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Debunked: 5 myths about millennial employees

See the workplace from their point of view.

*This article was last updated August 2020.

Here's some food for thought: Millennials are middle-aged. That's right, the first wave of millennials — people born between 1981 and 1996 — are turning 39 in 2020, according to Pew Research External Site.

Watch our latest webinar to learn more about millennials, their health and the impact to the productivity of your workplace and associated health care costs.

Like it or not, their generation is a far stretch from what they are commonly made out to be in media and popular culture. But there is a shift taking place, in part because the generation is coming of age and can speak for themselves. Millennials already make up nearly half External Site of the U.S. workforce and by 2025, they'll account for 75 percent of the global workforce External Site.

However, according to a recent Gallup study External Site 71 percent of millennials are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work. Yet, they desire to learn and grow. On one survey, 65 percent of millennials rated personal development as the most influential factor in a job External Site.

That's why it's important to toss out any misconceptions you may have about this generation. Instead, put a plan in place to engage the millennials in your workforce. To help you get there, we debunked a few common myths about millennials, so you can be better equipped to connect with and lead them.

MYTH #1: Millennials are entitled narcissists who are addicted to social media

REALITY: Millennials have been fundamentally rewired by the digital age

Growing up in the digital revolution, with information at their fingertips and the rise of social media, gaming and mobile phones, millennials have been shaped by technology. It has influenced their friendships, families, how they spend their time, and how they interact with brands and institutions. In fact, many millennials trust social media over their own doctor. While these perspectives can disrupt traditional workplace values, they can also challenge your business to embrace and leverage technology, boost your brand, and ultimately improve your bottom line.

1 in 3 millennials consider social media freedom, device flexibility and work mobility a higher priority than salary in accepting a job offer External Site.

MYTH #2: Millennials thrive on participation trophies and #winning

REALITY: Millennials have been raised to be good team players

Many millennials grew up in environments that encouraged collaboration, like on sports teams, in extracurricular activities, or in school. Rather than competing with peers, they may have been rewarded for contributions or being a part of something. While this may be seen as weak to older generations, it actually makes this generation the ultimate team players. They are used to sharing credit and feel less compelled to compete with coworkers. Millennials need opportunities to work with peers, as well as on cross-functional teams. Give them reason to socialize and participate in team activities outside of work, as well.

MYTH #3: Millennials prefer a "gig economy" and won't commit to full-time work

REALITY: Millennials value job flexibility and work-life balance

It's true that millennials are drawn to independent work. Whether it's in the form of freelancing, contracting, consulting or temporary work, it's estimated that 47 percent of millennials freelance External Site in some capacity, rather than take permanent jobs. But, it's not because they are restless or noncommittal.

Millennials grew up with a wide variety of living arrangements. They may have been latchkey kids or had a single, working parent. Perhaps they had dual-income parents with rise and grind mentalities. Whatever the case, their lives bear no resemblance to the traditional family structure of the 50's and 60's. What's more, they may have watched family members lose their jobs or their homes after working for companies that were hit hard by the recession.

Overall, this has taught them the value of work-life balance over financial rewards or the hope of that year-end bonus. They want to get the job done, then they want to put it behind them and enjoy their time off. In other words, they don't want to be consumed with work.

Flexible work schedules can help millennials feel balanced. Whether it's a four-day work week, more personal time, the option of working remotely or wearing casual attire, it may be time to refresh your benefits package.

According to External Site, Microsoft Japan enjoyed a perk of working four days a week — while still receiving their normal five-day paycheck. With the shorter work week, Microsoft also slashed their meetings in half from 60 to 30 minutes and all sessions were capped to five attendees. The result? A 40 percent increase in productivity.

MYTH #4: Millennials don't respect authority

REALITY: Millennials aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo

While generations of the past regarded authority with respect, millennials aren't as impressed. Perhaps 24/7 news outlets and social media have exposed them to more scandal and controversy than older generations. They have also been encouraged by parents to challenge authority and assert themselves External Site. Overall, millennials value direction and leadership more than authority.

Rather than simply taking orders, they want to know why the task is important and how it contributes to the overall end result. They want their opinions to be valued and they may question widely-accepted truths. That's why it's important to provide frequent, supportive and open communication External Site, with ample opportunities to contribute ideas, share insights and suggest improvements. If you are open to change, and if your employees are willing to take responsibility for making change happen, this could be a value proposition for your business.

When surveyed, 80 percent of millennials say they prefer to receive feedback in real time External Site, along with frequent check-ins, rather than a formal review process.

MYTH #5: Millennials view their workplace with angst

REALITY: Millennials want their work to be worthwhile

The average job tenure External Site for a millennial is 1.7 years. This may seem low, but it's actually higher than the same age group of Generation Xers. Millennials don't leave their jobs because they enjoy instability. Rather, they need to feel their work matters and that it is worthwhile. It's what motivates and engages them. If they find more fulfilling work, they'll move on.

For millennials in particular, organizational culture is about far more than salary and benefits packages. They want a more holistic approach, with programs that help them get out of debt, deal with emotional issues, or even become more involved in their communities. To get an overall better understanding of your employees, review the six elements of well-being. Also, implement programs to engage your employees and provide them with opportunities for development. They'll be happier, perform better and be less absent from work.

A 2019 survey External Site shows that more than 40 percent of millennials expect to leave their jobs within two years and fewer than 30 percent want to be in the same job for more than five years.

Download your free e-book: Millennials in Your Workplace

Millennials are coming into the workplace full speed ahead. By 2025, millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce. While this generation comes with open minds, a desire to succeed and grow, and insights into the latest technologies, the problem for employers is that 1 in 3 millennials have a health condition impacting their overall quality of life.

It doesn’t stop there. Only 68 percent of millennials have a primary care provider (PCP) compared to 91 percent of Generation X. When your employees aren’t healthy, health care costs will continue to rise and productivity will decrease, all of which impact your bottom line.

When you download your free copy of Millennials in Your Workplace Opens in a new window, you can take advantage of extensive research, in-house data and subject matter experts to create sustainable, long-term changes in your workplace today.

Questions? Contact your authorized Wellmark account representative or email us at Send Email.