Focus on Mindsets, Not Stereotypes


Over the past couple of years, Millennials have become the largest generation in the workplace. A new analysis by SHRM titled “Millennials: Misunderstood in the Workplace?” reports that Millennials will represent over one-half of the workforce by 2020. Keep in mind, that’s just a couple years away.

In addition, the report points out that stereotypes about Millennials often lead to misunderstanding. SHRM researcher Christina Lee wrote, “Although Millennials may have slightly different mindsets, on the whole, they tend to place significance on several of the same aspects of job satisfaction that Generation Xers and Baby Boomers do.” I think the key word here is mindset.

Stereotypes are defined as “widely held but fixed and oversimplified images of a person or thing.” So a stereotype would be that Millennials are tech dependent and entitled. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble but there are plenty of Baby Boomers glued to their phones and tablets. Oh, and plenty of non-millennials who feel some sense of entitlement.

Millennials don’t deserve the stereotype. A 20-something year old person acting like they’re entitled is a jerk, not the representative of a generation.

What is important to understand is mindset, which refers to “the established set of thinking” by someone (or some group.) Our mindset determines our outlook on problems and situations. It impacts the way we communicate and respond to others.

If you want to gain some perspective on the mindset of others, check out The Beloit College Mindset List. The latest list gives you some perspective on what life has been like for students heading into college this year. Here are a couple of highlights:

  • If you say “around the turn of the century,” they may well ask you, “which one?”
  • They have never licked a postage stamp.
  • Teachers have always had to insist that term papers employ sources in addition to those found online.

This mindset changes the way you think. Frankly, that’s a good thing. I remember conducting a training program a few months ago where mention was made of hand-written airline tickets. Half the class knew what they were and other half were stunned. “You mean people used to walk around with hand-written airline tickets?!” Honestly, there are some days that even I forget we used to have hand-written airline tickets (and I’ve actually used one.)

The point is that the conversation about the workforce changing should be based upon the changing mindset of workers. It should not be based on a stereotype. Organizations should use mindsets to understand what a majority of their workforce is accustomed to – like mobile devices – and develop policies and practices that align with that mindset.

I have no reason to believe that Millennials don’t want the same thing I wanted when I graduated from college and started working – a good job that pays well. And all the labels being attached to Millennials were attached to Baby Boomers twenty plus years ago. It’s time to stop labeling and start listening.



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