Report exposes myths and uncomfortable truths about Generation Y

Multi-generational workplace generation YA new report from IBM proves what we at Insight have been arguing for some time; Millennials have some differences to previous generations of employees, but ultimately they have more in common than most commentators acknowledge and their impact on a multi-generational workplace has been completely misrepresented. While the report, Myths, Exaggerations and Uncomfortable Truths, acknowledges Gen Y’s different experience of the digital world, it also demonstrates what we would suggest has been obvious all along; that unless Generation Y has arrived from another planet, it will share many of the strengths, weaknesses, drives, fears and abilities common to other demographic groupings. The study of 1,784 employees from organisations in 12 countries challenges many of the key myths about Generation Y and also lays out a number of ‘uncomfortable truths’ for employers.

“Over the past few years, numerous reports have been published predicting how Millennials (those aged 21–34) would revolutionize the workplace”, write the authors. “All have one common feature: they assume that Millennials are somehow different from their predecessors. The fundamental distinction between Millennials and older employees is their digital proficiency. Millennials are the first generation to grow up immersed in a digital world. Using mobile and social technologies, immediately accessing data, ideas and inspiration and instantly communicating and collaborating is second nature for these digital natives. Yet the buzz about Millennials suggests that the differences go much deeper. The most unflattering commentaries claim that Millennials are “lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow.” More complimentary assertions paint Millennials as open-minded with a strong sense of community fueled by the digital networks they’ve formed, and committed to saving the world.”

One of the areas highlighted in the report demonstrates how Generation Y has remarkably similar ideas about work to their older colleagues. For example it found that  54 percent of Millennials don’t fully understand their organization’s business strategy (for Baby Boomers, it’s 58 percent); 47 percent of Gen X would leave their current job for another offering more money and a more innovative environment (for Millennials, it’s 42 percent); and  70 percent of Baby Boomers don’t think their organization is effectively addressing the customer experience (for Millennials, it’s 60 percent).

The main myths challenged in the report are:

  • Myth 1: Millennials’ career goals and expectations are different from those of older generations.
  • Myth 2: Millennials want constant acclaim and think everyone on the team should get a trophy
  • Myth 3: Millennials are digital addicts who want to do—and share—everything online, without regard for personal or professional boundaries.
  • Myth 4: Millennials, unlike their older colleagues, can’t make a decision without first inviting everyone to weigh in
  • Myth 5: Millennials are more likely to jump ship if a job doesn’t fulfil their passions.

The report then goes on to list and describe a number of uncomfortable truths for organisations including:

  • Uncomfortable truth 1: Employees are in the dark. Many aren’t sure they understand their organisation’s business strategy—and their leaders are partly to blame.
  • Uncomfortable truth 2: All three generations think the customer experience is poor
  • Uncomfortable truth 3: Employees of all ages have embraced the technological revolution. The problem? Their enterprises are slow to implement new applications.