Millennials really aren’t different from previous generations of workers

We stereotype them as shiftless and entitled—but mostly they want the same things their parents did

(Illustration by Graham Roumieu)

(Illustration by Graham Roumieu)

Flexible hours, free lunches, an Xbox in every cubicle—how much are you willing to spend to attract millennials to your firm? As generation Y becomes an increasingly key part of the workforce, companies are complaining about the expectations of their youngest employees—and their unabashed sense of entitlement. Not content with gainful employment, millennials want to work from home or in offices more focused on fun than financials, the thinking goes. It’s a particularly pressing problem because millennials will make up three-quarters of the workforce by 2025, according to consulting giant Deloitte. But the problems with millennials may have less to do with real differences than with stereotyping the young.

Employers grouse that generation Y has no loyalty, and the stats appear to agree. When research firm Millennial Branding polled its namesake cohort, 60% reported having switched jobs at least once within the past three years. A Pew Research survey shows that two-thirds of young workers expect to change careers sometime in their working lives, a much higher number than was reported by their predecessors.

But the difference may be about pragmatism, not priorities. According to Workpolis, job-hopping is the new normal for all Canadians. From 2000 on, less than a third of workers stayed in a job for more than four years (during the 1990s, two-thirds did). With average tenure dropping, millennials recognize they won’t necessarily be working for one company all their lives and adjust their plans accordingly.

Eyeing the exit doesn’t mean your young employees care any less about their work. A recent Deloitte survey focused on Canadian workplaces found that just over half of gen Y workers felt they were “part of a great organization,” a slightly higher number than their more jaded older colleagues. And 62% of millennials felt they were adding value at their current employer, a touch lower than non-millennials at 70%.

Another sore spot for corporations: 70% of millennials would be more satisfied in their jobs if they could work from home, reports the Conference Board of Canada. Businesses are understandably reticent to change decades of office-going, but it’s not just new recruits who want to telecommute. Half of workers over the age of 50 favour such an arrangement.

Millennials aren’t any more eager to escape the office; they’ve simply invented the tools to do so. Cloud software enables collaboration across multiple locations, so allowing employees to achieve better work-life balance by telecommuting doesn’t automatically translate to lost productivity.

Maybe you’d be willing to put up with all of this, you say, if these millennials weren’t so darned entitled. And sure, Gen Y has less regard for seniority and reporting structures than your older workers do, but that’s just part of being young—remember your hair-metal days? If anything, millennials are getting less ambitious, not more: Conference Board data shows they are less likely than more-seasoned colleagues to list “senior management” as their desired career goal.

Indeed, the only way in which millennials are really different may be one businesses want to pay attention to. Companies spend millions to foster collaboration and innovation (open offices existed before Gen Y did). So when 88% of millennials call for a collaborative culture rather than a competitive one, employers should listen.

Kids these days aren’t so different after all.​