The “millennial mindset” is horseshit

Millennial Mindset

Humans are flawed people, and especially prone to generalization. One of the more common of the last few years is about “the millennial mindset.” They are the trophy generation! Feedback is necessary! They will quit jobs over purpose, not over salary! Oh My God everything is changing! We need to design special hotels just for them!

In reality, almost everything about this millennial mindset is complete horseshit. It doesn’t even exist. Millennials are human beings, and it’s a large bucket of people to boot — by some measure, there are 75.4 million of them right now. (Oh God!) Go outside right now and randomly interact with two people. I bet those two people were different, right? If you extrapolate that out to 75.4 million people, there’s a good chance there will be a lot of differences. As a result, the idea of a “millennial mindset” begins to crumble like Blue Apron Parmesan.

Other people have admitted this too. So maybe we should stop with the millennial mindset generalizations. But first? A bit of research on it!

The Millennial Mindset: Two articles

Here’s a good one from Fast Company entitled “Your obsession with millennials won’t last past 2017.” Indeed. And linked within that is an ABA Banking Journal article called “Are millennials worth the hype?” (Probably not.) In that second article, the author notes that (get ready for it) “attitudes and habits widely thought to be millennial-specific may actually be quite widespread among the general population.” Nice. Sick burn.

The Millennial Mindset: The workaholic continuum

Americans love us a good workaholic. We deify ’em! Work is virtue! Nose down and hit those targets for the brass, baby! But there’s this attitude among older, more established workers that millennials are loafers. We don’t want to put in the effort. The promotions are simply expected. And we don’t understand the business model, goddamn it! We’re all over here talking about purpose, mission, and vision. That’s fluffy HR shit. Show me some P&L charts, baby!

This is the supposed millennial mindset regarding work.

In reality, almost none of this is true. In most research studies, millennials are much bigger workaholics than Boomers are — which leads nicely into my next little section here.

The real deal with The Millennial Mindset

When self-appointed “thought leaders” write their breathless Forbes articles on the millennial mindset, they usually take all context and toss it out the window. If you went back to 1968 and found a Baby Boomer then — who would be about the age of a millennial now — the whole picture would be different. The generation before Boomers (Silents? Greatest?) probably thought they were goofing off at work and expected too much. This is just how “older, more established people” view “younger people.” It’s not rocket science.

Now, there is a difference in terms of access to, and understanding of, technology and especially mobile. But, that’s prone to generalizations too. I know a bunch of guys over 60 who are masters at their iPhone 7, you know? It’s not necessarily “millennial mindset” to be better at using Google or an app on your phone. Most of those tech products are designed (well, ideally) to be easy to understand and subsequently use. It doesn’t help some exec at Google if only 26 year-olds can use the product. That kinda cuts them out of a lot of markets, right?


The problem is that we compare generations at the wrong time frames — you need to compare a 55 year-old now to other 55 year-olds, not to a 26 year-old. If you want to compare the attitudes of millennials to Boomers, go back in time on the Boomers. That’s a direct, logical comparison. Of course someone with three kids and a mortgage is going to have different attitudes on life and work than someone who’s still waking up next to pizza boxes on a Wednesday morning.

But the millennial mindset will change work forever!

It may. Time will tell on that deal. But it ain’t happening anytime soon. See, an average CEO these days is about 56. Men are straight-up terrified of retirement, so a lot of these guys will be around another two decades. That’s a lot more time for command and control management to be the norm. Plus, many of the work attitudes associated with the millennial mindset, such as a holacracy, have been total bombs. Don’t even get me ranting on “self-management.”

Here’s the deal with the millennial mindset as relates to work. Most Boomers in their 20s had these notions too. They wanted transparency and legit feedback and open office plans and all that kind of shit. What happened? Work beat the hell out of them, as it does to most people. Stress piled up, priorities went out the window, and they got married and had kids — so now they needed the job more than ever, and did what the boss man said. Every young, idealistic person wants to think their boss will provide them “organic feedback” on a “consistent basis.” That’s not millennial mindset. That’s just hoping humanity is actually working and someone who manages you won’t be a total dick. But over time, that gets pounded out of you like a bag of Blue Apron flour.

You see me hitting these Blue Apron targets? See, that’s part of the millennial mindset.

What else you got on this supposed millennial mindset, friends?

Ted Bauer


  1. I don’t agree that the millennial mindset is bullshit. But, I also don’t think that the millennial mindset is actually about millennials (so that’s where we do, in fact, agree!).

    There is a different mindset now in the workplace. It’s due to technology, shifting cultural norms, greater mobility at work and many other factors. And with that comes changing norms. The 56 year old managers may grumble, but as the workforce dynamics change, they’ll have to as well. Even if they’re in charge. It’s inevitable.

    So, for one example, managing new ways to communicate feedback is something we just need to do because of the current way feedback is gathered and shared across our lives. You can rate every meal you eat, every movie you see, every dress you buy and on and on. (And people actually read it – and some care.) So now, that expectation moves over to the workplace as well. We have to figure out how to navigate that, and shouldn’t assign that to millennials because it’s not about THEM, it’s about changing mindsets in the world today.

    I’m an X, stuck in the middle of Boomers and millennials. And as I manage both, I sometimes want to yell, do you realize how similar you both are?!! One accuses the other of entitlement, when they are both acting entitled.

    So my point is, the future of work always requires a new mindset. But our current shifts should not be blamed on millennials. They didn’t single-handedly create the shift. We all did. The rest of the complaints about that cohort is just general fear and loathing of the new generation – which is just recycled every 20 years or so – now that’s bullshit.

    • I think we’re generally in agreement, actually. This post was more about generalizations and less about actual millennials.

    • I agree Tina, I think the challenge is twofold:

      1) getting people at all levels of an organization to care about staying abreast of changes in attitudes towards work, communication styles, and evolving technologies, and

      2) effectively using and managing what differences there are in between generations. We recently discussed generational differences in a values-centered leadership course I’m taking now for grad school; before the discussion, I was wont to dismiss all of this generational research stuff as horseshit (I still think a lot of the way we think about and test for generational differences is highly flawed), but I do think there is something to the notion that people experience significant events differently in proportion to their stage of physiological development.

      Thus, if there ARE truly differences between how a Boomer, Millenial, etc. communicate and think about things, the data should be used carefully and certainly not to emphasize differences to the exclusion of substantive dialogue. When we start pointing fingers at each other and going “WELL YOURE A BOOMER/MILLENIAL/GENXER AND SO YOU JUST DONT GET IT” that’s an ineffective approach; people don’t realize the power of antagonism and alienation, perhaps because we’ve grown so accustomed to communicating via text-based messages that strip our ability to display subtlety, emotion, and context. Everyone’s a lot tougher than they actually are when they’re sitting behind a keyboard.

      I also think media outlets are partly to blame for the explosion of vapid “thinkpieces” that pit generations against each other simply to drive viewership and profit.

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