Generational Stereotypes Have No Place Here

By Kristin Allaben

I was scrolling through Facebook early one morning and came across a video about an interview with a millennial with a prefacing comment that read “This is so true,” complete with a laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying emoji. So I watched it. And I was infuriated by it.

I’m not normally the type of person to feel a sense of rage or frustration by watching or reading something I see on a social media platform. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… they’ve all given people a place to share their voice, whether they’ve thought things through or not.

But this particular video really hit home. I am a Millennial. I’m 32 years old and would never interview or behave that way, especially in an office environment. I also know 22-year olds who would never behave this way.

Herein lies the problem: Millennials are stereotyped as unaware, lazy, easily distracted, entitled and technology-dependent. But that isn’t true for everyone, the way any broad statement about Boomers or Gen Xers is untrue.

As is the case with every generational group, a 20-year age difference is substantial. But unlike the Silent Generation or the Greatest Generation, Millennials (people born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s) aren’t shaped by one single event. There were the September 11th attacks in 2001, the Great Recession that started in 2007, and the significant advancement in technology, starting with widespread access to the Internet in the mid-1990s, the introduction of the first smartphone (the iPhone) in 2007, and this only continues to evolve.

Identifying generational groups certainly helps in some ways – particularly around marketing efforts for specific products – but they should have a limited role in the workplace.

I read an article that stated the workforce has a real challenge today as there can be four or five generations of employees in the same company. Sue Hawkes, a leadership expert, was cited in the article, explaining that dropping the stereotypes is the only way leaders can be truly successful. She said, “Belief in generational stereotypes limits your ability to harness the best from everyone at the table. A company’s leader can learn how to unlock potential from all generations by engaging everyone around shared values.”

Another article illustrates why it can be unproductive to train managers to “manage millennials” when in reality, managers should be taught how to first self-manage to be able to successfully interact, support, guide and coach any employee. The author astutely points out September 11, 2001. Every millennial experienced this event, yet the impact is drastically different. For me, I was in high school. I vividly remember where I was, who I was with and the sinking feeling my stomach. For someone born in 2000, they may not have even been walking yet and, therefore, are being taught about the attacks in school vs. experiencing it firsthand. Two millennials. Two different experiences with major, life-defining moments.

Every generational age group is comprised of different types of people – the driven, the lazy, the coasters. It’s unproductive – and quite frankly, unfair to all parties involved – to make assumptions on how someone will behave or perform in the workplace just based on the year they were born. This is where we find wisdom in challenging our perspective using the paint brush metaphor. When dealing with people or generations, never use a thick or wide brush. Instead, use a narrow brush. This allows you to review or assess a particular person and their motivations instead of generalizing and limiting others.

I’m not talking about ageism; that is a separate topic entirely. What I’m talking about is the importance of realizing that no two people can be accurately defined based entirely on their generational age group.

So here’s your challenge: whether a manager or an employee, stop and notice the judgements you make (or have made) about your colleagues. How many of those judgements are based entirely on generational bias? How many of those judgements are based on age vs. competency?

We all know the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” I think it’s time we remind everyone to live by those words.

Important Questions from a Coach

  1. What biases do you have toward colleagues (or friends or family members) who are part of a different generational age group?
  2. What can you do today to be more aware of those judgements to prevent creating and believing inaccurate statements?
  3. What can you do today to help others around you be more aware of their own biases?


Consider reading There is Genius in All of Us

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