It’s Time To Let Go Of Age-Related Stereotypes

Millennials are the most studied generation to date. They initially joined the workforce in the late 1990s and today range from 25-40 years old, making up a third of the workforce. By 2025, three short years from now, this generation will make up 75% of the workforce.

When they first showed up in our organizations, management was caught flat-footed. These young whipper-snappers made requests/demands that no other workers had dared and wouldn’t accept the standard answers. Bottom-line, they only asked for things we ALL wanted but were afraid to ask. Things like: flexibility, meaningful work, and getting timely feedback.

The top five stereotypes I still hear about Millennials are:

  • slackers/poor work-ethic
  • need instant gratification
  • self-centered/self-absorbed
  • pampered/spoiled brats
  • disloyal or job-hoppers

I believe we could use these descriptors for people across generations because I’ve seen it first-hand.

Can we please stop making sweeping statements about any generation? It’s dangerous and hinders our efforts to create a more inclusive culture where employees have a sense of belonging. It perpetuates biases.

Let me offer a real-life example I witnessed last week that involved a Millennial and their thoughtful approach to making a career-shaping decision. A decision that many would categorize as a setback or career-limiting move based on society’s definition of success.

This person, I’ll call him Alexander, was encouraged to apply for an internal promotion to a VP role. (By the way, this is the second company he’s worked for after college and has been there for eight years →not a job-hopper). While the role would be a stretch in some aspects, he met the majority of the criteria of the job, has excellent internal and customer relationships, and was getting support from others to apply.

The promotion would include higher compensation, status, and greater visibility within the company and the industry. It would also require more travel, greater stress, and the possibility of relocating.

Instead of proceeding with the application and interview process, Alexander thoroughly looked at what “success” would be for him vs. what societal norms would suggest. Here’s what he considered:

  • “How would I feel IF I got the job?” → He had the self-awareness to imagine what it would be like on his first day in the role, which caused anxiety – he had knots in his stomach vs. being excited.
  • “How will I manage the demands of life outside of work?” While higher compensation would be great, it comes with more travel and creates more stress and hardship on his family → he was not selfish by putting himself first but instead prioritized what is best for others.
    • His mental health → again, balancing personal and work demands would negatively impact his mental health and overall happiness and productivity.
  • “Am I set up for success in this new role?” Recognizing the reality of the first three bullets, he would not be in a position to deliver his best, which wouldn’t be good for the company. AND could be harmful to his career in the long term. The timing was just not right → he was not going for that instant gratification, but instead, he took the long view.

When he told the President he thought the timing was not right for him and didn’t want to waste people’s time and energy in the rigorous interview process; he got an encouraging response. The President told Alexander he respected him more for his thoughtful consideration and appreciated his balanced approach in how he arrived at this decision. He offered encouragement for future opportunities and full support in pursuing career-advancing prospects, even if they are outside the company.

Alexander has a big fan and supporter in his corner for the long haul. It’s the type of relationship that will serve him well throughout his career.

I know many in my Baby-boomer generation and the Gen-Xers who would not have made the same mature decision. So, I ask again, can we please stop bad-mouthing Millennials – or any generation or group of people?

Our brains like to put people/things into categories to make things simpler to process. However, we are all individuals and deserve to be treated as such.

“When your mind is full of assumptions, conclusions, and beliefs, it has no penetration; it just repeats past impressions.”  — Sadhguru

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft. If Alexander sounds like someone you would love to have in your organization, reach out via email at, and she can make an introduction and connect the two of you!