Guest blogger: Millennial Laura Peñalver, Currently interning at BrandMirror

Are we narcissistic, self-centered brats who yearn for approval and crumble at the possibility of failure, or are we passionate, socially conscious, and equipped with a deep entrepreneurial spirit? Articles concerning Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996, according to Pew Research) always seem to lean towards the two extremes, asking whether or not my generation is “doomed.” While I find that standpoint to be a little drastic, I am also only one of 77 million in the Millennial generation, and these stereotypes exist for a reason.

My generation certainly has its flaws, and in this blog and the following blog post I will hash out which of these stereotypes about Millennials are true, false, or somewhere in between. Then BrandMirror will have a follow on third blog about how to succeed as a millennial and how companies that hires them can solve for these stereotypes.

1. Self-centered | 2. Entitled | 3. Lazy | 4. Disrespectful | 5. Desire Work-Life Integration | 6. Tech Savvy | 7. Entrepreneurial | 8. Lack loyalty | 9. Dress Too Informally | 10. Expect Promotion Too Soon

A Millennial may exhibit one, all, or none of these characteristics, but regardless of how we feel we are coming across, or what I argue, as soon as we enter the workplace our actions will either qualify or discredit the negative Millennial reputation. BrandMirror’s last blog post in the series will be about ways to improve the relationship between companies and incoming Millennials, and which companies are doing it right.

1. Millennials are self-centered   ? Somewhere in Between

Millennials have the unlikely combination of being both narcissistic and socially conscious. To first address the issues of selfies and social media that lead to self-centeredness, it is only fair to understand why Millennials take selfies in the first place. In an article for Time magazine, Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, explains that it is developmentally natural for teens to take selfies as a way to establish a sense of self and participate in the digital world. Posting the pictures is just a way to be involved and be a part of the online community. Idealistically, it is harmless, but it is important to note a reality of social media sites, which is that while they are incredibly useful in connecting people through events, they are also extremely addictive.

A study at the Freie Institute in Berlin measured volunteers’ brain activity while they received varying amounts of positive feedback about themselves, and found that a part of the brain called the Nucleus Accumbens became more active when receiving self-relevant feedback. According to the study, “the processing of gains in reputation in the left nucleus accumbens predicts the intensity of Facebook use across individuals,” essentially saying that the more positive feedback (such as likes) an individual received, the longer and more active they would be on Facebook. The process becomes obsessive and leads to an incredibly self-absorbed mentality as the Facebook users incorrectly measure their self-worth by the number of “likes” their picture gets.

While social media certainly leads to narcissism, according to a recent Pew study, 57 percent of Millennials still volunteer, and 84 percent said adult children should be financially responsible for their elderly parents, the largest percentage of any cohort asked. In addition, they are more likely to support local businesses, and they care about a company’s social and environmental commitment. Selective media narratives undermine the fact that in general, Millennials have a pretty strong social conscious.

2. Millennials show up as entitled True

We are a product of our environment. In a study by the Academy of Educational Leadership, the influence of “trophies for all” and “helicopter parents,” both characteristics of the environment the Millennial generation grew up in, supported an entitlement mentality. This distorted emphasis on the concept of “everybody is a winner” has left Millennials with a lack of practical grounding as to how things work in the real world and the unrealistic expectation that the world will conform to them, simply because that was what they were led to believe by their doting parents. Millennials were told they are the best, and that their rise to success is guaranteed, when in actuality, at the end of the day, the job market is incredibly competitive and not everybody is going to succeed. In a sense, the system has failed Millennials, because due to the tough job market, there is a disconnect between the idea of always being a winner and the struggle to find employment.

3. Millennials are lazy  ? Somewhere in Between

To debunk the oh so flattering myth that all of us still live in the recesses of our parents basement, balancing a microwave meal on our bellies as we laugh about not having jobs, I can promise you, that is not the case! The increase in young people living back home with their parents has experienced only a marginal increase (36 percent today vs. 32 percent in 1968, according to a Pew Research Center analysis). Additionally, more than half of those living at home also attend college, investing in their future rather than spending money on an apartment they might not be able to afford. Millennials are also entering a pretty dismal job market, with a New York Times analysis estimating that 15% of workers ages 16 to 25 are unemployed compared to with 7.3% of all workers, and that is not accounting for those who are not working because they are in school, who are no longer searching for work, and those who are too discouraged to begin looking.

In the office, however, this stereotype has a bit more backing. I am sure everyone has heard a phrase or two from “Sh!t Millennials Say…In the Workplace” at least once, and know the frustration of dealing with a Millennial expecting a raise within two months or asking what size font their report should be in.  After being coddled for the entirety of their childhood, Millennials find it hard to come up with their own solutions and want to be told exactly how to do their responsibilities with constant affirmation that they are doing a good job. Data from a 2007 study by Myers explains that “Millennials expect communication with supervisors to be more frequent, positive, and more affirming than has been the case with employees of previous generations” (Myers, 2007). When asked who has the better work ethic: adults younger than 30 years old or adults 30 years old and older, a YouGov study showed that a whopping 77% believed adults older that 30 had better work ethic.

4. Millennials lack respect & are too informal ? Somewhere in Between

While Millennials may believe they are coming off as respectful, their informal demeanor projects the exact opposite. One in three older workers complain that junior employees are too informal, need supervision, and lack respect for authority, and a Millennial’s expectations for frequent and open communication as well as lack of formality may cause senior level workers to feel disrespected, as they feel the new worker has yet not earned the right to be so involved in upper level management (Myers, 2010). Ironically, even though they desire this constant feedback, Millennials feel uncomfortable with face-to-face communication, which can at least partially be attributed to the fact that they have grown up as “digital natives.” According to a Standford University study in 2002, spending more time on the computer is limiting the time Millennials spend honing their social skills by engaging in face-to-face interpersonal interaction. The shift from in-person to online has diminished their ability to develop empathy, interpersonal relations, and nonverbal communication skills, and the residual effect translates into the workplace in various ways: not maintaining eye contact, not picking up on nonverbal cues, appearing disinterested about the conversation subject, and perhaps the most frustrating, preferring texting over more traditional methods of communication.

5. Millennials want a life True

We all want a seamless work-life integration, regardless of which generation we identify with. It seems now more than ever, Millennials are no longer okay with getting caught in the cycle of working a job they don’t like for money they don’t need. According to a survey by The Instititute (2012), the most appealing job for a Millennial would allow them to satisfy personal financial needs while being able to live their life as they want, and in a Deloitte study, over 78 percent of Millennials are influenced by how innovative a company is when deciding whether or not to work there. They are always looking for a position that gives them purpose and meaning, and are willing to leave a job if they feel they can find a better fit elsewhere. Unfortunately this perspective leads to a low retention rate for new employees(over 60 percent of Millennials will leave their job within 3 years), and in our second blog post in the series I point out some drastic strategies companies are implementing in order to retain Millennials (think best dressed awards and circuses).

Be on the lookout for BrandMirror’s next blog post in the Millennials series about challenges companies face when dealing with Millennials in the workplace, and ­if you are curious; take the Pew Research “How Millenial are You?” quiz and find out where you are situated on the generational timeline. Let us know how you score!