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Not all millennials are millennials

Millennials I was a fly on the wall at a recent workshop on generational differences when the instructor asked the audience for one-word descriptions of millennials, the youngest members of the workforce.

Here are the actual answers:

  • "Entitled"
  • "Self-centered"
  • "Blameless"
  • "Narcissistic"
  • "Impatient"
  • "Laid-back"

And all I could think was, "Here we go again."

There they were, more than 100 Boomers and Gen Xers, rattling off every stereotype in the Millennial Handbook as if they were definitive characteristics of our youngest co-workers. And none of them were terribly flattering.

But that wasn't the worst of it. What really bugged me was the tone in the room, which suggested the millennials had better get smart and fall into line pronto if they want to taste professional success.

In other words, they are the ones who need to change. Not us.

What a crock.

OK, sure, the young folks need to understand that the establishment expects certain things from them. They're not all going to get trophies and four-day workweeks and raises and promotions right out of the gates. That stuff has to be earned.

On the other hand, we can learn an awful lot from them as well.

Things are changing, folks. We don't communicate and connect with people the way we use to. We don't get our information in the same ways, either. Heck, we don't work the way we used to. A lot of our younger colleagues get that. If we don't start changing, too, we're quickly going to find ourselves irrelevant.

And as far as I'm concerned, that change should include doing away with wholesale generalizations about workforce demographics. It's convenient to lump all millennials into a silo and slap a few labels on it. We've done it here time and time again. Doing so might give us a bit of insight into how to get our employees to play nice.

But those labels simply don't apply to everyone in the silo.

"Generational change is gradual and transitional, with few abrupt shifts," the publishers of The Student Poll wrote, "and gross generalizations about an entire generation do not capture important subtleties and differences."

Amen.

Generalizations can be a good starting point, but embrace them at your own peril. Our employees are individuals. Each has unique qualities that he or she brings to the office.

Maybe our workforce differences have more to do with personalities than generations.

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