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Five myths about Gen Y workers

Harvey Schachter

Globe and Mail Update

Posted on Monday, April 2, 2012 8:00AM EDT

Those young people in the office may not be as different from their baby-boomer manager as is widely believed.

In Strategy+Business, Jennifer Deal, a researcher with the Center For Creative Leadership in San Diego, says wrong-headed stereotypes abound about the so-called millennials – also known as Generation Y, those born in the 1980s.

These misconceptions lead corporate leaders and human resource managers to needlessly twist themselves in knots to engage or accommodate the young workers. Ms. Deal highlights five myths about Gen Y members:

They don’t want to be told what to do

After being reared by parents who told them everything they did was wonderful, millennials are seen as being unwilling to comply with authority.

But Ms. Deal’s research found that Gen Yers currently in the work force are more willing to defer to authority than baby boomers or Generation Xers. In a sample of more than 5,000 respondents, Gen Y workers were more likely than boomers and Gen Xers to agree with statements such as “employees should do what their manager tells them, even when they can’t see the reason for it.” Possible explanation: They were taught from an early age that doing what an authority figure asks is more likely to lead to success, such as getting an A grade.

They lack organizational loyalty

The rap is that millennials aren’t committed to their employers, and will change jobs when offered a small increase in salary.

But the research showed Gen Y employees have about the same degree of organizational commitment as other age groups. Perhaps the myth arises because young people of every generation – including the boomers, in the past – change jobs more frequently than older people.

They aren’t interested in their work

Gen Y workers supposedly don’t just lack organizational loyalty but also don’t have much interest in their jobs.

Ms. Deal’s research found that Gen Yers in the work force are as intrinsically motivated as boomers and Gen Xers. That said, people at lower-level jobs in organizations, who tend to be younger, are slightly less motivated by the content of their jobs than people at higher levels. “It isn’t that millennials aren’t motivated,” she notes, “it’s that they’re not motivated to do boring work. And boomers weren’t any more motivated by that kind of work when they were younger.”

They are motivated by perks and high pay

The knock against millennials is that they are only interested in material rewards, but Ms. Deal’s research found no relationship between a person’s age group and whether he or she is motivated by perks and higher pay.

Again, it’s worth noting that position in the work force can play a role: People at the bottom of the work hierarchy tend to be slightly motivated by extrinsic rewards like perks and pay than people at higher levels.

They want more work-life balance

Ms. Deal concedes that this impression of Gen Y workers is marginally accurate: Millennials are interested in work-life balance, but not much more than Gen Xers are. She suspects this has something to do with life cycles – younger workers are more likely to have small children, for example – and the fact that the world has dramatically changed from when the boomers entered the work force. So it is more widely accepted these days that life is about more than work.

Special to The Globe and Mail