women are not an anomaly.

Millenials are also informed.  They know how to get information and share information.  And they are not afraid to share their thoughts.  They have so many platforms to do so – think Facebook, Twiiter, Snapchat.  While sometimes they do so without discretion they can both stalk and opine freely and be informed, including about whether a workplace is attractive.

And then there’s the technology of course.  This is where I believe the biggest difference comes into play.  We can talk about parental impact and education, but technology is the one factor that I believe has the greatest impact on this generation as it relates to the workplace. 

In Simon Sinek's interview about millenials in the workplace, he talks about the affect of technology on this generation and its impact both in a physical, but practical sense.  In the practical sense, millenials are used to immediacy – instant movies, instant purchases, instant information, instant feedback (think social media likes).  In the workplace,