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A misunderstood generation: Breaking the millennial myths

A misunderstood generation: Breaking the millennial myths

By Anusha Bhagat

“The Me Me Me Generation — Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents”, read a TIME magazine cover story four years back. Renowned author Simon Sinek accused millennials of “being self-interested, unfocused and lazy”. The New York Times wrote:“You know them when you see them. They are tapping on their smartphones, strolling into work late […] They simultaneously (and somewhat improbably) like both Kanye West and Kenny Chesney.”

Over the years, a lot has been said about the millennials. Do these narratives ring true or are they misinterpreting this generation?

Who are the millennials?

‘Millennials’, also known as “Generation Y” or the “Net Generation”, are the demographic cohort that directly follows Generation X. The term was coined by writers William Strauss and Neil Howe in 1991 to denote people born between the late 1970s and 2000s.

On one hand, millennials are touted as today’s coveted “it” generation of energetic and creative start-up whiz kids, and do-gooding entrepreneurs. On the other hand, they are often referred to as lazy, narcissistic, and entitled techie job-hoppers who are addicted to social media. The endless scrutiny and discussion about their outlook towards life, work and relationships have created dominant but dubious stereotypes about their generation. These enervated convictions need to be questioned to prove that millennials are more than what the truisms dictate.

Millennials are ‘spoilt and lazy’

Though millennials are often described as lazy, it is important to remember that their working style is distinct. They are proficient at multitasking and finding shortcuts; as Simon Sinek says, they believe in instant gratification. They strive to work smarter, not harder. Millennials are the first generation to have known a digital workplace and they use this mastery to break status quo, not because they are ‘spoilt’, but because they strive for efficiency.

Furthermore, there is a popular misconception that millennials lack work ethic and have little respect for authority. However, millennials believe in a work culture that distributes power in a dynamic way, while retaining the hierarchies. Digital technology has given rise to flexible organisations which integrate processes of thinking, acting and learning at all levels. Millennials do not wish to challenge authority but to actively contribute to the growth of the workplace and themselves.  

Contrary to the belief that millennials are lazy and incompetent, a poll cited in The Economist involving 90,000 American employees found out that the millennials are in fact the most competitive: 59% of them said competition is “what gets them up in the morning”, compared with 50% of baby-boomers (people born between early-to-mid 1940s and 1960-64). 58% of millennials said they compare their performance with their peers’, as against 48% for other generations.

Do millennials fail to find job satisfaction?

Members of the millennial community hold seemingly unconventional notions of success. These include the desire for a work-life balance, a purposeful career, and freedom of choice. These ideas do not simply evolve out of a nine to five métier. Millennials do not discount material success but consider it an incomplete ambition in a world that thrives on development and exchange of ideas, innovation and creativity.

Tamara Erickson, author of Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work says that millennials think in terms of how to make the most of today. They make sure that what they are doing is meaningful, interesting and challenging. This implies that the reputation of being ‘job-hoppers’ stems from their tendency to evaluate life choices frequently, rather than dissatisfaction. They employ a “Where to, next?” approach to maximise individual impact.

The social media overexposure

While it is true that millennials are adept at interacting online, it does not mean they want every aspect of their life to function virtually. According to a  report by the IBM Institute for Business Value, although 35% of millennials are comfortable with virtual learning compared to 33% of Gen X and 30% of baby boomers, millennials’ prefer personal interaction. On a personal level, a lot of millennials agree that social media does not show the “real” them. A study by Fast Company shows that about half of the millennials and over three-quarters of non-millennials keep the majority of their “real” selves private.

Millennials are often typecast as mindless people who are always glued to their phones and are unable to focus without scrolling through their Twitter feeds or snapping their friends. However, the 2016 Nielsen Social Media Report disproves this: Generation X (ages 35-49) spends the most time on social media: almost 7 hours per week versus Millennials, who come in second, spending just over 6 hours per week.”

Stereotypes are reductive

Stereotypes arise from tracing a general mould of behavioural traits. There is no denying the fact that millennials are the flag bearers of the Digital Era. Technology and social media are attributes that they unapologetically adorn and fervently beat the drum for. Yet, these reasons are not enough to typecast a whole generation of people who exhibit divergent thoughts, ideas and creations. Social media is definitely crucial to the millennials’ lifestyle, culture and identity. However, it is not always counter-productive. Social media use is not just about taking a break, texting friends or distracting oneself but also about following the news, seeking knowledge or just catching up on a daily dose of reading.

Sweeping generalisations do not do justice to the nuances, complexities, and aspirations of the millennial life. To harness the true potential of millennials, people need to let go of monolithic labels and accept the fact that individual differences are greater than generational differences.


Featured Image Credits: Unsplash

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