January 24, 2019

Five Misconceptions About Millennials – and the Lessons the 21-year-old Intern Taught the CEO

I’ve had numerous mentors and teachers whose years of experience offer wisdom and advice. Yet some of the most recent things I’ve learned have come from our Millennial intern, Kayla. I had preconceived notions about Millennials and Kayla proved them wrong.

1. Misconception: Millennials have flaws, and we can expect nothing better.

Lesson learned: Start with positive assumptions and expect nothing less.

Starting with an expectation of failure dooms any outcome. Kayla’s first week entailed fast-paced, 12-hour days — no time to coddle a self-centered Millennial or give not-yet-deserved accolades. Kayla’s willingness to join the team and do the work started from a place of positivity and confidence. She wasn’t going to complain or quit, and we shouldn’t have assumed that she would. She didn’t doubt her commitment or abilities, so neither did we.

2. Misconception: Millennials feel entitled.

Lesson learned: Empower them to learn and lead – and they will earn their place.

What some may see as entitlement, Millennials see as empowerment. Millennials want to expand their knowledge and skills; they want to contribute to meaningful work.[i]

Kayla quickly became our social media expert; we gave her the opportunity to broaden her existing knowledge around social media and she dove in deeper by teaching us best practices and seeking learning opportunities on her own, so she could further educate us.

We shared with our marketing vendors that we trusted Kayla implicitly, and they should as well. They understood that she was young and still learning, and all were gracious in any teachable moments. That only further supported her success, and simultaneously, strengthened vendor relationships with us as well.

3. Misconception: Millennials are lazy.

Lesson learned: Accept that they have a strong work ethic, and always have.

It seems every generation feels the subsequent ones are lazy, entitled, and lack the work ethic necessary for both stability and innovation. And with each subsequent generation, we are proven wrong. Data supports that Millennials want to put in the work:

  • 87 percent of Millennials surveyed find opportunities to learn and grow extremely important;[ii]
  • Nearly half (47 percent) of Millennials in management have begun working more hours in the last five years compared to both Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers;[iii] and
  • More than half are willing to work long hours and weekends to achieve career success.[iv]

Kayla’s strong work ethic applies not only to our internship, but also her academic and campus leadership roles. For the second year, she has been named to Butler University’s Top 100 Students list; she is the president of her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho; and is a member of several honor societies. You can bet the accolades will continue to follow her throughout her career — no participation trophies necessary here.

4. Misconception: Millennials are disloyal and difficult to please.

Lesson learned: Give them a sense of purpose and an environment where they can thrive.

According to one study, Millennials’ strong desire to learn and grow is the greatest differentiator between them and all other generations in the workplace.[v] They want these opportunities to be valuable, and they want to add value. They want to be a part of something that makes a difference.

I speculate that the financial industry is not Kayla’s passion. However, get her talking about communications and marketing. Concepts of messaging and social media influence and ongoing campaigns are what puts the determination and enthusiasm in her work. She has been able to develop into a marketing role beyond her internship and knows the importance of her work in our overall strategies.

5. Misconception: Millennials are all the same.

Lesson learned: Expand definitions of diversity.

This misconception is a broad over-generalization, as it would be for any generation. Millennials are not only the largest generation, representing one-third of the total U.S. population, they are also the most diverse generation in regard to race or ethnicity — 42 percent identify as other than non-Hispanic white.[vi] Additionally, Millennials remind us that diversity means more than gender and racial demographics. Key to diversity is diversity of thought — opinions and ideas that make us rethink our preconceived notions.

In one of our social media posts, Kayla pointed out how easy it is for cultural sensitivity to be ignored, even if unintentionally. There are some colloquialisms that have become so commonplace we don’t think of them as offensive, until we consider looking at them through lenses other than our own. This outward thinking is crucial to social media and marketing, in addition to just being a good human overall.

When first hiring our intern, Kayla was the best candidate for the job, and by chance, she happens to be a young, female, person of color. Her presence in our office environment, which consists of mostly white men, reminds us that we should strive to present opportunities to those in underrepresented communities more thoughtfully and purposefully.

Kayla represents a class of Millennials who defy the negative myths and misconceptions. If she is any indication, Millennials and post-millennials are anything but self-centered and entitled. They are confident and curious, hard-working and eager. They can teach us lessons we need to learn. And it should come as no surprise why Kayla is awesome; she is a fellow Butler Bulldog, after all.

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[i] Adkins, Amy and Brandon Rigoni. Millennials Want Jobs to Be Development Opportunities. Gallup. June 30, 2016.

[ii] Agrawal, AJ. 9 Assumptions You’re Making About Your Millennial Employees That Are Dead Wrong. Entrepreneur. October 5, 2017.

[iii] Global generations: A global study on work-life challenges across generations. EY. 2015.

[iv] Multigenerational Impacts on the Workplace. Gloria Cordes Larson Center for Women and Business, Bentley University. 2017.

[v] Adkins, Amy and Brandon Rigoni. Millennials Want Jobs to Be Development Opportunities. Gallup. June 30, 2016.

[vi] The Council of Economic Advisers. 15 Economic Facts About Millennials. The White House. October 2014.