10 Millennial Myths To Stop Believing

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
If you've been on the internet in the last five years, you're sure to have come across countless articles about how millennials — also known as Generation Y or the "Facebook Generation" — are ill-equipped for the workplace thanks to our indecisiveness, entitlement issues, cell-phone addictions, and pure laziness.

We beg to differ.

“I graduated in 2009, right into the middle of the recession,” says Mallory Ortberg, cofounder of feminist website The Toast. "My experience is that most young people didn’t feel a lot of entitlement — more of a sense of panic because of a lack of job prospects, and the amount of student debt." Ortbeg is a New York Times best-selling author, she was named the new voice of Slate's "Dear Prudence" in 2015, and she was featured on Forbes' 2015 "30 Under 30" list. In other words, she's a millennial who's out there in the world, totally killing it. And she's not buying the negative headlines, either.

Here's the hard truth: Our generation has been met with lower wages, fewer job prospects, and more debt than any other, according to research. However, our large size — we're so big we're slated to overtake baby boomers in population — has made us the majority of the U.S. labor force in the past year.

Rather than adapting to a new, younger workforce with a different perspective, society has managed to come up with myths and criticisms for millennial workers. If you don't believe us, do a Google search and prepare to be irritated.

"I think these myths come from stats that exist — that have been debunked — showing that millennials have 20 different jobs, that they’re in and out, and every single one of them thinks they can run a company," says Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick, a public relations firm based in New York City.

Gaines-Ross and the team at Weber Shandwick, with help from the Institute for Public Relations, completed a study of millennials in the workforce, learning about our behavior, goals, and opinions on what makes a great employee. Their findings show that millennials are hard workers who are just wired a little differently — not lazy, entitled, couch-dwellers. And this isn't the first study to prove that.

So why the disconnect? Where are these rumors coming from? And can we finally put them all to bed?

We’ve rounded up 10 of the most overused and overhyped myths about millennial workers that you’re so tired of hearing — and debunked them. So, the next time someone suggests you're a member of the "lazy generation," hit them with a big helping of truth.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
"To be valued in the workplace, one must first demonstrate that they’re valuable. So before making demands, try making an effort. You’ll soon find that life works better that way," writes David French, an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.

This line is from an article called, "A Note to Entitled Millennials in the Workplace: Give Humility a Try." In the article, French is responding to an "open letter" by a young college graduate named Elizabeth McLeod, and her mother, who gave five reasons that millennials leave jobs, including a lack of insight into why their work matters, and managers' tolerance for low performance.

French argues that millennials need to stop with the "demands" and expectations of exceptional leadership, and instead, provide exceptional service. He says it's a difficult truth that even his generation had to learn.

Well, here's the thing: Millennials are already aware of what traits are required to be an exceptional worker, according to Weber Shandwick’s study. And most of us are very invested in putting in the hard work necessary to succeed.

“Older folks are always going to have a hard time understanding young folks…There’s ways in which things are super different for millennials," Ortberg says.

Those different desires are being perceived as "demands." But according to Gaines-Ross, they can also be potential assets.

"I think, based on the facts we learned in our research, there's an opportunity for managers to try and foster community and mentorship," says Gaines-Ross. "It's so very important to young workers. And that's one of the few factors that was generational specific."

And if there's ever a question about how "valuable" we are, let's try not to forget that millennials are better educated than any other generation, according to the Pew Research Center.

So, let's see: Well-educated people who value hard work want you to help them grow and stop tolerating poor performances from others? Pretty sure that has nothing to do with entitlement.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
There are countless articles and horrible quotes about "lazy" millennial workers who allegedly do things like, “continually show up late for work, ask to leave early, always turn down overtime requests, and wonder why they haven’t been promoted after just one year on the job," as Joanne G. Sujansky writes in Supervision magazine.

Real talk: I'm always late.

To brunch. Or an afternoon at the museum with my friends, or a dinner date. But that doesn't mean I would ever stroll into a meeting 15 or 20 minutes late. It turns out that millennials, baby boomers, and Gen X'ers all agree on what makes a good worker — and punctuality is key.

“I was so surprised by the employed millennials that we interviewed,” says Gaines-Ross. “They believe it’s important to be on time and courteous, which totally goes against the general perception of young people.”

According to Weber Shandwick’s study, millennials recognize that their reputations at work hinge on performance and punctuality, the same as their older colleagues' reputations do.

In fact, 81% of millennials, 89% of Gen X'ers, and 93% of baby boomers think that doing a good job at work is key. And 65% of millennials believe being prompt — to work and to meetings — is important, which is in line with the 71% of Gen X'ers and 80% of boomers who said the same.

There is some research that suggests millennials are more likely to be late to work than others, but in our 24/7 work culture, where we are constantly checking work emails well beyond the eight-hour office day, does it really matter if we get in a few minutes late? Chances are we were working before we even left home.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Have you heard the one about the twentysomething who won’t look up from their phone? Of course you have.

It comes as no surprise that millennials are super connected to technology. It’s integrated into every aspect of our lives — so much so that a study by the Pew Research Center revealed that 83% of millennials sleep with their cell phone on or right next to their bed (which you probably shouldn’t do, by the way).

But this connection to technology and social media doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re living like zombies from The Walking Dead, with bags under our eyes, too scared and distracted for meaningful interactions. It’s quite the opposite, actually: Millennials love face-to-face engagement.

“The importance of face-to-face community is very important to this generation,” says Gaines-Ross. “I think that goes along with the online networking; the importance of building those relationships off-line has just grown in importance.”

Weber Shandwick’s study, Mattersight's survey of millennial consumers, and several other studies show that Generation Y likes to speak with people in person, more so than they like to text, tweet, or talk on the phone. In fact, 85% of millennials surveyed by Mattersight said that they prefer to meet and communicate in person with their coworkers.

We were raised with a heavy emphasis on constant coaching and feedback. So it should come as no surprise that we need that same attention in our careers. I don't need an hour of my boss's time every day to function. But even touching base for 15 minutes once a week to discuss my to-do list makes me feel like I'm on track.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
"They are self-centered individuals looking for immediate gratification and have no organizational loyalty. … All this is really unsettling to corporations,” James Weber, professor of business ethics and management at Duquesne University, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an article about, well, Generation Y's company disloyalty.

A lack of loyalty does sound chilling, but is it true? Are we self-centered individuals who don't care about the companies we work for?

Yes and no. It's not that we don't care about the companies we work for; we want you to make us love the companies we work for.

Half of millennials would rather have no job than have a job they hate, 93% of millennials want a job where they can be themselves, and 71% want their coworkers to be like a second family, according to MTV’s “No Collar Workers” survey.

A report from LifeCourse Associates reveals that another two-thirds of millennials want their employers “to contribute to social and ethical causes” they think are important.

"You’ve seen your parents go through large companies that don’t take care of them, and you realize that you’re responsible for your own well-being," a recruiter told The New York Times in the article, "Millennials at Work: Young and Callow, Like Their Parents."

So, our response? We want companies to prove their loyalty to us by adopting our values and interests.

If these all sounds like awful, sappy, unrealistic demands, we totally get it. But if you want to keep us engaged in the workforce, you're going to have to make some changes — and these are changes that will benefit ALL generations.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
"She wanted to email and say, 'Can I put my start date off for a week so I can apartment hunt?'" he recalled. "I started shaking. I couldn't believe it."

This is a line from an NBC News story called, “A Big Chill: Millennials Learning Harsh Reality of Workplace,” where a father shared an anecdote about how his daughter, Avery, responded to her dream-job offer.

There are two ways to look at this story. The first: Those damn millennials strike again! They just don’t understand the importance of making a good first impression! As if being lazy, entitled, unemployed selfie-takers wasn’t bad enough!

Or the second: Ugh, dads! They totally don't understand how the corporate world is changing.

The right interpretation is somewhere in the middle. Millennials do care about first impressions. And if we give Avery the benefit of the doubt, maybe she wanted to take care of house hunting so she could be fully present for her first day on the job.

Just like their older colleagues, twentysomethings want to establish a good reputation right up front. And they know that “first impression” goes far beyond the initial interview or job offer.

More than 50% of millennials believe that the first month on the job is when your reputation will be established, according to Weber Shandwick’s study. And 24% believe that the “first impression” phase of the work relationship extends to the first three months of a new gig. Compare that to the 54% of Gen X'ers and boomers who think the first month on the job is when your reputation is established.

So what does this mean? It means millennials are slightly more sensitive to the importance of a first impression at work than their older colleagues.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Show of hands: How many of you have ever shared a selfie online? Most of you, right? According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of all millennials have shared a selfie on the internet. And that’s not the only personal information millennials share online — there are very few things that are secret these days.

But according to a study by the IBM Institute for Business Value, it’s the younger generation — not Gen X'ers or boomers — who are most likely to draw a firm line separating their personal and professional lives. Most millennials have placed privacy boundaries on their social media accounts. And 59% know that complaining about work online is a bad move.

While millennials do talk about their jobs online, research shows that it’s to “like” an employer’s Facebook posts, share a company’s social media posts or videos, or tweet and retweet messages about their employer. Which, you could argue shows corporate loyalty — we're just saying.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Fact: Millennials like to collaborate rather than compete, according to Weber Shandwick. But somehow this appreciation for collaboration has been twisted into the myth that millennials are bad decision-makers and terrible critical thinkers.

“Millennials are used to being a member of a tribe, not independent thinkers,” reads a line from a Business Insider article called “Here's How To Deal With Millennials Who Aren't Ready To Face Real Challenges.”

It continues, “As they enter the world of work many don’t know how, or where, to start when given an assignment. Without the collective voice of the crowd helping them, or their parents telling them what to do, they don’t feel secure in their decision about what to do.”

While the article does have lots of great advice for how companies can adapt to the millennial workforce, it still labels our desire for mentoring and collaboration as a “problem.” Plus, it flat out says we are not “independent thinkers” and need someone to tell us what to do. That’s simply not true.

Millennials are no more likely than their older colleagues to ask for advice at work, according to a study by the IBM Institute for Business Value. And both millennials and Gen X'ers like to have information from a wide variety of sources in order to make their decisions.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
We’re the “Facebook Generation.” We’re the “Selfie Generation.” And, apparently, we’re also a generation of job hoppers.

"Millennials are all about temptations that they can do better," Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, told CNBC.

Employers are worried that millennials are constantly jumping ship for better opportunities, and they are concerned that it's affecting their bottom lines.

This is an iffy myth.

Honestly, millennials do change jobs more often than older workers, but that’s always been true for young employees, according to FiveThirtyEight. In fact, Bureau of Labor Statistic numbers prove that job tenure for twentysomething Americans was almost exactly the same in the 1980s as it is today.

These days, the most obvious reason for job hopping is the economy. But there’s also the perception that millennials are special because they’re switching gigs in order to skip up the corporate ladder and live life in the fast lane.

But survey data from the IBM Institute for Business Value reveals that all three generations change jobs for the exact same reasons. There’s even some data that suggests millennials aren’t switching jobs as much as previous generations, which could have a negative impact on the economy.

Job hopping isn't just good for the economy either, it's good for your bottom line. According to Forbes, you might conservatively get a 10% raise if you change jobs, but only a 3% annual raise if you stay at the same company. That's a pretty big incentive for hopping, wouldn't you say?
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Here’s a conundrum: Why would millennials worry about their reputations if they're all narcissists?

As previously noted, millennials may be their own worst critics. Research shows that 59% of millennials describe members of their generation as self-absorbed, 49% say they are wasteful, and 43% describe them as greedy. That makes millennials the most self-deprecating generation there is. Millennials also hate the word “millennial” — with 33% opting out of the term altogether.

That proves that we’re not just choosing to stop associating with a label; we’re also opting out of the bad reputation that comes with that label. No one wants to be a member of the Greedy-Wasteful-Narcissistic Generation, do they?

Weber Shandwick’s study showed that 47% of millennials think about their work reputation all or most of the time. That’s more than the 37% of Gen X'ers and 26% of baby boomers who said the same. And 70% of millennials think their reputation at work is more important than their social media reputation, which is on par with that of their older colleagues.

The most disheartening part of this perception is that it’s not just everyone over the age of 35 thinking negative thoughts about millennials. We think it’s true, too. These bad labels have seeped into the millennial subconscious.

Yes, it’s true that Gen Y is different from every generation before it because we grew up with computers and cell phones and social media. But different doesn’t mean bad. That's a lesson we can all learn.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Now that you've read about all of these myths, you probably have lots of feelings as to whether we adequately debunked them.

Hopefully, you're also asking why people are lumping together an entire generation of about 83 million people. Because that's insane!

The biggest takeaway?: People are talking about millennials as a collective group. They’re assigning perceptions based on anecdotes, half-truths, and fears. And they’re not taking into account the fact that we are the most diverse generation in history.

“You’re painting everyone with a very broad brush,” says Ortberg. “Usually what 'millennial' means is young, middle class, white people. And there are such massive differences among us, like socioeconomic background, gender, religion, culture. But a lot of time, the conversation is just around high-achieving, middle class, multiple-internship-holding millennials.”

As Ortberg says, the millennial stereotype is “specific without acknowledging it’s specific.”

Take into account that people of color make up the majority of students in public schools; that many Black and Latino millennials can't rely on financial support from their parents; that 22% of millennial women live below the poverty line.

All these numbers paint a picture of a group of individuals with very different challenges, backgrounds, and experiences. These people can't possibly all want the same things or think the exact same way.

"We've gone through so many new things in the last 30 years, and millennials are trying their best," says Ortberg. "I haven't seen a lot of great writing on it. And I'd really be interested to revisit this in 15 years."

In 15 years, Generation Z — also known as iGen, or postmillennials — will be the new slackers, the new technology addicts, the new group of diverse, highly educated, insecure young adults trying to find their place in the working world. And likely, there will be some young writer penning a similar story debunking the terrible myths that plague his or her generation.

Bottom line: We might not be like our parents, but that's okay. Each generation needs to make their own mark at work — it's essential to innovation and creativity. So if we're one of your new hires and you're not sure what to do with us, trust that we're here to work hard, and we welcome all the feedback and mentoring you can offer. And we'll definitely explain how to use the technology you totally don't understand.
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