Millennials are perhaps the most degraded generation when it comes to media coverage and popular stereotypes wielded by older generations to invalidate their experiences. Search the web, and you can find an article claiming millennials have "killed" just about everything — from doorbells to department stores. Millennials have garnered relentless, sneering criticism from older generations that grew up in easier financial times — when late-stage capitalism had not yet fully wreaked widespread havoc on American futures and people's ability to survive and support themselves.
Millennials are accused of being lazy, coddled and too absorbed in technology to appreciate or contribute anything substantive to the real world. These stereotypes are largely reductive, harmful, negative and — ultimately — untrue. That being said, the practice of older generations invalidating the experiences, problems and worth of younger generations is not new. It seems to be a side effect of a changing world that is only advancing more and more rapidly. People fear what they don't know, and for older generations, it seems like millennials are living in a world with rules and norms they don't understand. Rather than try to understand the cultural divides that separate them, the reaction has largely been to look down on millennials and write them off entirely — especially when it comes to the workplace.
Harmful stereotypes around millennials in the workforce are exemplified in the video of "A Millennial Job Interview" posted on Youtube in 2017 — over a decade after the first millennials entered the workforce, at a time when most were well into their careers. The video portrays a "millennial" job seeker as a vapid, clueless airhead glued to her phone, unable to even conceptualize waking up before 10 in the morning or possess any marketable or practical skills. The video — and its popularity — exemplify the deep-rooted generational disdain that younger generations have been facing for years. Sentiments like this have caused young people to move away investing and participating in spaces run by older generations and has led to cultural trends like "OK Boomer" — a subversive response to the relentless criticism young people face.
Millennials are — or at least, were — at a disadvantage in a workforce built by and for older generations, particularly at older and more traditional companies. Things are changing, as the majority of millennials are far enough in their careers to take on management roles and even shape HR departments themselves. If you are dealing with a situation in which non-millennials are conducting hiring processes for majority millennial candidates, it's essential to keep in mind the harmful stereotypes that are exemplified and perpetuated in the (viral) video above. In the form of headlines, outrageous stereotypes about young people don't do much more than become Twitter compilations to laugh at. When they enter the workspace, though, they're harmful. If you're conducting an interview with a millennial and are looking for stereotypes like laziness, flakiness, unreliability, lack of focus and lack of practical skills, you're doing your candidates and your company a disservice.
The conception seems to be that younger people are not reliable or principled enough to get and keep a job, have nothing useful to offer a company, are expecting to have it easy or be "babied" in a workplace and can't handle criticism. By restructuring the way you conduct interviews to acknowledge and counteract these stereotypes, you can realize the potential young people have and the value they can bring to your team.
There are countless mistakes, illustrated in the above video, that people make when it comes to judging millennials and younger generations and their value as employees. Be aware of them, avoid them and learn from them.
You'd have to live under a rock to be oblivious of the negative reputation millennials have gotten over the years. The tropes and caricatures in shows, skits and popular opinion is widespread. It might be hard, then, not to judge young people based on the negative stereotypes you might have internalized, even subconsciously. It may be true that millennials have things in common — proficiency with technology, a greater amount of screen time and a more dynamic and flexible view of their ideal career path — that evoke some stereotypes. However, that doesn't mean those qualities are negative, and you should be wary of their influence.
Instead, evaluate millennials like you would any other candidate — based on their skills and merits. If a person is lazy or unreliable, you don't have to hire them. If they aren't right for the job, they aren't right for the job. But ensuring these judgments are made based on evidence and observation rather than bias will make all the difference.
There's a tendency to not take young people seriously in general in our society. It's widely assumed that, since we lack the same amount and type of life experience as older generations, we automatically know and understand less about the world. This is definitely not always the case, and it's probably true that every person, regardless of their age, can think back to a time when their perspective was devalued because they were young. While it's true that people mature and gather knowledge over the years, it's certainly not the case that age is directly proportional to wisdom or intelligence. Furthermore, young people's view on the world is likely more telling about where the world is headed than anyone's. For example, millennials and younger generations are often mocked for growing up in the technological age and developing a different relationship with technology, signaling the "death of the outdoors" or some equally-fatalist anxiety about the digital age. But rather than fight against the way the world is changing — and changing us with it — it would benefit us to learn and adapt. Who better to lead that adaptation than the people closest to it?
Known for PC culture, safe spaces and identity politics, younger generations are often made fun of for progressive ideals that don't seem as important to older generations. The perception is often that the importance of these things is due to a new level of sensitivity among young people. This line of thinking is trivializing and neglects the history of marginalization that leads to a lot of progressive values, and it's a good example of how young people's priorities may be taken less seriously.
Younger generations are invested in activism and social justice and are more likely to opportunities for social impact in their careers. If your company isn't particularly related to social justice or oriented toward social issues, valuing your millennial candidates' affinity for involvement with these issues could be a huge asset. Perhaps you're interested in making your company more inclusive, progressive or impactful to people in need. Employing young people who care about social impact and listening to their progressive ideas could help move your company into the future and make a difference.
Millennials and younger generations tend to have different priorities than older people. Sometimes, these can be trivialized in an interview process. Whether it means wanting flexibility within a job or occupation or prioritizing equality in the workplace and fostering acceptance and community, their values are often mischaracterized. These values are often reduced to negative qualities, like being overly sensitive or flaky. But in reality, younger people have progressive values that, when listened to, could help shape the workplace and your company for the better. Prioritizing work-life balance and mental health — something that's scoffed at in the video above — doesn't have to equal an unwillingness to work or put effort into a job. In a world that increasingly values people for their output and their productivity over their humanity, a reassessment of values might be long overdue.
Young millennials and Gen Z, especially, are realizing that our country's relationship with capitalism has led to a culture of production that has long neglected people's needs in favor of serving productivity. They prioritize things like paid time off, healthcare, an accepting environment for mental health development, parental leave and having time to enjoy life during their working years. Rather than wanting a pass when it comes to pulling their weight in a job, they're conscious of the importance of being a healthy, supported person that is then able to be at their best while at the office.
We often see common traits of younger generations expressed in negative ways: glazed-over eyes looking at phone screens, constant scrolling, obsession with social media, moving around from job to job and demanding special treatment. Rarely do we talk about the strengths behind even the worst stereotypes. For example, it's true that younger generations are more technologically involved than their older counterparts — they're on all the apps and all the social media platforms, and they get a portion of their news through Tweets. Rather than seeing this as a distraction from the real world and something that negates their ability to be productive, consider it an asset to any company existing in the digital age. An understanding of how the world runs on technology is exactly the kind of quality a company needs to be competitive now. Brands are catching onto this and are utilizing young people's social media savviness for their business strategies. More and more corporations have developed Twitter personas that Tweet like people and consistently go viral for their sarcastic, witty remarks. That strategy was made possible by people who have first-hand knowledge of pop culture and social media.
Other strengths younger generations have that can be of use to an employer are flexibility in scheduling, the desire for change and self-improvement and the conviction of self-worth and humanity that causes millennials to have high standards for a workplace and its environment. These traits, if listened to thoughtfully, can only improve your company and the way you form policies to support both your employees and your goals.
The biggest thing to keep in mind when considering stereotypes about young people is that they are skewed heavily by who's writing them and by our natural aversion to a disruption of the status quo. When the world changes, those who are used to the way things were are sometimes resistant to change. And today, when a lot of the changes we see are negative — greater financial instability, abundant poverty, a dying planet — the blame for the response to these changes can fall on younger generations that are coping with them.
In order to combat stereotypes, it helps to meet and understand young people and where their differences come from. Understanding people who think differently from you is sometimes a difficult task, but as an employer, it will only benefit you in the long run.
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