The great Millennial myth about work

I recently posted on LinkedIn about how I was fed up of being labelled as a ‘Millennial’ by journalists and marketers. How has it suddenly become the norm to stereotype a particular group of people based on a rough estimation of their birth date?

Whilst I’m not generally gratified by large numbers of people agreeing with me, it was a relief to discover that I wasn’t alone in being peeved about being labelled.

But what about if the label was right? Could the Generation Y be pigeon-holed into having a particular attitude? Like any good Millennial, I ironically decided to turn to the internet to find out.

Here are some of the headlines that grabbed my attention:

“Millennials are spoilt, full of themselves, averse to hard work and expect ‘success on a plate’, so what does that mean for society?” Says the Daily Mail.

“Own stuff? They can’t afford to.” Says the Financial Times.

“Millennials don’t trust anyone. That’s a big deal.” Says the Washington Post.


According to global research by Ipsos Mori, Millennials - are, on the whole, largely the same as older generations. The research questioned 35,000 employees across the world and found that, in general, those born between 1980-1995 were absolutely no different to any other age or cohort.

Perhaps the worst area for myths and lazy assumptions about Millennials is around the topic of work. They come from all angles - some fuelled by wider-generalisations about ‘millennial’ character traits (entitled, lazy and so on), some by their levels of education and some by their economic situation. It’s a shame that so much of the journalism is poorly defined and evidenced, as it obscures some important differences. Here are some of the worst culprits, which have been bandied about:

Millennials are lazy workers

A common misconception of the Gen Y generation is one of indolence. Whilst it is true that US Millennials are likely to work a shorter working week (39.7 hours against an average of 41.8) than their elder counterparts, in Britain, Millennials actually work slightly longer (39.3 versus 37.8 overall).

In Germany, there is no difference whatsoever.

This stereotype is a largely a worthless statistic anyway, since the number of hours worked per week is gradually decreasing over time for workers of all ages, reflecting differing types of employment and massive increases in productivity. So those ‘Baby Boomers’ and ‘Generation Xers’ decrying the Millennial work ethic would be just as harshly criticised by previous generations.

Millennials job hop more

A 2016 LinkedIn study suggested that the average Millennial would change job four times by age 32, meaning an average job tenure of 2.5 years during a Millennial’s first decade out of university. Around the same time, Gallup released a poll suggesting that Millennials were the most likely generation to switch jobs, with 60% “open to a new job opportunity”

The median time American young people are employed at an individual employer has not changed notably between 1983 and 2014.
— US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Both reports have their limitations, and neither looked back to see if Generation X were similarly minded when they were younger.

But the idea that Millennials are chopping and changing jobs at an unprecedented rate isn’t borne out by the evidence. Figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the median time American young people are employed at an individual employer has not changed notably between 1983 and 2014 – for instance.

Indeed, in the UK we can see the exact opposite of the myth; Millennials are staying longer in jobs than older generations did when they were that age, according to new analysis by the Resolution Foundation. At age 30, those born in the early 1980s (the oldest Millennials) are more likely to have stayed with one employer for five years or more than those born in the early 1970s. The difference (47% versus 43%) is small but notable – especially in a time in the UK where loyalty to one employer is not rewarded in salary increases as well as it was in the past.

The widespread talk of flighty Millennials and the growing ‘gig economy’ is also misleading – it’s dwarfed by the counter-trend that, in tough economic times, people try to hang on to the jobs they have.

Millennials are not motivated to work

There has been a widespread and growing narrative accusing the Millennial generation of having an ‘anti-work attitude’, working only their contracted hours and expecting their employers to bend over backwards to accommodate their outside interests in microbreweries, Netflix and gamification.

But the suggestion that Millennials are less motivated at work also seems to be untrue. The Edenred Ipsos Barometer of workplaces (a survey of employees of all ages in 15 countries) shows that those aged under 30 across a number of countries are more likely than older people to say their enthusiasm for their work is increasing.

The same old story

The assertion that Millennials are a new breed, presenting employers with new challenges – and usually the sole focus is on challenges – has spawned an industry whose lifeblood appears to be offering all sorts of content and listicles of the best way to ‘manage Millennials’.

However, any serious study in the area suggests that there are very limited differences in attitude, motivation, and loyalty in the workplace between Millennials and the rest of us. The differences that do exist can be more clearly assigned to life stage – Millennials are young, and they behave like all young people in work did before them.

The key point is that Millennials don’t need to be treated differently to previous generations at the same stage in their careers. They are looking for the same things – reward for their efforts, the opportunity for personal growth, and management that cares about staff – and are just as motivated to work as Generation X were at the same point.

The implication for employers is that they shouldn’t use damaging ‘work-shy’ stereotypes to hide bad practice. If a firm is experiencing high churn in their junior paygrades (where, currently, Millennials are concentrated) it is much more likely to be due to broader issues. Employers should review their own practice, rather than looking to blame Millennials.

At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for simply being a good employer.

Alex Perrins is the Marketing Manager for ESA Group. Find me on LinkedIn or Twitter to hear more.