"The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise."

This quote may read like an older worker talking about a millennial, but it's actually attributed to Socrates over 2,000 years ago. The quote itself echoes the conventional wisdom about millennials in the workplace: they're lazy, entitled, narcissist job-hoppers. But the age of the quote better resembles the truth of the situation: they're just young... and everyone was that way when young. The real problem with conventional wisdom about millennials in the workplace is that it's not unique to that generation; it's unique to young people in general.

I recently interviewed Bruce Pfau, head of human resources for KPMG, whose spent years of his career and countless hours studying what millennials want at work, and whether it's all that different from what every employees wants (hint: it's not). His conclusion, "very few of the stereotypes hold up to factual scrutiny if we're talking about what is attributable to a difference in terms of the date in which an individual was born. I think that there are clearly differences between younger workers and older employees. There are definitely some differences, but these have been differences that have been true throughout the centuries." No doubt it was true for Socrates.

Pfau cites a meta-analysis (a combination of various published and unpublished studies) showing that meaningful differences between generations in the workplace barely exist, and when they do they're more likely the result of age and stage of life than specific generational characteristics. So it's not that millennials are lazy or narcissistic; it's that young people are lazy and narcissistic and as they grow older and more responsible those things tend to right themselves.

As for job-hopping, Pfau points to significant research that suggests the opposite. While younger employees do tend to change jobs more frequently, workers from previous generations showed virtually the same tendency to jump ship when they were young.

Inside of their own firm, Pfau and KPMG found that the work preferences, values, and attitudes among employees from all generations were basically the same. There were some differences, but mostly due to other factors than generations. More importantly, according to Pfau, "The things that are the same are much greater than the things that are differences. The differences pale in comparison to the things that are the same."

Pfau, who holds a PhD in Psychology from Loyola Universiy, asserts that the best way to deal with millennials in the workplace is to treat them like any other generation... and to treat them right. Pfau offers four questions that all employees ask about their workplace that affect whether employees decided to join a firm or give their best effort while there:

  • Is this a winning organization I can be proud of?
  • Can I maximize my performance on the job?
  • Are people treated well economically and interpersonally?
  • Is the work itself fulfilling and enjoyable?

If leaders can help employees answer "yes" to each of these questions, than they'll shape a company where millennials want to work--and so will every other generation.

 

(Full Disclosure: This article was written by a millennial who, while friends might describe him as a tad narcissistic, is far from lazy and rarely changes jobs. If you enjoyed it, please listen to the interview with Bruce Pfau. If you did not, and then feel free to file a complaint and he'll have his mom call you to explain how great the piece actually was.)