May 10, 2019

Myth #1 – It’s all the Millennials Fault


This is part 2 of our series titled, America’s Engagement Epidemic. To read part 1, click here.

For the very first time in history, five distinct generations from the age of 17 – 70 are present in the job market.  Each generation has their own world view, experiences, skill sets, context and expectations of an employer. According to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center, here is the composition of each generation in the current workforce:

Silent / Greatest (1945 or earlier)  – 2%

Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964)- 25%

Gen Xers (1965 – 1980)  – 33%

Millennials (1981 – 1996)  – 35%

Gen Z  ( 1997 and Later) – 5%

Having 5 generations represented in the workforce presents a unique challenge for any organization serious about increasing engagement and growing their people.

One of the most common sentiments we hear from organizations is that the Millenials are less engaged than previous generations. We often hear the words “lazy”, “whiny” and “dispassionate” used to describe their millennial workforce. While it may feel as though Millenials are more disengaged than previous generations, the data simply proves this to be a myth.

As you can see, Millennials are slightly more disengaged than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, but not by much.  This data from Gallup shows very clearly that the one thing that is similar between these three different generations is a lack of engagement and satisfaction with their work.

One reason for the perception that Millennials are vastly more disengaged than the other generations largely has to do with the way in which each generation responds to their employers and reacts to their own sense of disengagement.

Here are a few characteristics of the Millennial generation that contribute to the way in which Millennials express their disengagement:

  1. A desire for quality of life – Millennials have grown up observing corporate business structures fail and in turn, Millennial-led businesses are often times organized very differently from traditional corporate businesses. Millennials watched their parents sacrifice aspects of their own personal happiness for their career success including long hours, low upward mobility, and long tenures with a single employer.  Because of this, they desire a different experience with work and relationship with their employers. Contrary to popular opinion, Millennials desire to work hard, but to do so in a place where that can honor this desire for a healthy work-life balance. This often means that Millenials advocate for flexible working hours, opportunities to be remote, greater collaboration, and other unique structures that create a greater quality of life. Organizations that can tap into this desire for a healthy work-life balance will gain highly engaged and loyal Millennial workers.

  1. Most highly – educated generation – According to Pew Research, The Millennial generation is on track to be the most educated generation with almost 34% having a Bachelor’s Degree. When Baby Boomers and Gen Xers were growing up, a Bachelor’s degree was not a necessity to achieve a middle-class lifestyle. This means that there is a great deal of talent available in the marketplace, and this makes for increased competition in the marketplace. One of the symptoms of this characteristic is that Millennials often desire constant feedback from their employers and seek out additional opportunities for growth. Organizations that can provide effective and frequent feedback and opportunities for growth will gain highly engaged and loyal Millennial workers.

  1. The Gig Economy – Millennials are defined as those born between 1981 and 1996. With the birth of the internet in 1983, this generation grew up in an interconnected and digital world. Out of this progress, the “gig economy” was born which means that we can now work for anyone, from anywhere. This trend has increased job-mobility amongst Millennials, but it has also affected every generation in the workforce. This means that if a Millennial is not highly engaged in their work, they will explore other job options where they may experience higher levels of engagement. Organizations that can create highly engaging organizations will retain Millennial workers for a very long time.

These three unique characteristics about the Millennial generation has made it so that these individuals are highly vocal about their disengagement, and advocate consistently for a more engaging workplace. In contrast, because of Baby Boomers unique characteristics, they respond to their own sense of disengagement by working harder, practicing loyalty, and finding ways to advance within an organization.

Regardless of how each generation responds to their disengagement, we can all agree on two facts;  that America’s Engagement Epidemic is affecting all generations equally, and that each of us desires to be highly engaged in our work.

If we are going to truly understand the challenge of engagement in the workforce, we are going to have to look much deeper than generational differences to truly understand the root of the problem.

Join us next week to discuss our second myth about America’s Engagement Epidemic.

If you want to discuss these ideas in more detail, reach out for a conversation!