Gen Y in the workplace.

A lot has been written recently about the supposed impact of Generation Y on the workplace. Millennials, so the reports would have us believe, are fundamentally different from their predecessors in terms of the way they work, their expectations of what their workplace should look and feel like, and their relationship to digital technology, among other issues. They are also characterised either optimistically as more idealistic, less money-oriented, more open-minded and flexible than previous generations; or pessimistically as lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow.

Should we believe the hype, though? A new report by IBM has surveyed 1,784 employees across a range of organisations in 12 countries and has found that many of the assumptions and stereotypes regarding the differences between Gen Y and its previous generations have been overstated. Furthermore, the report has found that Millennials in the workplace share far more traits with Generation X and Baby Boomers than we might imagine.

Myth 1: Millennials’ career goals and expectations are different from previous generations.

The report shows that in fact Millennials’ priorities are remarkably similar to those of Generation X and the Baby Boomers. When asked to name their top career goal, 25% of Millennials chose “Make a positive impact on my organisation” in comparison to 21% of Gen X and 23% of Boomers; 22% chose “Help solve social and/or environmental challenges” (20% for Gen X and 24% for Boomers); and 22% chose “Work with a diverse group of people” (25% for Gen X, 23% for Boomers). This shows each generation places a similar importance on work that is fulfilling, while “Achieve financial security” was rated top by only 17% of Millennials, 16% of Gen X and 18% of Boomers.

Myth 2: Millennials need constant acclaim and approval.

In contrast to the unflattering stereotype that is sometimes unfairly pushed upon them, Gen Y are in fact less self-oriented and more objective in their approach to work. When surveyed on the ideal attributes of their perfect boss, 35% chose ethics and fairness as the most important, in joint first place alongside transparency and readiness to share information. Dependability and consistency came in at third place in the list of priorities. This reflects a tendency of Millennials to consider the greater good over and above a purely selfish agenda.

Myth 3: Millennials are digital addicts who want to do everything online.

Once again, the research contradicts many people’s assumptions of Gen Y’s attitudes and behaviours in the workplace. When surveyed on their preferred ways of acquiring new work skills, Millennials overwhelmingly opted for face-to-face methods – their top three choices were attending conferences or events, in-person classroom training and working alongside knowledgeable colleagues. Despite the recent proliferation of online learning resources including apps, simulations and self-paced interactive modules, Gen Y share a preference for the human touch with their predecessors.

In summary, the report demonstrates that although the particular skills and experiences of Millennials may differ from previous generations, they share many of the same drives, attitudes, fears and abilities as other generations, and that the potential clash of work styles and beliefs supposedly heralded by their entry into the workplace has in fact been overhyped.

See the original report here.

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