As millennials grew into the largest generation in the workforce over the past few years, we’ve been treated to a deluge of breathless media coverage about how uniquely difficult they were to deal with and how they were ruining everything. From chain restaurants to jewelry, along with job loyalty and the 9-to-5 workday, the list of American institutions millennials are charged with killing is nearly endless. Meanwhile, business leaders have wrestled with the seemingly vast complexities their entry to the workforce has created. Most of the work-related challenges have proven to be more myth than truth, as our research at CEB (now Gartner) has found, along with other investigations by the Economist and the Pew Research Center, but the conventional wisdom endures that millennials are entitled, need constant hand-holding, and are therefore unusually hard to manage.
It appears the newest generation entering the workforce, Generation Z, is being similarly prejudged, according a recent survey of managers profiled by SHRM’s Dana Wilkie. In it, 36 percent of managers said they believed that Generation Z would be more difficult to manage than previous generations, while 29 percent believe it will be more difficult to train employees from Generation Z, 26 percent say it will be more difficult to communicate with the newest generation, and even 20 percent of millennial managers believe Generation Z represents a threat to company culture.
“There is a tendency and expectation of instantaneous gratification,” said Jeff Corbin, CEO of APPrise Mobile, the employee communications company which conducted the study. “They want the answers now. They are all about tweets and short responses. As a result, many Gen Zers are going to be too quick to respond rather than deliberate and thoughtful. … [T]he concept of professionalism, formality and quality in communications may be a foreign one to many in Gen Z, which could be problematic to older generations.”
Ask any three people to define who they are talking about when they refer to “millennials,” and you’re apt to get at least four different answers. Generational boundaries are always somewhat blurry, but this generation seems particularly hard to pin down. Demographers usually define millennials as everyone born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s, or sometimes the early 2000s, but the lines are not hard and fast.
Meanwhile, the difference in life experience between a person born in 1982 and one born in 1998 is substantial: For one thing, the former remembers a time before the Internet, while the latter is a genuine digital native. For another, the older millennial was already in the workforce during the financial crisis of 2008, while the latter was still in grade school. Those are some of the key differences that lead Jesse Singal at Science of Us to wonder whether the millennials are not in fact two distinct generations, which he dubs Old Millennials and Young Millennials:
Old Millennials, as I’ll call them, who were born around 1988 or earlier (meaning they’re 29 and older today), really have lived substantively different lives than Young Millennials, who were born around 1989 or later, as a result of two epochal events that occurred around the time when members of the older group were mostly young adults and when members of the younger were mostly early adolescents: the financial crisis and smartphones’ profound takeover of society. And according to Jean Twenge, a social psychologist at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before, there’s some early, emerging evidence that, in certain ways, these two groups act like different, self-contained generations.
One of these differences concerns the stereotype of the millennial job hopper, which persists despite not really being borne out in labor market data. Singal, who was born in 1983, adds that his life experience and that of his contemporaries don’t fit that narrative: