Are Millennials A New Species?






From ‘Village of the Damned‘ (1960)


I was chatting with an associate when out of the blue he said “By the way, dealing with Millennials is exhausting. I’m worn down.” This gentleman is no indolent plodder; he’s a man with a reputation for accomplishment across companies. “Exhausted” is not the first word I would use to describe him. He pounced on an opportunity to work with a young team of entrepreneurs. A seasoned man experienced in the language of the C-suites, he could help them hone their flashy product. Yet a few months in, there were problems. Why was this guy under siege? Was there a GenY — Boomer friction? He said “yes.” Things weren’t going smoothly.

What was going on? Do Millennials require new rules of engagement? Must the rest of us go to Y-School?

We’ve been reading about the march of the generations for a long time now. The Greatest Generation, the Boomers, Generation X,  and now the Millennials, Generation Y. There are attributes unique to each of them: toe-the-line and sacrifice, (Greatest), rebellion and ego (Boomers), anomie (Gen X) and “look at me” (GenY). In the Zodiac Of The Decades, each generation is molded by world events. Technology and prosperity are important as well.

Does when you are born define who you are? The ancient Chinese thought so. Their Zodiac defines people by birth year, each with an avatar and a defined set of superior attributes. Shortcomings, too, unless you are a Dragon.


Thank goodness I didn’t marry a Tiger.

Got a problem with someone? Want to hook up with a Snake? Visit your nearby Chinese restaurant and find out. We chuckle at the absurdity of birth year personality, so why do we accept the concept of ‘Generation Y?’

Are the generations really that different? PewReseachCenter thinks otherwise, at least in the areas you would assume they would be. How about, say, technology and acceptance of social change?



Courtesy PewResearchCenter

Members of the Millennial generation also give generally high marks to societal changes such as the greater availability of green products and more racial and ethnic diversity. But, as was true of technological innovations, in many cases their views are not much different from those of the age groups that precede them.

Academics and marketers make their living exploiting differences between groups of people. Marketers seek “segmentation.” Sociologist pursue “demographics.” People aren’t people; they are generations.

But Boomer pundits forget a few things. If they climb into the 1980 Wayback Machine and turn themselves into 25 year-olds what would they find? Maybe Time articles like “Here They Come, the Baby Boomers. Confident and Educated,” or “Will the TV Generation Fit In The Workforce?” They would see older employees recoil when PCs came into the office. Boomers were social and free in their youth, just like the Millennials are now.

Could it be that Generations are not innately different, that differences are merely the point in life they are in at that moment? I work with younger men and women and I see myself thirty years ago. Millennials are the most independent, attention-deficit and idealistic of the generations? Oh, please.

Each human is an individual and it is as individuals that we respond to the world. I know parents who Facebook-stalk their kids. I know of Millennials who don’t like Facebook. Mom and Dad got the iPads first. And most of Generation Y doesn’t like Twitter or Google Plus.

I’ll agree Generation Y grew up with instant-on, SMS and video games. They will always be better at those things than their elders. Electronic gadgets don’t make them a different species, however. At some point, Generation Y won’t be any good at them, either.

Boomer friends, I have a thought for you: the young who walk your office halls are you. Or, maybe you were them. Did you change? We are the ones who became different; we are more cautious. Conservative. That is normal. As more older employees leave the work force, those who remain will be outnumbered.

But only if we view ourselves as ‘Boomers’ and their younger colleagues as ‘Generation Y.’











  1. Thank you for this post! I completely agree with you that although there are marked differences in the experiences of generations, a lot of what it boils down to is just age. Young people trend toward brazen idealism and sense of entitlement… but you eventually grow out of it.

    One thing that does trouble me, though, is the stories I hear about Millennials’ parents calling their employers about performance issues, salary negotiations, etc. That’s most likely a genuine generation thing, and it’s something that gives me pause before dismissing all the claims I hear about Gen Y.

  2. Meghan, I didn’t finish my blog! I was midway through the first draft and had to close up. I hit ‘publish’ instead of ‘save.’ I have a few more paragraphs to write. And lots of repair. I was hoping no one would find it.

    Addressing your comment with two back at you: I don’t think people ever grow out of idealism, they just glom other things onto it. The effect may be ‘tempered’ idealism: a more cautious, slower response to the world because older people aren’t so sure they’re right.

    I have experienced the second thing you your share. I have had parents of college interns I’ve hired call me or request a visit. That IS odd. I thought ‘helicopter parenting’ was a junior high phenomenon. Demanding access to adult children’s business is a great way to deflate their confidence. I know parents (my peers) today seem willing to cling longer.

    I don’t have an answer for you on this. Maybe a question: do you think the twentysomethings will act the same way with THEIR children?

  3. So sorry, John! I was just perusing Google Reader, and this post came up. Let me know when it’s finished. I’ve written a post in response to your question, and it links back to you. Hoping to publish after the holiday. 🙂

  4. John: Your post reminds me of this very famous quote.

    “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”

    Falsely attributed to Winston Churchill, I believe that the quote’s roots stem back even earlier.

    While on the surface, this may be attributed to political beliefs, I believe the meaning to be more aligned with ways of thinking about life, work, everything.

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