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Myth Busting Some Millennial Characteristics


Joanna Dodd Massey Ph.D., MBA


career and workplace

With over 25 years of experience in the media industry at companies, such as Conde Nast, Lionsgate, CBS, Viacom, Discovery and Hasbro, Joanna Dodd Massey, Ph.D., MBA is a C-level communications executive and Board Director. She has managed brand reputation, corporate turnaround, crisis communications and culture transformation. Currently, Dr. Massey is a communications consultant, as well as Founder & CEO of The Marketing Communications Think Tank. She is a corporate speaker and trainer, as well as author of the books, "Communicating During a Crisis," and "Culture Shock: Surviving Five Generations in One Workplace" (TVG Publishing, 2020).

I have a book coming out in April called “Culture Shock: Surviving Five Generations in One Workplace,” which talks about how we can better manage the miscommunications and misunderstandings we are experiencing with five generations working together for the first time ever. In advance of publication, I have presented this material to government employees and career diplomats at the European American Chamber of Commerce; employees at Fortune 100 and 500 organizations; and students at major universities. 

I spend a large part of the book and the corporate talk discussing the five generations, what was going on in the United States when they were growing up and how that impacts the way they are at work. Viewing everyday situations through a generational lens is like handing people a new pair of glasses and telling them to take a different look. It is eye opening. In the process, I encourage my audience and readers to reconsider many of the stereotypes they hold onto when it comes to our younger generations—Millennials and Gen Z.


Myth #1: Millennials are Entitled, Lazy and/or Lack Drive

Millennials were brought up with good boundaries and healthy ideas about work-life balance. Flexibility at work is important to them, as is quality of life. These are values that Baby Boomer parents instilled in Millennials and yet, when they brought these values into the workplace, older generations complained about Millennial work habits.

If you’re guilty of saying that Millennials are entitled, I encourage you to think about it differently. As parents, Boomers were happy to teach their Millennial kids work-life balance, but when they showed up with that ideal in the workforce, Boomers said, “Oh, no, no, no! That is fine if you’re my kid, but not if you’re my employee!” 

Well, it doesn’t work that way. We taught it to them, now we have to live with it in the workplace, and it isn’t fair to shame them for doing what we told them to do.


Myth #2: Everybody Gets A Trophy Was A Bad Practice

When Millennials were kids, the prevailing practice was that everybody on the team got a trophy, so, whether you won or lost the game, everyone walked away with a prize. It is a much-maligned practice that came from a good place. Baby Boomer parents were attempting to protect their children from the harshness they felt in their own childhoods, which was a nice idea. The thought was that it’s just a game and the kids should enjoy playing it.

The result is that we raised a generation of people who value feelings over winning. This generation truly embodies the old saying, “It isn’t whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”


Myth #3: Millennials Are too Sensitive

Millennials are looking for more feedback on their job performance and the nature of reviews has changed. Millennials have helped shepherd a new feelings-based management style into the workforce. It’s a more “woke” way of treating each other at work.

So, where does the idea come from that we should be more sensitive at work? One theory is that it comes from Millennials who grew up with the practice that everybody on the team gets a trophy. The message that children got is that whether you win or lose, you’re still a winner. What we’re seeing with Millennials and Gen Zers is that they were given messages that having negative feelings is bad, so they avoid them.

Right now, being “triggered” is a buzz word in academia and in business. We’re careful not to trigger people with what we say and do. It didn’t used to be that way, so it’s causing problems in the workplace. Older workers came up the ranks during a time when the workplace was a dictatorship, not a democracy. There was less concern for people’s feelings. In fact, many of us were specifically told not to bring our feelings to work.

Silent Generation and Baby Boomer workers have a hard time adjusting to the more feelings-based management style required by Millennial and Gen Z workers, so their response is to be critical of young adults for being too sensitive. It is a natural defense mechanism triggered by the automatic stress response known as the flight, flight or freeze system.


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