Thousands of students received their college degrees at Central Michigan University's May commencement ceremonies. Many are members of the millennial generation or its successor, Generation Z, and will be pursuing their first professional jobs.
Misty Bennett, assistant dean of the College of Business Administration, said there are workplace myths circulating about members of these frequently misunderstood groups of young professionals that can affect their chances of being hired.
"I hate to see stereotypes predict the future of these students," Bennett said.
Through her research on the workplace needs of employees from different age groups, Bennett has found many of these myths simply don't stand up to empirical evidence. As she works with companies and professional organizations to develop strategies for working effectively with multiple generations at once, she hopes to debunk the worst of the stereotypes.
Myth: They don't want to work hard.
Young workers often report that work-life balance is important to them, which may lead employers to think they are not interested in working hard, Bennett said.
However, Bennett said her research indicates that every generation currently represented in the workplace is looking for better work-life balance right now: Baby boomers may be looking for time to care for aging parents, while members of Generation X may need flexibility to care for children.
"The truth is, almost anyone can benefit from flexible scheduling. I often see employers targeting millennials with information about work-life balance, but they should promote that to all prospective employees," she said.
Myth: They aren't loyal employees.
One of the myths Bennett hears most often is that millennials jump from job to job more often than other workers and don't feel loyal to their employers. But that may have more to do with economic forces than any sort of generational trait.
Many millennials entered the workforce during the most recent recession, which caused many companies to lay off employees or offer lower-than-usual starting salaries. Many companies weren't hiring at all, which could have forced young workers into jobs they weren't excited to take. And some young workers also may have had opportunities for advancement as older generations retired, Bennett said.
These same forces and opportunities affected members of almost every generation, noted Bennett, and movement between jobs wasn't only an issue for millennials and Gen Z.
Myth: They're all tech experts.
While it's true that younger workers grew up with computers, smartphones and apps, it doesn't mean they're better with technology than other employees, Bennett said.
Proficient use of social media is not the same thing as being competent with complex database systems or programming languages, and employers may unfairly expect younger workers to be more tech savvy. Employers should recruit candidates based on their skills and knowledge, not their age.
Myth: They're mainly motivated by social issues.
Like most employees, young workers are motivated more by pay, Bennett said.
And they're not the only workers who care about issues like environmental sustainability. Bennett said her research showed that older employees also say they want to work for companies that promote positive social causes.
Myth: They need constant praise.
One of the most persistent and frustrating myths Bennett sees is the idea that younger workers expect constant positive feedback from their bosses. She said the myth can even cause managers to shy away from providing any feedback at all.
"We all have higher work satisfaction when we receive feedback. Everyone wants to know they are doing good work and making a difference," she said.
Universal workplace values.
Bennett often works with companies who are struggling to throw out stereotypes, and she finds a simple visualization often helps.
"I tell them to remember how they felt during their first job. I ask them to remember how it felt to be uncertain about your own performance in a new job and how good it felt to be given positive feedback and to know your work mattered. Think about how you felt when you were — or weren't — offered opportunities for promotion."
Bennett's research shows there are many universal values, such as receiving feedback and praise, that job seekers of all ages are looking for — not just millennials and Gen Z.
Finally, it's important to remember that every generation has negative and positive things to say about those that come before or after, Bennett said, but those myths and stereotypes are often not based in fact.
"People behave differently at different ages and life cycle stages. Remember to value these differences — we all have the ability to contribute when we feel valued."