Millennials Aren’t Different, The World Is

Millennials are difficult. They ask for too much, they expect rewards with little work, and they’re completely re-calibrating the corporate world as we know it. If you’ve ever so much as glanced through the headlines on any given day, you’re sure to have run into a think piece or two that scream these sentiments from the rooftops.

The reality is that although it seems like the media is inundated with messages that decry the laziness of an entire generation, it’s not necessarily true. According to analyst Amanda Kreun of Work Effects, it’s a pretty big assumption that is sorely unsupported by an empirical evidence (Amanda Kreun, 2016). Yes, the world is changing – but millennials are not to blame.

The pace of change

Over the past 30 years, the pace of change in the workplace has shifted from infrequent to constant. We are living in an ever-changing environment that requires a constant shift in how we communicate, how we work together, and what we’re capable of.

Gone are the days of the Industrial Revolution, where every work day was seemingly the same. Millennials have entered a workforce that is drastically different from the workforce of their predecessors – one where VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) is the norm. When the work day seems to move at a mile a minute, everything feels like a high-stress situation.

Workplace stress costs U.S. companies up to $500 billion a year in lost productivity from missed deadlines, higher turnover, and increased absenteeism. A conservative rule of thumb is that a company’s lost productivity because of job stress is about 2 percent of revenues (Mental Health America, 2017).

Clearly leadership development is falling short somewhere – so how do we enable our leaders in an environment that seems to change every day?

Bridging the gap

Millennials move quickly, work towards fast results and rewards, and yearn for accolades they can add to their resumes. Boomers entered the workforce expecting to pay their dues and slowly but surely move up the food chain. Reconciling these two different sets of expectations seems tough, especially when you factor in the rate of change.

It’s time to bridge the gap and pave the way for professional development that enables everyone to succeed. Our research points to three leadership capabilities that provide the greatest chance for a company to survive and thrive in these turbulent times:  influencing behavior change, fostering collaborative co-creation, and integrating discovery.

Here’s how we can do better in keeping up with change:

Adopt a team-centric approach.

Shift the responsibility from a single leader to the team itself. It’s important to understand each other, to develop the skills that enable us to connect, communicate effectively, deal with conflict, and problem solve. The aforementioned list of complaints regarding Millennials in the workplace typically comes from a place of conflicting perceptions and misunderstanding.

Yes, these soft skills seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how often they’re overlooked. Shifting the focus from individual behaviors to group behaviors greatly increases the likelihood of achieving behavior change

Dynamically establish clarity.

Like we’ve said before – there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Match expectation-setting with the rate of change. It’s often said that millennials crave a set list of expectations to meet and exceed, but how can you provide that when the needs of a business can do a complete 180 in the blink of an eye?

Be realistic. Things are changing all the time, but that doesn’t mean a complete abandon of normalcy. Create expectations that work with your business’ landscape.

Leverage stress.

There are two types of stress: deconstructive and productive. Leverage these when you can to mitigate their causes and increase organizational learning. There will be high-pressure situations and even failures, but it’s what you do to inspire change and learning from these experiences that makes all the difference.

Empowering all leaders

There are leadership moments that occur every day, and they call for a completely new and adaptive set of skills. The need for democratized access to leadership development is more important now than ever before. The world is shifting, and we need to shift with it.


Mental Health America. (2017). Mind The Workplace: MHA Workplace Health Survey. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/

Amanda Kreun. (2016). Misguided Advice: What To Do With Millennials. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/misguided-advice-what-do-millennials-michael-stewart/

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