New research raises serious questions about the truth of generational differences and the attitudes of millennials. In fact, Kenexa High Performance Institute research indicates the millennials often stand on common ground with their older counterparts, and in some key areas, the research suggests that the millennials may even turn out to be better employees and, eventually, better employers than their predecessors.

While the millennial sound bites may be voluminous, scientific research is scarce. So far, research into generational effects on things like work attitudes, work values and personality, has largely been unable to say whether the differences were based on a particular generation’s complaints, or were more universal concerns reflected by all generations at the same stages in their life and career. In short, although research to date has shed some light, we still are not sure if millennials are any different than any other generation when they were young.

Satisfaction, excitement and desire to leave
Millennial workers are often depicted as a unique and hard-to-manage generation. However, the KHPI research found that this unflattering picture is inaccurate. Millennials are, in fact, much like their older counterparts. When it comes to pay, 42 percent of millennials say they are paid fairly, compared to 41 percent for baby boomers and 38 percent for Generation X. That means that more than half of millennials are unhappy with their pay, and while that’s an area for improvement, it’s not that different from their older peers.

One statistic that managers and human resource executives should take note of, however, is that a full third of millennials working today are considering leaving their current job in search of better opportunities. Generation X is almost as restless, with 27 percent considering a job move, while only 19 percent of baby boomers are considering leaving.

While this is an area for managers to address, it’s important to realise that this is likely to be an age issue and not a generational issue unique to millennials. Looking back at our survey results from 1990 we found that 31 percent of 27 year-old Generation X’ers were considering leaving their organisation. Almost two decades later, in 2009, we found that 31 percent of 27 year-old millennials were also considering leaving. Life is full of opportunities for young employees and they aren’t afraid to explore them.

L&D lessons for managing millennials
While the hype and headlines demand attention, the facts speak for themselves; when it comes to the workplace, the differences in attitude are shockingly slight. So should L&D professionals abandon all generation-based interventions? Not necessarily, but they should be reviewed carefully.

Simon Foster, client solutions director at Kenexa’s leadership division, recommends the following:

• Research your own employees to understand the true differences that may exist in your workplace, don’t just rely on the newspaper headlines to drive an L&D strategy.
• Just because young people have a different attitude towards technology, doesn’t mean that their attitudes in the workplace are that much different to their elders.
• Value the differences in young people in your organisation, but remember that they probably aren’t that much different from you when you were that age.
• As with all employees, treat them as individuals: rather than generalise about a whole tranche of employees, ensure that your managers take the time to understand what motivates each of their team, and what their career aspirations are.
• The impact of tuition fees won’t be known for a few years, but may drive a steeper career drive in millennials as they try to repay these costs. Ensure that you give employees the opportunity to grow and develop as quickly as they want to.
• As the population ages, and we have four generations working in the same office, embrace this diversity by encouraging win-win relationships between digital natives and more experienced – but possibly less technologically fluent – colleagues.