Millennials: Know Thyself by Dr. Deborah Ashton, Chief Psychologist & Head of Behavioral Practices DMBA

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First, I would like to acknowledge that some, who belong to what is referred to as “Millennials” or the “Y-Generation”, do not like being labelled “Millennials” or the “Y-Generation”. I apologize for the labelling, but it is a short-cut. And let’s face it, people who are now senior citizens are still called “Baby Boomers” and they have not been babies for a long time. I also wish to apologize, in advance, to the Gen-Xers, who are sandwiched between the two largest generations.  Gen-Xers are, to some degree, the forgotten generation. Scholars busy themselves discussing when are Millennials going to get “their turn at bat” and Gen-Xers are thinking they should be next in the batting order.

What follows is second, third, fourth, etc.

Across the generations there is a belief that Millennials are colorblind. What is interesting is that many Baby Boomers also like to say that they do not see color, just ask President Trump. In fact, the first thing people, regardless of generation see is race and gender. Researchers, Contreras, Banaji, and Mitchell, at Harvard found that race and gender is recognized within 200 milliseconds. Also, research has shown that individuals who think they are bias free are more likely to discriminate because it is hard to counteract implicit/unconscious bias.

Part of the evolutionary process is to categorize the world into ‘safe’ and ‘not safe’. Evolutionarily, the in-group is safe, the out-group is not safe, and men are seen as more dangerous than women. Researchers, such as Amodio, have charted the prejudice network of the brain that has developed over millennia.

Do you think you are colorblind? The best way to counteract bias is to assume you are bias, even if you don’t know it.

It is important that employers do not believe the fallacy that Millennials have overcome millennia of the brain’s prejudice network. It is important to provide inclusion and implicit bias training equally across generations. That way, companies are more likely to avoid the fiascos that ensued when police were called to some hospitality establishments because potential customers were treated as ‘unsafe’.

In 2016, Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) found that for Millennials:

  • The Democratic Party was trusted “somewhat” or “completely” by 23% of Whites, 47% of Blacks and 36% of Latinos;
  • The Republican Party was trusted “somewhat” or “completely” by 19% of Whites, 10% of Blacks and 15% of Latinos.

In the 2016 election, Millennials voted for Clinton because they are the most diverse generation. Yes, the majority of Millennials voted for Clinton because 42% of the young voters were nonwhite. In fact, 48% of the white young voters, Millennials, voted for Trump and 43% of white Millennials voted for Clinton. But this should not be a surprise. According to the Pew Research Center and the CIRCLE, in 2012, 51% of the white youth vote (Millennials) voted for Mitt Romney, only 44% of white Millennials voted for President Obama. Who did you vote for in 2012 and 2016?

According to the CIRCLE research, Millennials are probably more moderate than being liberal or conservative. What are you?

Millennials have been described as having a sense of entitlement, wanting to be heard and as having a high social conscious. While different generations may have specific characteristics, the particular characteristic may not apply to any given individual. That being stated, let’s examine the various characteristics.

Entitlement: Please note that entitlement is a characteristic of narcissism. According to the National Institutes of Health, Millennials are three times more likely to have a narcissistic personality than Baby Boomers; and, in comparison to college students in1982, 2009 college students scored 58% higher on narcissism. Remember, according to the Greek myth, Narcissus catches a glimpse of his beauty in a pond; falls in love with himself and is held a prisoner by his own reflection. He perishes from hunger. How many selfies have you taken today? Do you take selfies at work? How can you counteract the entitlement label?

Part of the entitlement characteristic that plagues the Millennials was established by their Baby Boomer and Gen X parents. The parents rewarded Millennials for participation and cooperation. The good news is that Millennials tend to be great team players.

However, they expect to be rewarded because they are special. They are special because they were raised to see themselves as special for just being themselves. Many received unconditional love. They are disappointed if they feel people want them to ‘pay their dues’ because many Millennials do not believe wisdom, education, experience and training comes with age. Like Rey, the female lead in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, they do not need a library or a Jedi Master. However, according to a study by Deloitte and according to Meister and Willyerd, the paradox is that Millennials want their leaders to be mentors and to give them continuous positive feedback. The continuous positive feedback is part of the reward system that they received throughout their developmental years. Reverse mentoring and group mentoring may be ways to provide continuous feedback, to leverage Millennials insights and to train Millennials to receive constructive criticism. That way mentoring is not an overwhelming task for the organizational leaders and it ensures that Millennials are valued. How are you making sure that mentoring is not simply a one-way street? Are you open to constructive criticism?

According to Heathfield, Millennials had the most ‘child-centric’ parents in history. Everything stopped, and the parents attentively listened when their child spoke. Remember many of these parents were/are Baby Boomers, who grew-up in the “Children should be seen and not heard” era. The Baby Boomers wanted to make sure that their children were heard! In order to retain Millennials in the workplace, it is important to listen to their suggestions and ideas. It is also important to train Millennials to listen.

Listening, just like mentoring, needs to be a multi-lane highway and not a one-way street. Listening is not waiting for your turn to get your point across, but actually hearing what the other person has to say, which means being open to new ideas. Open-minds lead to creativity. Are you listening?

Meister and Willyerd described Millennials as the most socially conscious generation since the 1960s. But of course, they are! Many of them were raised by Baby Boomers who grew up through the 1960s. The Baby Boomers were told by JFK, “… ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Baby Boomers marched for Civil Rights. They were Freedom Riders, the Women’s Movement…the Peace Corp…Green Peace…Stonewall, which transformed the gay rights to equal rights and acceptance. The 2017 Millennial Impact Report listed the top causes Millennials care about are civil rights and racial discrimination (29%), and employment/job creation and healthcare reform tied for second at 26%.

How are you ensuring your organization is implementing a corporate social responsibility strategy? As an employer, how are you soliciting ideas and engaging employees in your corporate social responsibility strategy—Habitat for America, environmentally friendly workplace practices, Meals on Wheels, urban farms, Technology Underwriting Greater Good, Big Brothers Big Sisters, STEM mentoring, criminal justice system reform, etc.?

Finally, each Millennial is a unique multidimensional human being whether he, she, ze or they. Not all Millennials possess the characteristics that define their generation. As was demonstrated with the voting data, Millennials are not a monolith. They are a matrix of individuals, some are liberal, some are moderate, and some are conservative. They are influenced by their gender, race, ethnicity, social class, religion, etc. Whether you are a Millennial or another generation, it is important to know thyself –know your blemishes and your beauty marks.

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