[And speaking of generational segments, I’ve long felt that pop sociologists and economists have made a mess of this arbitrary grouping of the generations. I think it started with the Babyboomers (wasn’t everything?) to describe the post Second World War re-population phenomenon. Before about 1960 I doubt anyone was referring to themselves as the quiet/heroic/depression era generation. It’s obvious enough why the Baby Boom generation begins in 1945, but why end with 1965?; then the Gen X is said to run only to 1980?!, and the Millennials, or is that Gen Y?, born between 1980 and 2000.]
[And for that matter, isn’t it wildly presumptuous to think that all members of the segment population should have the same characteristics? And that those born in 1947, say, should hold the same values as those born at the tail end of the Baby Boom? And plainly the whole thing is North American-centric.]
Still we generally identify with these stereo-typical generalizations, and even marvel at the truisms of behavioural causation. [For an intriguing account of this sort of thinking read, or re-read, You Are What You Were When (Morris Massey, http://www.enterprisemedia.com/product/00125/what-you-are-is-where-you-were-when-again/ ) – but with a grain of salt.
Many managers today scratch their heads and rail away at what they think (or have heard) are the untenable attitudes of Millennials: spoiled, self-absorbed, obsessed with technology over relationships, expect to be rewarded for little effort, ‘illiterate’; and they worry that organizations have to accommodate these young tyrants rather than the other way around. [More on this theme in a subsequent blog.]
[For an excellent examination of some of these beliefs, see: 5 myths about millennials in the workplace, by Carolyn Heller Baird in Fortune Magazine 2015 April 13 http://fortune.com/author/carolyn-heller-baird/]
I suppose we can’t blame managers and HR Professionals for acting on such ‘accepted wisdom’ for that is the nature of stereotyping: the human brain can’t keep track of all the myriad facts and so sorts and assigns such data into patterns, for sanity sake. But the trouble with patterned thinking is we are not fully conscious of the fact that we are in the grip of it. Our stereotypical belief systems are real to us. What’s more, we reinforce these patterns by confirming them when we encounter information that is consistent with the pattern and dismiss or discredit (or don’t even recognize) data that does not fit.
Hence when we see young people texting each other constantly never engaging in oral/auditory conversation, even when they are in the same room or at the same table; but we don’t ‘see’ the same patterns, the same way, as when older people text in public. For the Millennials we say it is ‘typical’ of the generation, but for Boomers doing the same thing we say it is just rude. The opposite is also true – we tend not to notice when young people have put their devices away and are actively engaged in conversation.
I think what is really in play are not these artificial ‘generational’ characteristics but personality preferences driving behavior. Current thinking and research amongst Personality Psychologists is that fundamental personality traits probably affect at least 50% of behavior and are inheritable. Environmental factors and experience may govern the other 50% behavior but even here innate tendencies may cause different responses in the context and may attenuate, or reinforce, the ‘learned behavior’. Nature may be far more dominant and causal than the ‘nurturists’ would have us believe.
These ‘Big Five’ personality factors have been affecting human behaviour for a very long time and may trace their roots to tens of thousands of years of evolution (indeed, continue to evolve today). But evolving personality factors do not happen quickly, and certainly not with-in a single generation.
So, for example a person with high preference for Extroversion tends to respond to ‘positive’ environmental cues actively because they regard those cues as more likely to reward the person with pleasure (pleasant feelings, thrills, etc.). This will be true of extroverted members of the ‘Heroic’ generation as much as for extroverted members of the ‘Me’ (Milllennial) generation. (Did I just let a pejorative stereotype slip in there?) Of course with aging, declining hormones, etc., the response is likely to o be more measured.
In a similar way there is not a gender factor when it comes to flipping through tv channels with the remote control – despite what the feminists would have us believe – yet most women and many men believe this stereotypical belief. It’s not gender, it’s extroversion.
[More on the ‘Big Five’ in a future blogs, perhaps.]
I think Millennials suffer the same problems as every other person in society, regardless of when they were born. And as the Millennials age and face the problems of later life stages (making the mortgage payments, struggling to shoe and educate their kids, scrambling to meet all the obligations they have in their calendars) they will continue to look more and more like the rest of us old fogies.
And like Socrates 2500 years ago, Milleninals in their turn will complain about the next generation.