Millenials : myths and disturbing truths

New generations scare and inspire at the same time but, paradoxically, when we meet them they’re not the monsters that’s often described. They even say they don’t recognize themselves in the way the olders picture them.

My opinion on the Gen Y and the millenials is usually this one :

– they’re different from a cognitive standpoint because they were born in a new environment…but that’s always been the same with previous generations.

– they’d like the world they enter to resemble and understand them a little bit more. Like the previous generations.

– they have quite the same expectations as the previous generations but they express it more straightforwardly because they’ve learned from the olders than entering the mould and playing the game won’t help them in any way. A Yer is a Gen X that lives with who they are.

They’re different but not abnormally different and were above all used as an excuse by those who wanted things to change but did not want to be on the front line. Or by those who live live on the businesses of fear and change.

Beyond what are nothing but personal observations, relying on a “measured” and documented study is always better. So – even if I’m late – I’d like to mention an interesting study issued by the IBM Institude for Business Value in January and named : “Millenials, Myths, Exaggerations and uncomfortable truths“.

Quick overview…

Contrary to what’s usually said about Millenial’s expectations there are many points on which they’re not different from others. They career goals are the same as the Xers and Baby Boomers. What confirms that if their voice has been over-amplified it does not differ from what others think but don’t say, or is not being amplified that way.

As for what makes them engaged, they pay more attention to “inspirational leadership” than others but they’re the least interested in a collaborative work environment and the freedom to innovate.

Xers are often more millenial than the millenials themselves

They expect their boss to be ethical, transparent and reliable. Xers are more likely to value transparency and the setting of clear objectives while millenials pay less attention to this point. As for recognition, it has not more or less value for them than for others. They’re not looking either for a work without supervision and don’t expect their boss to ask for their feedback.

When it comes to using social media in a professional context, the most advanced are the Xers.

When Millenials change job its…to make more money. Like others.

In the end it appeared to me that many things usually said being peculiar to millenials (behaviors, expectations) are stronger at Gen-Xers, which are often the most advanced.

But there are also more surprising…and disturbing things.

Millenials and boomers don’t understand neither their company nor their customer

Xers are quite in line with their company’s strategy and customers expectations. On the other hand, most millenials say they do understand neither their company nor their manager and customer expectations. And it’s even worse for boomers.

At this point, the “better” score of Xers is not such a good news : globally speaking all the generations are uncomfortable with both their company, their customers and it looks like they’re lost in their professional environment.

Another negative point : 60% of millenials and 70% of boomers think that their company is incapable of addressing the challenges of customer experience. Knowing that the Yers are the most confident with a score of …40% shows how bad the situation is and that there are actual reasons to worry.

Everyone finds the customer experience terrible but no one sees any improvement coming

Issues related to the implementation of new technologies are also understood in the same way by the three generations. I saw an interesting factor I’ve nether seen anywhere else  : it’s the impact on customer experience that is seen as the main barrier, before the lack of technology savviness of leaders and the complexity of technology. Paradox : they all think that businesses lack in terms of customer experience but consider that the change in experience possibly brought by technology is seen as a so big risk that businesses don’t dare to improve things. What explains the status quo.

On the other had and contrary to conventional wisdom, the three generations have embraced the digital transformation from a personal standpoint and blame their companies for not going fast enough.

Forget Millenials and do something about your company’s real problems

In fact this  study is not that much about millenials and differences between generations at work. On the contrary it shows that they’re all quite similar but – but it’s only my opinion – some express themselves in a more visible way or their specificities are being overrated to make them the voice speaker of everyone’s expectations.

What the study shows is that if businesses have issues, these issues are not related to millenials or others and that the response is not in the way one generation is addressed or used as a change lever against another.

No matter the generation they belong to, employees don’t understand their company’s strategy, their manager or customer expectations. Everyone knows that customer experience is a matter of survival but nobody believes that businesses will be able to deal with this challenge.

There is a real problem and it’s not about generations. A problem that businesses won’t solve by focusing on a generation or another to care for it but by looking at themselves in the mirror and caring for themselves.

Of course, many will come to the conclusion that businesses need transformation. Maybe, but not only. They need to explain and communicate. They have an employee experience issue.


Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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