Overcoming Millennial Workplace Stereotypes
- by Atish Davda
Have you ever been passed over for a promotion or lost a big client but could not figure out why? It could be because of the way you dress, how you communicate over emails or your Facebook profile.
According to Forbes, 68 percent of organizations find it difficult to manage millennials.
It makes sense. Most managers of millennials date back to a time before selfies, Nicki Minaj and Snapchat. Common stereotypes associated with millennials, roughly defined as the generation born since 1980, are well documented and mostly negative. Millennials are presumed to be lazy, entitled, delusional, narcissistic and unreliable. (If you need more definitions of millennial stereotypes, see these articles in Huffington Post, Time, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic and Forbes.)
Stereotypes survive because people perpetuate them and believe them to be true. So while your immediate circle of friends and colleagues may be forgiving of these labels, it is important to acknowledge not everyone has the benefit of knowing responsible, caring, humble and professional millennials like yourself. (If you do fit the stereotype, chances of you getting through this article are low.)
Luckily, overcoming negative perceptions in the workplace does not require you to fake your age or dye your hair gray. Rather, simply remember this mantra: Prepare, deliver and be humble.
Whatever your next career goal is—getting a new job, finding capital for your company or running for office—following this mnemonic should help you get past the stereotypes. If there is a surefire way to earn the respect of people who doubt your ability, it is to prove them wrong.
Managers, investors and clients may note your age and assume you’re delusional about what it takes to run a business. Realize that these days your first impression will be made well before you actually meet someone. Develop good professional habits, like reviewing your privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If you opt to keep your profile public (as I do), take care to remove anything you would not want your boss to see. In short, clean out Facebook as often as you get a haircut.
Use the same tools to your advantage by researching your boss (or investor, client or colleague) to better understand his or her perspective. This tip extends beyond dress code etiquette; in-person and email communication is fair game as well. While texting, tweeting and breathing an entrepreneurial culture may well be the future, you live in the present. Curb the loose grammar and the excessive use of exclamation points.
What better way to dismiss laziness or reliability concerns than to overdeliver when others have low expectations? Negative perceptions of millennials can work to your advantage. Exceed expectations by being as punctual to a casual coffee meeting on a weekend as you would to a meeting with Barack Obama.
If you are interviewing for a new job, the hiring manager may instinctively question your commitment and loyalty. Shatter those expectations by bringing a proposal on what you would do during your first 90 days on the job. Even if your plan is riddled with assumptions the firm cannot meet, your commitment and work ethic are sure to stand out.
Possibly the stereotype that hampers millennials’ careers the most is that they are narcissistic or entitled. Not every millennial has a privileged upbringing. (Even if you do, you should not be made to feel guilty over it.) Regardless of where on that spectrum you call home, keep in mind that this stereotype may color how your colleague, boss or client initially forms an opinion about you.
Warrant the respect of colleagues, bosses and clients by learning from their diverse (and possibly richer) experience. If you prove them wrong by breaking the mold and exceeding their expectations on a project, do not expect them to immediately abandon their beliefs. That project is, after all, just one data point; give them a few more data points so they can extrapolate.
Today, your workplace follows you around beyond your office parking lot. Do not let stereotypes about a subset of your generation hold you back. As a bonus of developing these habits, you will amass a greater breadth of perspectives. That can only be a good thing.