Dealing With the Millennial Perception

If you are under thirty years old, you are part of a demographic cohort called Generation Y, but the most popular term used to describe you is millennial. As a management professor, I get asked all the time for advice on how to manage and motivate millennials at work.  The explicit assumption is that there is a significant difference in the behavior of millenials at work that makes them more difficult to manage and motivate.

I don’t buy it. Clearly, you are stylistically unique.  The way you dress, wear your hair, and even speak is different than people of other generations. But that is true for every generation when they are young, so there is nothing new under the sun here.  The high quality, scientific research is NOT present to support the claim that you behave significantly different at work.  The hype on millennials far outweighs the evidence. Nevertheless, the perception is strong, so you need to be prepared to deal with that perception at work.

Entitled is by far the most frequent label I hear placed on millenials.  To be entitled means you want something for nothing.  You want all the rewards and benefits of work but responsibility and hard work is conditional – it has to be on your terms or you won’t be engaged.

Do NOT let the term “entitled”become attached to your brand.

You can take this perception off the table by behaving in some very basic ways when at work. To avoid the entitled label, you need to show up, every time, on time and prepared to make a value-added contribution at work.  That’s it.  If you have been excessively absent or tardy and are not prepared to carry out your assigned job duties with excellence, your manager is going to be looking for a derogatory label to slap on you. Don’t let that happen!

If you don’t like your job for whatever reason, find a new one.  When you find a new job, make sure to give your current employer two weeks’ written notice.  And as you look for your new job and work through your two weeks’ notice period, you must continue to show up on time, every time, prepared to make a value-added contribution at work.

It’s that simple.  If you will make the choice to behave that way at work, you will earn the respect of your manager and peers, and you will earn their recommendation as you progress through your career.

That is a great thing for your personal brand.


Bret Simmons is an Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), where he teaches courses in organizational behavior, leadership, and personal branding to both undergraduate and MBA students. He has a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Oklahoma State University. Bret practices personal branding at his website Positive Organizational Behavior where he blogs about leadership, followership, and personal branding. His purpose is “to change your mind about the value of partnering with others to build healthy, responsible organizations where everyone can thrive.” You can also find Bret on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.

Related posts:

  1. How Millennial are You? Using Generational Knowledge to Generate Success
  2. Dealing With “Why the Hell Am I Here?” Moment(s)
  3. Dealing with Bad Co-Workers at Your Internship

7 Responses to “Dealing With the Millennial Perception”

  1. Entitlement is easily attached to my brand simply because of my age/face. It can be a difficult stereotype to break with people you don’t interact with often. How do you suggest dealing with this label when only given 15-20 minutes with a colleague?
    Great post! I think trust is the most important quality to have in your brand. Will he do what he says?

    • avatar Bret Simmons says:

      Welcome to this site, Jonathan! Keep in mind that you are responsible for yourself and your behavior, not how others react to you. Nothing you can do about people that are quick to stereotype except to behave in ways that break the stereotype. Trust builds over time, so as people interact with you, they will learn who Jonathan is as an individual and hopefully evaluate you on that basis and not on the group they want to associate you with. Thanks for the comment! Bret

  2. avatar Tonya Payne says:

    Great post – one other thing I’ve noticed with millennials is that they have tons of energy and enthusiasm, which is wonderful However, may I add a word of caution?

    While it’s great when you start a new job that you want to set the world on fire, make sure you’re respectful of the company culture and long-standing traditions before trying to force change. Once you’ve established your credibility as an employee, start proposing minor changes but ensure that you have done your due diligence to ‘sell’ your proposal rather than just an idea that ‘sounds really good!’.

    I’ve had to rein in some of my millennials because they had a new perspective and wanted to immediately start changing things. In our company, you have to understand the history of the business and implement change slowly. My millennials are still learning patience and don’t like to wait! :) Once you establish and prove that there are benefits to change it’s much easier to expand an idea on a larger scale.

    On the positive side, as a manager you have to love the energy and fresh perspective that millennials bring with them!

    Love your posts, Bret!

  3. avatar Bret Simmons says:

    I agree, Tonya. I think everyone should have a voice at work. And I love it when people are willing to stand for that right. But our first responsibility is to become a master of our assigned responsibilities. Then we can think about and suggest ways that we are willing to help improve our assigned job. Great thoughts, Tonya – thanks for sharing! Bret

  4. Dr. Bret – I work with millennials from both sides of this fencs, and Gen Xers, etc. I whole heartedly agree that this generation is just like any other and you have to take each person for what they contribute and how much commitment to the organization they show.

    We have great employees from all generations. Millennials – don’t let a birtdate define you.


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