Understanding the Individual Millennial


So-called “Millennials” are rumored to be about to take over, save or ruin the world as we know it depending on which faddishly popular study of demographic trends one chooses to believe. Sociologists, demographers, marketers, political advisors and more are positing and profiting from differing broad stereotypes of an ill defined grouping of people based on birth years.

Here is one certain fact about “Millennials,” they are younger than some people, older than some people and are each living a life which will hopefully allow them to expire at a ripe old age. Some will seek education, employment, relationships, families and satisfaction. Others will to varying degrees seek other desired lifestyles and success measures. As they experience life, they will have some shared experiences which will form some common ground of culture, but they will each interpret these experiences through their individual values lens. Nothing will matter to everyone equally and absolutely.

At the risk of seeming a contrarian naysayer, I believe most Millennial myths are nothing more than over-generalized stereotypes and are not relevant nor should be acted upon in the workplace. Treating a group of employees differently based age is discriminatory no matter what age group one is attempting to work with. One would be rightly ridiculed for applying similar Millennial generational differences to any racial or other protected class. If one replaces the word Millennial in any typical generational difference claim, with any other protected class of person label, one would risk being thought racist or worse. The problem is not one of age, but of basic human understanding of individuality.

If an organization seeks to reap the benefits of diversity and inclusion though understanding, embracing and using individual differences, then why would it ever consider changing performance expectations, work environments or training modalities based on stereotypes? Isn’t the goal of inclusion to bring individuals into an organization and strengthen the organizational capacity by benefitting from adding his/her uniqueness to the merged assimilated organization’s culture? The richness of our differences allows us to benefit from the breath of our viewpoints.

Human intrinsic motivation per Reiss’ 16 Basic Desires theory, asserts individuals act in ways to satisfy individual needs and avoid frustrations. These needs are strongly genetic in origin and are individual in scope. They are formulated by about age 14 and do not change significantly as one ages. Understanding what someone else needs is the key to inspiring desired behaviors. I believe this level of individual understanding is crucial to benefiting from diversity through inclusion.

Leaders are challenged to meet individual employees as they are and who they are and first seek to understand what it is they need to experience well-being. Then though individual coaching/mentoring and appropriate cohort competency training, individuals are given the opportunity to both contribute to an organization’s culture as well as to assimilate into it. Stereotypes are shortcuts which often lead to misunderstands and non-inclusion.

Seek to understand each millennial you meet not as a stereotype but as an individual. Be very cautious trying to treat all millennials the same. Life has a way of smoothing out many differences over time. It’s called maturing or simply growing up.

%d bloggers like this: