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Derek Irvine


Senior Vice President of Global Strategy

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Blog: Five truths about millennials in the workplace


Recognise This! – All people, of every generation, are individuals.

Stereotyping behaviours based on birth date only serves to ignore true issues in the workplace.
The generational divide, in one form or another, kept hitting my screen time and again in the last week or two. A few that struck me the most:
1. From Slate, “Caught between X & Y”:
“This micro-generation is hard to pin down. … Whilst the proud alienation of the Gen X worldview doesn’t totally sit right, we certainly don’t yearn for the Organisation Man-like conformity that the Millennials seem to crave.”
We struggle to shove people into pigeonholes of behaviours and expectations based on the year they were born. Some beg off with an excuse of “these are just generalities,” but this article on a micro-generation that is neither Gen X nor Gen Y points out just how difficult it is to assign characteristics to a group of people based on their birthdate.
  • “We want glory for our ideas. We want to know we matter.”
  • “The worst thing is that I’ve always gotten self-worth from performance, especially good grades. But now that I can’t get a job, I feel worthless.”
  • “Watching [rounds of layoffs], I decided to never count on career stability and have tried to be less defined by my work.”
Three different quotes from three different “millennials” quoted in the article. Meaning and purpose are important to them (but that is true for most employees regardless of generation), but Gen Y employees struggle to find that at work anymore. The employment deal has let them down.

“One of the first insights from the Mercer study is that there is a seeming contradiction with younger workers. Whilst more of them are satisfied with their organisations and jobs (and are even willing to recommend them), they also are continuing to look for new opportunities that outpace other generations.”
Because the employment deal has failed them, Gen Y employees in particular can be perfectly happy with their jobs and still be seeking to leave. What do you do to retain and engage employees who are content but never satisfied? And is this really all that surprising as any generation in their 20s seeks to change jobs, explore and move up the career ladder (or at least the salary chain) as quickly as possible?
“One thing I see every day, in countless interactions with members of Generation Y, is a growing divide and disparity between perception and reality.  That’s why it’s important to take a different approach, and deeper look, at some of the most pervasive Gen Y myths.
  • Perception #1: Generation Y is Lazy/Reality:  Generation Y is Confused
  • Perception #2:  Generation Y Is Apathetic/Reality:  Generation Y Is Bored."
It’s always easier to assume ill-will than it is to look for underlying conditions that can be resolved with effort. Of course employees who are GenY (and therefore in the earliest parts of their careers) are confused and bored at work. What are we in the older generations doing to mentor, coach and enable them to strive for more?
5. The final words on generations at work, I’ll leave to Steve Boese (from his HR Technology blog):
“I guess there’s really two problems with the kids these days – one, we (the old folks) can’t be them anymore and it ticks us off; and two, they eventually grow up and pretend to forget what being a kid was all about.”
Steve strikes home with his observation that “the enemy is us” in essence. We of Gen X and the Boomer generations were once in the shoes of Gen Y today. I wholeheartedly believe much of what GenY is maligned for has far less to do with the stereotypes of their generation and far more to do with the stage of their career. After all, so were we 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
What are the assumptions about GenY that bother you the most?
Derek Irvine is senior vice president of global strategy at HR software provider, Globoforce.
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Derek Irvine

Senior Vice President of Global Strategy

Read more from Derek Irvine

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