Thursday, December 1, 2016

Millennials: How to Leverage Your Negative (and Positive) Stereotypes in the Workplace

We keep hearing again and again how this current generation of young adults, or Millennials (born roughly between 1980-2000), are not prepared for the workplace. They’re lazy. They’re addicted to technology. They want praise for everything. They can’t communicate face to face. The list goes on and on about the negative stereotypes this generation has coined. 

What we often overlook are the increasing amount of articles and polls published about the positive qualities about this generation as well. For you Millennials reading this article, take our advice as to how to let your positive qualities shine, and perhaps even how to offer a new perspective to those who see you in a negative light.

Stereotype #1: Millennials, you are addicted to technology.
We’ve all seen you on your phones and devices in class, walking to the library, and everywhere in between. While this habit might be irritating when faculty are trying to teach, your ability to learn and adapt to new technology is truly impeccable. Your generation has grown up with information at its fingertips, and while we might assume you’re always playing Pok√©mon Go or making fish faces on Snapchat, many of you are reading the news, looking up new information for class, or communicating with family and friends far away. In a job interview, make it clear to your employer that you are a quick learner, have used many forms of technology, and can collect information rapidly and efficiently. On the job, make sure to leave the personal messaging and web surfing for after hours. As tempting as it might be to check your phone or peek at Facebook, don’t give your employer a reason to think you’re using technology for the wrong reasons.

Stereotype #2: Millennials, you need praise for every little thing you do!
You may or may not have heard that your generation is also referred to as the “Trophy Generation,” where participation medals and ribbons were given to all children, not just the winners. While the intentions behind this gesture may have been good, it’s led some to believe that people your age feel they deserve to win everything, or at minimum be told they’ve done a good job in everything they attempt. For an employer from previous generations (Generation X or Baby Boomers), this might be frustrating for them to understand. So, how can this become a positive? Perhaps you need to make a shift in mindset to realize that outward positive reinforcement doesn’t need to be a constant in order to do well and stay motivated. A clear line of communication between you and your employer can also be helpful. Make it clear to them what your preferred communication style is, and that you’d like to know when things are going well and when there are concerns. This might clue the employer in that you’d like more direct, intentional feedback. Finding some intrinsic motivation can also be healthy: perform well simply because it makes you feel good, and not just when someone else is watching!

Stereotype #3: Millennials, you are lazy.
This can be frustrating or even hurtful to hear. You’ve gone to college, put in the time and effort, and have a degree to show for it – how could that make you lazy?! Well, sometimes it’s more about your attitude as to how you go about tasks and expectations, not just the fact that you may have completed them. We all had to do things we didn’t enjoy in college, whether it was a group project or 30 page research papers or simply tough classes. That will continue after college, no matter how much you love your job. Chances are, most of you aren’t lazy; you might just be a big disengaged, or tired, or distracted, which happens to all of us. You have to make sure that your first impressions are showing the opposite: be eager for new tasks, ask questions, show up early, volunteer for committees or staff events. Engaging with your career and colleagues will make not only your attitude and demeanor more positive, but you’ll take more away from the experience as well.

Bottom Line:
There are several articles with more research and facts and interesting perspectives about this generation and their entrance into the workforce, and I’ve included just a few (formal and informal) ones below. If you are a Millennial, or employ Millennials, I encourage you to continue researching the qualities and habits of these young adults and learn how to maximize their potential, because after all, they have a lot to offer.

Abbot, L. (2013) 8 Millennials’ Traits You Should Know About Before You Hire Them. Retrieved from

Alsop, R. (2008). The Trophy Kids Grow Up: how the millennial generation is shaking up the workplace. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass,

Stein, J., Sanburn, J. (2013). The New Greatest Generation: why millennials will save us all. Time Magazine. Retrieved from

Written by:  Anne Funke, University of Dubuque
Assistant Director of Vocation & Civic Engagement  

Edited by:  Sarah Moss, Dordt College
Career Development Coordinator