Label Libel

Ch0IMpCUkAAy-x0By John Helmers, Associate Director, Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder

As a proud Gen Xer who is – by definition – independent, resilient and adaptable, it pains me to say this, but I have been duped.  And you know what?  So have you.

At the MBA CSEA Regional Forum in San Francisco last Friday Dr. Jessica Kriegel shredded to pieces much of the research that has been done on Millennials and made me question all of the “truths” I have come to accept about Millennials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and every generation before and since.  Incidentally, she did so just before I was to moderate a panel discussion about recruiting and retaining Millennials, so I had to rely heavily on the “adaptable” attribute I had [incorrectly] assigned to my generation.

Why do we stereotype?  Because our brains prefer predictability to ambiguity.  That’s why it’s so easy for us to latch on to and categorize a certain group as entitled, lazy, disloyal, or any other attribute that gets assigned to a given generation.  But when I stop and think about specific individuals within those groups I rarely think in those same terms.

Do I know entitled Millennials?  Absolutely.  Do I know entitled Gen Xers?  You bet.

Do I know thoughtful, motivated and hard-working Millennials?  I do, just like I know thoughtful, motivated and hard-working Baby Boomers.

Millennials – just like Baby Boomers, Gen- Xers, and every generation before and after them – are a diverse group of complex individuals.   The generalizations made about them today were true about every generation that came before them at that stage in their life.  Sure, there are certain markers of having been raised during wartime or a recession or otherwise, but by and large every generation exhibits behaviors consistent with the human condition at that time in their lives.

As Graduate Business Career Services professionals and Graduate Business recruiters we have a unique lens into this group and their motivations and can attest to the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all way to attract and retain the best talent for a given organization.  There is no gimmick that can possibly appeal to 80 million diverse individuals, no matter how desperately we want to fit them into a nicely labeled box.  In my experience, the most effective gimmicks are the same ones that appealed to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers and will appeal to future generations:

  • Treat people as individuals
  • Invest in relationships
  • Be authentic.

Oh, and you might want ditch generational stereotypes, too.  How?  I suggest you start by reading Unfairly Labeled:  How Your Workplace Can Benefit from Ditching Generational Stereotypes by Dr. Jessica Kriegel.

You might just have your Baby Boomer/GenXer/Millennial mind blown.



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