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Are Millennials lazy?

Many people -- either under their breath at the office, or in a barroom fit of self-righteousness with friends -- have sounded off about the "younger generation." The parents of Baby Boomers no doubt did it. Boomers did it. Generation X-ers, without question.

I am still mining a lengthy Pew Research Center report on the millennial generation -- those now mostly in their 20s -- especially a finding that says millennials are the first generation not to cite work ethic as one of their top defining characteristics. I am working on a story that will feature older employers and young people trading their observations about these conclusions, but I need your help: Which companies or industries in the Washington region should I be reaching out to?

The Pew report shows how generations regard themselves. For instance, what were the top five things that millennials felt made them "unique?" According to the report, 24 percent said technology; 11 percent noted the music and pop culture they grew up on; seven percent pointed to their liberal politics and "tolerance" of others; four percent said they were "smarter"; and five percent picked out fashion. For comparison, here are the top five defining qualities Generation X-ers picked out for themselves: Technology, work ethic, conservative or traditional values; their superior intellect; and being respectful.

I blogged about this issue earlier in the month, when Story Lab conducted a poll asking the question: Do millennials (ages 14-33) care less about working hard? The poll gave voters four answers to choose from. Its results: Out of 88 poll-takers, 37 percent checked off: "Work just isn't as important as other aspects of life." Thirty percent dismissed the question by answering: "That's just resentment from older folks--it's all individual." But 25 percent of our poll-takers checked off the harsh option: "Younger workers don't work as hard as older ones--they've never learned to take responsibility." Another 6 percent answered: "Older folks were that way when they were young too."

This week, I touched on work ethic issues in a story about the tension between older doctors and younger medical residents, who are training with limits on how much they can work per week. Baby Boomer and Generation X-er doctors sometimes feel like they're a tougher and perhaps better trained breed because they worked 120-hour weeks and 36-hour shifts in their residencies. But in 2003, out of concern that doctors were getting tired and making errors, residents were capped to 80 hours a week. Now, the governing body of the nation's residency programs may reduce the maximum even more, possibly to as low as 60 hours.

But beyond medicine, it's the entire young generation that stands accused of devoting less of their energy to work than older generations did. Do you see that in your workplace? I'd like to hear from employers and employees alike: Do you see generational differences in attitudes toward work and its centrality in life? Please share your comments on the comment board below....

By Ian Shapira  | March 23, 2010; 10:01 AM ET
Categories:  Build-A-Story  
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Comments

Let's see... . Earlier generations than the Millennials mentioned here were financially more able to live on single incomes, could buy houses in flourishing neighborhoods with functioning infrastructure, could raise children and pay for their college, had fewer debts from higher education, could get credit for business ventures, could expect to have a career rather than an endless series of low-benefit jobs, and even after the disastrous advent of 401(k) plans were well provided for with retirement plans including pensions. They *had* things to work *for*. Take those things away, and the motivation isn't there.

Posted by: Bertilak | March 23, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Why are you asking 14-year olds about work ethic? They're not even legally allowed to work, nor are they legally allowed to leave school--and no, school work is not the same as work-work. There are plenty of people who flounder in school but succeed in adult life, and vice versa, in every generation.

If a fifth of this millenial generation is still in high school, where most of them are focusing on school work over paying outside-the-home work, I'm not sure you can really compare that generation to generations where the entire cohort is over the age of majority.

Posted by: dkp01 | March 23, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

You must have lived in a different world than I did. I am 50 and I was never accepted for any loans for business ventures and I tried. I was once told I could not get $500.00 loan with a car for security because I might get pregnant and not pay it back. Career moves were always secretarial positions until I obtained by four year degree at night.

There is no such thing as the good ole days and boomers did not have any special deals.

Posted by: pkm123 | March 23, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

This article is asking a quantitative question based on qualitative questions (i.e. based on subjective perceptions). Some Millenials do enjoy more protections regarding the number of hours they can be forced to work (as well as under which conditions). Others have seen a decrease in protections with the fall of unions. It is possible that we (I am a Millenial, currently working full-time and overtime) spend fewer hours in the office, but we're still required to get the same results. With the advent of email and other messaging technology, it's possible that output-per-hour exceeds that of previous generations, especially since there is a larger working force (yay, women's lib!). What can that really tell us about the work ethic of an entire generation, though? The Pew study will have been confounded by changing attitudes about work ethic (is it not cool anymore?). There needs to be a better way to measure work ethic directly.

Posted by: solamadoo | March 23, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Also, not to be a snob, but I don't see any doctorates on the Pew Center's staff.
http://pewresearch.org/about/staff/

I only have a BA, but still I'd like to see an academic, peer-reviewed study conducted on this topic before I start trusting the data.

Posted by: solamadoo | March 23, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I think the issue is not one of laziness, but more the personal responsibility mixed with some false sense of entitlement. I work in consulting and find that the oldest Millennials have the problem of coming into the workforce after the ridiculous salary inflation of the late 90's - so they think that starting salaries of 50K and 10-15% raises each year are to be expected - even in this down economy.

I've been fascinated with reading about the HR issues related to Millenials - how their parents went from being over-involved in their school work to being over-involved in obtaining their first job (to the point where parents are getting on the phone and negotiating starting salaries for their kids). So no wonder there is no personal responsibility - these folks have never had to do anything on their own.

To answer the initial question though, I do not see this generation as more lazy than any other. They work just as hard, but because of comfort with technology perhaps lets their personal and work life bleed into one another much more than other generations, so perhaps the perception is they are not working as hard.

Posted by: onesmallsuitcase | March 23, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

As a Millennial I believe that my generation, as a whole, is not lazy. Every generation has people with a variety of work styles and work ethics; the Millennial generation is no different. The Pew Research Center's question asked participants to define the generation as a whole, not how they categorize themselves personally.

The vast majority of my Millennial friends work hard, have goals and take pride in what they do. While working and having a job is obviously important, it does not completely define a person's life.

I know many people my age that have lost their jobs in the last few years---including myself. Job losses have probably played a big role in how my generation views work. We've learned the hard way that you can love a job or career field but it won't necessarily love you back; however, this doesn't make us any less willing to work. This economy has shown us that while having a job is essential, devoting 110% of our time, energy and emotions to a job is not going to guarantee success in that position---and that is true for any worker, no matter what generation or business they're in.

@coreybyers / www.coreybyers.com

Posted by: coreybyers | March 23, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

No they are not lazy. In fact, they are smarter and bolder than any generation since the recostruction era. Why would any of the kids be loyal to a employer other than themselves, who systematically have destroyed people lives by laying off workers when there is alternatives to doing so. The biggest hint that they are not lazy is because they are getting educated formally even of they never work a day in there life. The only motivation left in this country is honed by the evil, greedy hateful folks that are out to destroy it before it's time.

Posted by: knjon353 | March 23, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

I don't think the millennial are lazy they are still young and maturing. Perhaps they are less inclined to let work dominate thier lifes as those before them?

Posted by: Timotious | March 23, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

As a Millennial I believe that my generation, as a whole, is not lazy. Every generation has people with a variety of work styles and work ethics; the Millennial generation is no different. The Pew Research Center's question asked participants to define the generation as a whole, not how they categorize themselves personally.

The vast majority of my Millennial friends work hard, have goals and take pride in what they do. While working and having a job is obviously important, it does not completely define a person's life.

I know many people my age that have lost their jobs in the last few years---including myself. Job losses have probably played a big role in how my generation views work. We've learned the hard way that you can love a job or career field but it won't necessarily love you back; however, this doesn't make us any less willing to work. This economy has shown us that while having a job is essential, devoting 110% of our time, energy and emotions to a job is not going to guarantee success in that position---and that is true for any worker, no matter what generation or business they're in.

@coreybyers / www.coreybyers.com

Posted by: coreybyers | March 23, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

___________________________________________

Very Well put.

Posted by: knjon353 | March 23, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

A further result of the lack of job security that @coreybyers points out is that a considerable amount of Millennials's work goes into individual projects, volunteer work (open source software for example) and blogs (like @byers' website) that doesn't get counted as traditional "work." In other words, millennials do and create, even when it looks like we're playing video games.

Posted by: cheeseroue | March 23, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

I would be considered Generation X. Like many of us were labeled as slackers - when many of us were not - the Millennials are being branded the same way...and again, by the Boomers.

I will say, though, that while Millennials aren't lazy, they are generally more entitled. When I got out of college, it never occurred to me that was going to be doing anything other than an entry level job with commensurate entry level salaries/raises/bonuses and job advancement opportunities. Many of those currently under 30 seem shocked when you tell them they may have to work the occasional evening or weekend, and are then further shocked when those that do it without (or with minimal) complaint get the raises, promotions and bonuses and they do not. (Not all, I've met many hard working and ambitious Millennials, but they are outnumbered by the more typical variety.)

It comes down to the entitlement - I think this is a generation that was predominantly raised by parents who were overly involved in their schooling, given much without having to earn it (I was raised upper middle class, and while my parents could have given me a lot, I had to have summer and weekend jobs to earn spending money), and constantly expounded on how oh so very special they are.

But even special people have to start at the bottom, unless they start their own company. And even then, if you start your own company, that's hard work, too, and usually more than 40 hours per week.

They are also quite certain they are more computer facile than anyone over 30. Which is an affectation they need to drop, because us 30-, 40- and 50-somethings are the ones who create the web sites, software, and hardware they can't live without. We may not see the need to constantly text our way through life, but considering the dropping rates of engineering and computer science majors in universities around the US, we are probably more knowledgeable than they are about how to make all those shiny toys work.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | March 23, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

So the Pew study is using a sample size of 88 respondents to assess the defining characteristics of an entire generation? The sample size is far too small to draw any real conclusions from.

Now this millenial needs to go finish her homework.

Posted by: theGelf | March 23, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

This is an interesting idea but no real data to back it up.

Every generation thinks the youngest generation are slackers. And some youngest generations admit that, in deed, they are....
this isn't new or news....

Posted by: mil1 | March 23, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

If the Millenials are less dedicated to work because they have seen their parents' careers crash and burn, then more power to them. Don't marry a job - it never marries you back. I'm a boomer -- and it's 7:21 pm, and I am still at work. Apparently I haven't learned my lesson.

Posted by: pirate1 | March 23, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

I'm pretty sure this same story was run in 1994 under the title "Are Gen-Xers Lazy?"

Posted by: reiflame1 | March 23, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Millenials are generally, smug, lazy, whiny crybaby jack@sses.

Posted by: bendan2000 | March 23, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse

I've got it! Instead of writing yet another article about Baby Boomers, GenX, GenY, Millenials, etc., why don't you write an article about why it doesn't make any sense to lump millions of vastly different people into a group and assign them all a common attribute?

Posted by: no_uniquemypostids_left | March 23, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Who was the dumb editor who assigned this piece of trash? I just watched a History Channel piece on WW2, in which it was said that generation of young people were felt to soft and degenerate to fight the Japanese. I seem to recall Adolf Hitler had similar views of degenerate Americans when he declared war on the United States. Good luck with your story.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | March 23, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

We aren't lazy, we just do what it takes older folks to do in a third of the time, especially in terms of computer stuff. We grew up with computers, understand what they can do for us, and find the best process to make it work for us.

Bottom line: Millennials work smarter, not harder.

Posted by: brocrow2000 | March 23, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

One might also argue that Millennials are the first generation in quite some time to get the whole work/life balance thing right. Perhaps being defined by your work is the pathology.

Posted by: ElJocko | March 23, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Slackers? Plenty of millennials work for good causes, are independent from their parents, do volunteer work and are all around hard workers. This article is full of it.

Posted by: LG717 | March 23, 2010 10:02 PM | Report abuse

I have to admit, I think some of us Millennials do have a different kind of work ethic than say, our parents do. I wouldn't say this makes our generation "lazy," we may just pursue our goals differently. I know that I, for one, have no deep seated need to work in one job for my entire life and rise within the ranks from within. It's difficult to develop the sort of loyalty and above and beyond devotion to a job often associated by older people as a traditional work ethic in this economy when the first-hired-first-fired rule is being implemented with such frequency, and fewer opportunities for advancement are presenting themselves as the predicted retirees are staying on longer than expected to recoup the nest egg lost to the housing/credit/stock market/tech bubble. I have no regrets saying that my own personal gain is, in the long run, generally more important to me than what may benefit my employer. I know plenty of people my age who work diligently for long hours, who work for little to no pay, who have no job security, who can't afford to move out of their parents' houses, who can't find work coming our of school or a layoff, and who suffer financially for idealistic careers. Perhaps the question you refer to is the real culprit here- poorly worded to capture the whole story, in my opinion.

Posted by: maryberry | March 23, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

I agree with others who have pointed out that the real question here is how we define what constitutes a "strong work ethic"? What makes a person a "hard worker"? I'm a millenial. I've personally experienced the tension you describe in my work place. While on one hand, I do think this is an ego-driven phenomena (our perceptions tend to be self-serving in general) that's as old as time immemorial, I do believe that there are important value-driven differences between the generations that are either under-researched or under-reported. Rather than speculate, I'll look forward to reading what you find after you conduct additional research. In addition to area academics who specialize in social psychology & sociology, you might ask organizational behaviorists their views and see if any local staffing firms have opinions to share. Best of luck to you.

Posted by: graceyj | March 24, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Too much damaged for millennials generation. Most of them suffer repulation damaged. They destoryed their dreams and happiness.

Posted by: Readist | March 26, 2010 1:26 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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