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5 Myths about Millennials


When it comes to the workplace, millennials have a particularly bad rap. Setting the record straight is independent trends analyst Saint-Francis Tohlang, who defines what a millennial is and lists five beliefs about the millennial generation that simply are not true.


1. All young people are millennials

‘Millennial’ is not a catch-all collective noun for everyone born after the 1980s. The curious and strange generation that is the millennial generation generally comprises those born between 1984 and 1996. In other words, they are not that 18-year-old on his skateboard. He would be one of the peculiar and untapped iGeneration (iGens), commonly referred to as Gen Y (those born after 1996).


A 2017 Wells Fargo online survey found that 98% of millennials worldwide prioritise financial security.


As with all generations, neither iGens or millennials are a homogeneous grouping with shared attitudes and beliefs. Nevertheless, there are some commonalities among them and therein lies the misconceptions about millennials. Add what makes it to the news and social media and it’s easy to see how these opinions are shaped.


So, to get to the root of a few of these mistaken beliefs, I reflected inward and examined my own experience as a ‘millennial’, looking to some of my peers for reference as well as to existing research and data that suggest other congruent patterns.


2. Millennials are not interested in work

It is estimated that, by 2020, 50% of the global workforce will comprise millennials. Combined with the perception that millennials carry an entitled and often lazy disposition in the workplace due to, as author, motivational speaker and organisational consultant Simon O Sinek says, parenting, technology, impatience and environment, it is understandable that older generations might be worried. What’s more, this laziness is often lumped with a desire to retire young.


Yet perhaps the most interesting fact that emerged from a survey by research company Universum, Insead & The Head Foundation, was that millennials (16 000 millennials were surveyed), in actual fact, did not harbour aspirations to retire young or be ‘fun-employed’. From a trend perspective this is unsurprising. While millennials and iGens both are fiercely ambitious and less traditional in their approach, the postmodern environment and exponential rates of change have threatened their stability – making instability a huge anxiety-inducing topic for millennials.


Since 66% of the South African population is younger than 35, it stands to reason that millennials and iGens will soon make up the largest portion of our workforce, too. In a country in which youth unemployment sits at over 50% we forget that most millennials are thankful to have a job and to be part of the formal economy.


Watch as Dr Linda Ronnie, Dean of the Faculty of Commerce at the University of Cape Town and Ronen Aires, the founder and CEO of student village, talk about millennials in the workplace and what are important to them.

3. Millennials don’t care about money

The 2008 financial crisis played a formative role in our relationship with money. Institutions (financial services) that had been trusted were compromised and precipitated a global financial meltdown. Ten years later the global job market remains unstable, the cost of living is increasing, distrust is heightened and new democratised conceptions of money and currency (cryptocurrency, for example) are emerging.


As a result of this upheaval many millennials in the USA and elsewhere, thanks to the global ripple effect, saw their parents lose their jobs. It should therefore not be surprising that a 2017 Wells Fargo online survey found that 98% of millennials worldwide prioritise financial security.


4. Millennials seek fulfillment above all else

Sinek also said about millennials: ‘They’ll never really find deep, deep fulfilment in work or in life, they’ll just waft through life [and think that] things will be “just fine”.’ Contrary to this, and despite the many challenges and complexities that would scare any generation, largely as a response to the problems created by Generation X and baby boomers – millennials are optimistic.


Perhaps the belief that millennials won’t find joy or fulfilment is because you’re focusing on the symptoms and not the causality. Silos and traditional organisational structures mea