Analysing and interpreting millennials is an industry in itself but are they really as different as experts would have us believe, especially when it comes to the workplace?
While pointed descriptions of what makes millennials unique are presented as self-evident, very few are supported with solid empirical research. On the contrary, a growing body of evidence suggests that employees of all ages are much more alike than different in their attitudes and values at work.
If gaps do exist, they amount to small differences that have always existed between younger and older workers throughout history and have little to do with the millennial generation.
And there are plenty of examples as evidence.
Even the most widely accepted stereotypes about millennials appear to be questionable, as suggested by a recent study by IBM’s Institute for Business Value. The report entitled Myths, Exaggerations and Uncomfortable Truths – The real story behind Millennials in the workplace was based on a multigenerational study of 1 784 employees from companies across 12 countries and six industries. It found that about the same percentage of millennials (25%) want to make a positive impact on their organisation as gen xers (21%) and baby boomers (23%). Differences were uniformly minimal across nine other variables as well.
A 2015 study commissioned by international business broadcaster CNBC showed similar results.
Looking at the importance of six traits in a potential employer — ethics, environmental practices, work-life balance, profitability, diversity and reputation for hiring the best and brightest — the CNBC study found found that millennial preferences are just about the same as the broader population on all six.
In fact, contrary to the hard-to-please image, millennials reported being more satisfied with the training and skills development they receive. And 76% were satisfied with their opportunities for promotion, 10 percentage points higher than the rest of the population.
A KPMG study also showed millennials to also be virtually identical to their older colleagues on every measure of overall engagement such as pride in the organisation, optimism about the firm’s future and trust in leadership.
So why do so many people perceive millennials as so different? An interesting study was carried out by researchers from George Washington University in which they reviewed 20 studies examining generational differences.
The conclusion was that meaningful differences among generations probably do not exist in the workplace. The small differences that do appear are likely attributable to factors such as stage of life more than generational membership.
For example, one of the prevailing perceptions of millennials is that they have much higher traits of narcissism. But interestingly, this study shows it’s a trait more associated with young people, and not linked to when you were born.
The myth of the job-hopping millennial is just that — a myth. The data consistently shows that today’s young people are actually less likely to job hop than previous generations.
In light of all this evidence, it’s likely that companies pursuing millennial-specific employee engagement strategies are wasting time and money.
They would be far better served to focus on factors that lead all employees to join, stay, and perform at their best. And those factors are the same for all workers – a winning organisation they can be proud of, an environment in which they can make the most of their skills, good pay and fair treatment and enjoyable, fulfilling work.
Richard Andrews, managing director of Inspiration Office.