Millennial: Reverse Ageism at its worst

The “M” Word (Millennial): Reverse Ageism at its worst…

We know that making sweeping generalizations about any group of people being “lazy,” “unprofessional,” “unreliable,” or “narcissistic” is repugnant. Unless we are talking about the dreaded “M” word,  Millennials. Then, apparently, it’s okay.    

After years of having their generation smeared by Baby Boomers, Gen X, and the media, Millennials are perceived negatively as professionals at first glance.

Millennials often enter a workplace climate in which it is okay to make negative assumptions about the quality of work they can produce, the professionalism they will display, and their dedication to their job.

It is called Reverse Ageism and it presents a serious hurdle to young talent in your office no matter how capable they actually are.

And the problem is not cost-free. The impact of these negative stereotypes contributes to high turnover rates of Millennials, costing the US economy billions of dollars every year and negatively impact the productivity and culture of individual organizations.  For an organization with 50,000 employees, 40% of which are Millennials, this can be a billion dollar problem annually – billion with a B.

With generational tensions already high, it is important to understand the extent of the negative stereotyping of Millennial professionals and how you can help rid your workplace of Reverse Ageism.

The Problem of Reverse Ageism

Regular stereotyping of Millennial workers in pop culture and offices alike has led to socially acceptable age-discrimination against younger staff. According to a report titled  Discriminating Against Millennials in the Workplace Analysis on Age Discrimination Against Young Adults, Millennials face a perception in the workplace from older staff of being “entitled, hard to train, and uncommitted to their position of employment.”

And this perception has real ramifications for the young talent in your office.

In their paper Too Old or Too Young? The Impact of Perceived Age Discrimination, authors Ed Snape and Tom Redman cite a study which found that “being seen as untrustworthy and being given less responsibility were common” among undergraduate business students. And that is if they are hired at all; experts now cite a hesitancy in employers over hiring younger staff.

Even worse, this is happening at the beginning of Millennial’s careers, right when they need opportunities to learn, develop, and hone their professional skills the most. But too often they are never given those opportunities, forcing them to leave their employer —re-confirming the ‘job-hunting’ stereotype— and continuing the negative cycle at their next job.  

Reverse Ageism Is a Million Dollar Problem for Companies

Ageism isn’t just a bummer deal for Millennials. If you are a mid to large sized company, reverse ageism could potentially be costing you millions of dollars, your most productive employees, and ruining your company culture.

On average, Millennials stay in a role for 1.3 years, which Gallup estimates costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually. That’s a ton of coin.

And money isn’t the only loss for companies. Recruitment costs, onboarding costs, loss of productivity from watching colleagues leave, and lower productivity of new hires all negatively affect a company, its culture and its bottom line. Not to mention these young staff that are leaving are often more productive than senior staff and almost universally less expensive to hire, hurting your bottom line even further.

These are real costs to your company, but they are fixable. They require thought, time, investment and a commitment to emphasizing the strengths of your Millennial staff and helping the five generations working together today to bridge the gaps between them and leverage their unique strengths.

Millennials Have Unique Gifts and Gaps

Unlike the other four generations in the workplace, Millennials have a unique set of talents and disadvantages: what they may lack in interpersonal skills they make up for in fast research through collaboration, for example.  They have real strengths as employees. It is certainly true that they may not have the industry knowledge of a 30-year veteran, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bring powerful value to your organization.

For one, while it may be true Millennials lack some essential professional skills, they are happier than any other generation to develop and hone their skills given the chance. Gallup found that 87% of Millennials believe “development is important in a job” and development opportunities regularly score higher than pay when Millennials rank the benefits of a job.

Millennials are also fantastic when it comes to problem solving using technology, are very strong collaborators, and are professionally curious. The point being, while they may not be walking into your office on the first day of work as perfectly polished professionals, they have the eagerness and desire to learn that should allow you to sculpt them into the exact type professional you think will thrive in your organization.

The catch is that they know when they are liked, wanted, respected and valued.

Investment really is the key. Employers who want to put a stop to both the generational tensions in their office and the high turnover rate of Millennials need to take the time to train the enterprise to bridge generational gaps. That process starts with providing Millennials with the training opportunities that develop their professional skills and make them feel that they are valued in the workplace and gives them a sense of progressing as professionals.

We suspect you might even be surprised by what they can do.