Thoughts on the Millennials, by a Millennial

August 25, 2016 | Joan Chan

Hi! My name is Joan, and I’m a millennial!

Having been with decodeHR as a summer intern together with Jiamin for past 10 weeks, I have learnt so much under Evelyn and team’s guidance that I would never have otherwise been exposed to back in school. Working in the corporate world has forced me out of my comfort zone, with more dynamicity and adaptiveness required and having to take your self-management skills up one notch. I have had the privilege of learning on the job by assisting Evelyn in her work, and observing her day-to-day life as a consultant and business owner has also deepened my insight of the working world. It has truly been a refreshing and fruitful experience.

Surrounded by peers throughout my years of education, I hardly had any experience of working or interacting closely with a multi-generational group. During my internship at decodeHR, one of the tasks Jiamin and myself was assigned to was to research on the Millennial generation; mainly understanding what motivates them, how to best engage them in the workplace and groom them to be ideal, contributive employees. What came up more often than not were complaints by employers and coworkers against the millennials and how we are a ‘strawberry generation’ - termed so due to our easy bruising and inability to withstand pressure and hardships. We were said to be narcissistic, lazy, spoiled and entitled. Jiamin and myself were also exposed to multi-generational situations where we affirmed that yes, such sentiments against the millennials were evident and rather widespread.

To be honest, I was rather hurt by such comments (how very strawberry of me!). Although my first instinct was to get all angsty and defensive, I tried to put myself in the Gen-Xers and baby boomers’ point of view to try to understand why did they feel this way about us. Are there some misconceptions on both parties’ end, or are their concerns legitimate points of improvements that the millennials should take more note of? How can we be better employees and colleagues and more contributive members of the workforce? In this post, I’d like to share some of my thoughts on who the Millennials really are with you guys. After all, who best to hear from about the millennials, than from a millennial herself!

Traits of a Millennial (From our perspective)

#1 Millennials don’t actually think we’re that special

Millennials, contrary to popular belief, do not think that we are one-of-a-kind. We are, in fact, probably the generation that is most acutely aware of how we are not unique nor special in any way. With social media proliferating our society and being the generation that utilizes it the most in both work and lifestyle, we are more interconnected with our peers and society than our predecessors. As a result, we hear a daily stream of success stories coming from individuals that are our friends and acquaintances through their media updates and rapid information sharing. This leads us through the process of toxic comparison to our peers, and wondering how we can differentiate ourselves from a generation where everyone seems to be so very competent and achieving, and what we can do to be successful on the same scale.

We are a very privileged generation, and we recognize that. Undeniably, the world has changed greatly since the generation of our parents and grandparents, and we have had access to many more opportunities for education and learning. But our privilege is only apparent when in comparison with the previous generation, whereas our competition today is with the rest of our Millennial peers, who has had the same advantages as ourselves. We are painfully aware to the fact that with globalization and rapid advancements, we are no longer that unique as an individual, with many others who have had the same education, skills and experiences. Point in brief - we are not special, and we are constantly reminded so.

#2 We expect more, because society expects more from us

Other major gripe from employers regarding the Millennials is that we have unrealistic expectations. We want to be successful, have plenty of access to training and development, to receive constant feedback from our managers, and be offered advancement opportunities. We are also picky with our work, not wanting to accept tasks that we feel does not contribute to our learning or growth. This chalks up to the Millennials having a bad rep before they even enter the workforce

What we don’t recognize often enough is that we are a product of our environment. Growing up in today’s competitive and globalized world, we need to stay abreast of innovation and be on the constant lookout for opportunities for ourselves. The rapid progress of our economy in the past decade also resulted in (1) all the low-hanging fruits being almost completely plucked (2) the need to reach higher for new harvesting grounds. The millennials, although with much more luxuries and better conditions than our previous generations, need new and fresh opportunities to stay competitive. We have to double our efforts to pursue constant improvement and upgrading to stay relevant to meet societal and economic needs, and constantly put ourselves one level above the rest, such that we are able to stand out from a crowd of skilled and educated graduates. With these looming threats, it's no wonder that the Millennials are always seeking stimulation and opportunities for personal development to keep ourselves competitive in our environment.

#3 We are lazy… sometimes

One thing I have no argument against is that the Millennials can indeed be incredibly lazy at times. I suspect that on occasions, the amount of time I spend procrastinating on a piece of work might just be more than time spent actually doing the work. We can be the ultimate procrastinators, shun work that we do not find enjoyable or fulfilling, whine incessantly about unexciting projects and submit shoddy work just to get it off our hands.

(Here comes the big However)

Millennials can also be amazingly driven when tasked with assignments we find to be a worthy challenge, and something that we can be passionate about. One key difference people have noted between the Millennials and the previous generations is that the Millennials tend to seek purpose and meaning in the things that they do, work included. This may come across as extremely spoiled and entitled to the Gen-Xers and baby boomers, who pride themselves on earning their stripes and rising the ranks through their hard work and effort.

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Undoubtedly, the Millennials are a very unique generation of individuals. Growing up and learning in a very different environment has led to us having characteristics, attitudes and ideals that diverge from our seniors, some of which the Gen-Xers are not able to understand. However, the Millennials are soon to be the largest population in the workforce, and better inter-generational understanding and communication could be a key differentiating factor for success in any organization, promoting harmony and productivity through cooperation and harnessing of diversity. In my next post, I will share more of my thoughts on avoiding miscommunication, and promoting inter-generational cohesion. Stay tuned!