Workplace Insights
August 22, 2017

HR Roundup: Debunking the Myth of the Millennial Worker

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If you peel back the layers of the millennial, it’s not just foosball tables and avocado toast. Many of these notions are misconceptions. Take job hopping, for example According to the Pew Research Center, millennials are just as likely to stick to their job as their Gen X counterparts.

Lost in the ongoing debate about all the things that millennials have displaced are the positive stories. Just this week, a survey published in London revealed that millennials represent the happiest segment of workers there. There’s a generational shift happening as millennial workers have helped change the world of work.

We interviewed a variety of experts including an author, journalist, and a human resources pro and asked them to help us understand the myth of the millennial. What they told us reveals an interesting portrait of a group of people who aren’t a whole lot different than any other generation -- they simply want to accomplish meaningful work. Here are their answers:

Unraveling the Myth of the Millennial


Robert Sutton is a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business where his focus is on innovation, leadership, scaling excellence, workplace dynamics, and the links between managerial knowledge and organization action. A best-selling author of more than 100 articles and publications, his next book, "The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt will be published in September."

Branch Messenger: What's the biggest myth about recruiting and managing Millennial employees?

Robert Sutton: That they want to be coddled and have a sense of entitlement. They work very hard. What they want more than anything is a boss and colleagues who treat them with respect and make them proud of their work and their organizations. Leaders who treat millennials with disrespect, who ignore them, belittle them —who act like jerks— are paying a bigger price than ever. Their best people will leave, push back, and bad-mouth them and their companies. And they will deserve it.


Matt Charney is Executive Editor at Recruiting Daily. Regarded as a go-to resource for HR executives, Charney has an innate understanding of what’s coming next in the world of recruiting and talent acquisition. Considered a top influencer by the likes of GlassDoor and LinkedIn, Matt began his career as a corporate recruiter for Walt Disney and Warner Brothers.

Branch Messenger: What's the biggest myth about recruiting and managing Millennial employees?

Matt Charney: I don't know why people don't realize that workers who are demographically "millennials" are in their mid-30s by now (the oldest of this cohort turned 18 in the year 2000 - hence, the naming convention). They're a majority of workers in the U.S. and are increasingly becoming our professional peers, our direct supervisors and our senior managers. Hell, in about 25 percent of companies, they've already ascended to the C Suite. So, the whole conception that millennials require a different approach to recruiting and retention is asinine—we're already here, and we want the same stuff everyone else does: security, job stability, and even stuff like health benefits. Yeah, it's crazy, but most Gen Y workers would prefer comprehensive insurance and retirement savings to avocado toast and ‘Take Your Dog to Work Day.’

So, I'd say the biggest myth is that we're really any different from any other worker. We're attracted to the same sort of stuff as anyone else—although the biggest difference might be that millennials don't really love email, and are much more likely to read and respond to SMS than any other form of recruiting or employee communication. But other than that, the only thing you really need to know is that most "millennials" detest that phrase, so you're essentially ostracizing them every time you use it—and whenever you discuss this cohort, you're also practicing age discrimination by stereotyping a protected class. And if you're in HR, c'mon, you old fogies, you know that's not compliant.


Melissa Fairman is an HR professional with HR reMix. Her work explores the interplay of people, work, culture, law, and technology. Her passion is empowering people to take charge of their careers.

Branch Messenger: What's the biggest myth about recruiting and managing Millennial employees?

Melissa Fairman: The myth that we must treat them differently than any other group of employees. Yes, the millennial generation grew up with different cultural and historical touchstones…big deal! Every generation does. We don’t need to treat millennials any differently than any other group of employees. Just like your employees in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, millennials want similar things out of work:

  • To do work they are proud of
  • To be paid fairly
  • To be able to accomplish something at work; all generations share a mutual hatred for red tape and bureaucracy

These are not concepts that are new to the world of work. Employees of all ages want similar things from work. We need to stop acting like this is something new.

Key Takeaways

As the first generation to come of age in the connected millennium, the millennial employee represents a huge piece of the global workforce. And, they’re armed with constant connectivity, fresh insights, and a litany of applications, products, and software tools that keep them productive while enjoying getting work done along the way.

That last point is important: happiness. You can argue that generational shifts have brought a lot of change, but like any other generation, past or future, people at work ultimately want to be happy.

  • Employees want to be challenged in their work
  • Sense of achievement and purpose is important
  • People want to be acknowledged and receive feedback

Happy employees are more productive employees. Helping chart the course for happier employees takes a company-wide approach, from management down to the front line cashiers.

How are you helping to dispel the myth of the millennial worker? Share your tips and stories with us in the comments. And, be sure to follow us for more articles on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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