A Point of View: The Millennial Obsession

Older generations seem to be obsessed with trying to figure “Millennials” out. Yes, I said it—obsessed.

Now, I am all about research aimed at getting to know a particular demographic better, but I feel like every time I turn around there is another article written about millennials: our entitlement, job hopping habits, etc. And often, these articles seem to be recycling the same tired, old narratives.

I have a few issues with the way I often see this generational diversity research handled:

(1) “Millennial” is being made into a dirty word.

(2) The focus is more on millennials’ habits instead of on the changing environment/world around us that influences these habits.

(3) There are many nuances within the age span that “millennial” covers (e.g., specific age, race/ethnicity, geographic background, etc.) that the research does not seem to consider.

First of all, I am so tired of hearing and reading the word “millennial” (and yes, I realize that I use it multiple times in this post). It’s not necessarily the word itself, but every time I hear it, it seems to be about something negative. (ex. how the spending habits of millennials are killing age-old industries and how we’re entitled). Are there no positive attributes to highlight? It seems to me that the obsession with negative press about our group is rooted in fear: fear of change, fear of being replaced, fear of not being in control, etc. Well, I have news for the older generations: change is inevitable and not always detrimental. You will be replaced one day because that is the cycle of life and of the workplace, but you are still very largely in control of companies across industries. In other words, please relax.

Secondly, let’s get to the roots of the issues people seem to have with millennials instead of just analyzing the fruit the tree bears, if you will. The work environment has changed and is continuously changing. Technology has come a very long way in the past few decades: from the invention of the computer and World Wide Web to Wi-Fi and video chat capabilities. Older generations have worked in environments without these resources, whereas many millennials have not. So, of course the ways in which millennials desire to work would be different. Again, different isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, in the case of millennials, different usually indicates increases in efficiency and workplace satisfaction. Overall, it is not as if millennials are randomly making requests for changes in the workplace just to agitate older generations; we are adjusting to the larger technological environment. It is about time workplaces caught up.

Lastly, millennials are not all one in the same. Remember that a generation represents a specific span of time, but within that timeframe are people with varying experiences based on their age and other factors. Think of it this way: 1984 is the year the Apple Macintosh computer was introduced and when The Terminator came out; in 2000, the GPS was first allowed to be used by civilians and Remember the Titans was released. People born in both years are considered millennials, but I’m sure you can reasonably anticipate some differences there.

I have seen many articles informing me that research shows millennials have a different definition of diversity than their older colleagues. The problem with this research is that it often fails to take the race/ethnicity, geographic background, etc. of those surveyed into account. For example, every millennial does not have the privilege to think the definition of diversity has changed to mean cognitive diversity over racial/ethnic diversity. In other words, we are not a “colorblind” generation. Black Lives Matter was not created as an organization to combat intellectual debates in which cognitive diversity is the issue. A reality check is needed here.

All in all, you are, of course, free to form whatever opinion you deem fitting about millennials, but hopefully this post has encouraged you to think before you do, as the narratives surrounding millennials could use a bit of balance. Millennials may be a lot of things, but mostly it is important to remember that we are not the enemy. We are influenced by our changing environment, we are individuals, and we are here to stay.

And don’t even get me started about Generation Z…

About Jasmine McElroy

Jasmine McElroy is a Diversity & Inclusion enthusiast and practitioner who dives deepest into the topics of race and sexual orientation. She has done D&I work in 4 different industries and truly sees it as her life's work. She currently serves as the D&I Coordinator for a law firm in NYC, but the views she shares here are only representative of her individual thoughts and research; she does not speak on behalf of the company, but hopes to provide a fresh perspective that reflects intel gathered from other millennials in her overall network. (The views, opinions and positions expressed by Jasmine are hers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of The Winters Group, Inc.)

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