- Libby Mustaine – Professor of Sociology
- Chris Leo – Lecturer, Integrated Business
- Bill Steiger – Associate Instructor of Marketing; Instructor & Coordinator, Professional Selling Program
- Bob Danna – Retired Managing Director, Deloitte
Paul Jarley: Some say they’re the result of failed parenting strategies. Others say they’re addicted to their phones, narcissistic, and entitled. The Western Michigan Whitecaps celebrated them by giving the first thousand people to come watch the team’s baseball game a participation trophy.
Whitecaps Fan: Oh, you know, we just really want a participation trophy.
Whitecaps Fan 2: Yeah.
Whitecaps Fan: It’s been a long week of hard work and-
Whitecaps Fan 2: We really earned it.
Whitecaps Fan: I feel like we really deserve something.
Paul Jarley: They job hop, have no loyalty, and want to have an impact, yet their greatest invention just might be selfie. Consultants everywhere just can’t stop talking about them. Millennials want you to think they’re special, but maybe, just maybe, they’re just like the rest of us.
Paul Jarley: This show is all about separating hype from fundamental change. I’m Paul Jarley, Dean of the College of Business here at UCF. I’ve got lots of questions. To get answers, I’m talking to people with interesting insights into the future of business. Have you ever wondered, “Is this really a thing?” On to our show.
Paul Jarley: Like all data-driven decision makers, I’m sensitive to the differences in my staff’s dispositions when assigning them tasks. A few examples. Tiffany is an Aries like me. Anyone that knows Tiff recognizes that she needs to be in a leadership position to satisfy her need for control.
Tiffany Hughes: I believe I’m tough. I believe I can negotiate extremely well.
Paul Jarley: But if Tiff is an Aries, she’s also cold-hearted, reckless, and ruthless.
Tiffany Hughes: Oh, my heavens, no. I hope not.
Paul Jarley: And then there’s the Aries’ legendary ability to deliver bad news.
Tiffany Hughes: Every day I try to look for the sunshine.
Paul Jarley: Yeah, not her. My Associate Dean of Learning, Foard Jones, is a Libra. Like all Libras, he’s extremely intellectual and needs a job that is mentally stimulating. Libras are excellent networkers and take a look at every aspect of the job before completing it. But if Foard’s a Libra, that should also mean he’s resentful, overindulgent, spiteful, indecisive, and gullible.
Foard Jones: At times, but most of the times, no. [laughs]
Paul Jarley: That doesn’t sound like Foard. Libras sound more like Catbert, the evil HR manager from Gilbert. Good thing I took Foard out of that role. That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? No one in their right mind would assign people jobs based on their astrological sign. I don’t know a single reputable management consultant that argues we need to tailor our company HR policies and people’s roles to their birth month. But I do know a ton that say we should vary these same policies based on people’s birth year.
Paul Jarley: They say things like this.
Bob Danna: One of the things that we’ve teased out is that diversity and flexibility are the key to loyalty. The younger workers, the younger of the millennials feel that they are unprepared for industry 4.0.
Paul Jarley: Bob Danna sits on my Dean’s Advisory Board. He’s a retired managing director at Deloitte. Bob has spent much of his career studying people in the workplace. We’ll hear much more from him a bit later.
Paul Jarley: For the record, there are seven living generations in America today. But practically speaking, just four are currently in the workplace. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Generation X-ers were born between 1965 and 1979. Millennials were born between 1980 and 1994. And Generation Z, people who were born between 1995 and 2012. Right now, the millennials are the ones making the news. The boomers are retiring. Nobody ever thinks about Generation X. And Generation Z is really just getting to adulthood.
Paul Jarley: So, if you wanna position yourself as a management consultant who is in the know about generations and make money doing it, you focus on millennials. They’re a very large group entering the primes of their career. But are they really different, or is all this generational advice what Sheldon Cooper might call-
Shelden Cooper: Just as I suspected, nothing but hokum.
Paul Jarley: To find out, I started at the source, millennials themselves.
Jean Paul Enriquez: My name is Jean Paul Enriquez, and I’m a junior in the College of Business.
Amaireny Lantigua: I’m Amaireny Lantigua. I’m a junior.
Austen Horton: My name’s Austen Horten.
Paul Jarley: I didn’t have to go far to get their take.
Jean Paul Enriquez: Well, the first thing I gotta say is that we definitely always use our phones. We’re attached to technology like never before. Something else is, apparently, we are … we feel like we’re entitled to a lot of things. We’re entitled to more than what we deserve. The last thing is, we lack social intelligence compared to other generations.
Amaireny Lantigua: When I think about the things that sets millennials apart, would be the technology, as well. Another different thing that sets generations apart will be the culture and what each generation … current events in each generation were.
Austen Horton: We’re impatient, confused, and challenged. Rather than entitled, I think impatient’s a better word because a lot of millennials, they just want things done fast. It’s not like they feel they deserve it, it’s just they feel they deserve it quicker.
Paul Jarley: Attached to technology, entitled or impatient, socially awkward in face to face situations, confused, challenged, and lost.
YouTube Clip: Adulting is hard.
Paul Jarley: Good lord. How did they get this way? Professor Libby Mustaine is chair of the UCF sociology department.
Libby Mustaine: So, I think there are some differences in values.
Paul Jarley: She stresses the importance of early life experiences.
Libby Mustaine: There are historical things that happened. Period effects, if you will, that actually do impact the way people grow up and the way people respond to the experiences that they’ve had. I think a couple of really important things that have happened with millennials is technology. We are so … Think about when we were growing up. I was telling my kids the other day, I was like, “Here you are walking around with a smartphone, all of your friends have one. When I was your age, I had a phone that was tacked to the wall, and if I wanted any privacy at all, I had to hope the cord was long enough and I could go around the corner and talk on the phone.” And then, inevitably, my sister would come and interrupt me and say, “I need time on the phone.” Today, we have nothing like that. We just call each other on our own little personal thing.
Paul Jarley: And then, there’s Google.
Libby Mustaine: You can find out information wherever, whenever, whatever, today. All of that is so impactful, I think, on a generation.
Paul Jarley: Bob sees things a little differently. He believes long run industry and technology cycles create pairs of generations that tend to repeat themselves over time.
Bob Danna: I think that we’re on a major cycle that’s probably 40 or 50 years in length, including the technology cycle. If you think of the technology revolution that was going on in the 70s, the boomers really drove a big portion of that, and now, looking at the industry 4.0, all of the automation, and connectivity, and A.I., and cognitive technologies, and robotics, that the millennials will drive and are starting to drive, there’s some real parallels to that. The smaller generations that followed both, the X-ers and now the Z’s, probably gonna generally fall in behind those major generations. But it’s not only kind of a generational element, but the cycle is probably more like a 40 or 50 year cycle than just a generational cycle, a single generational cycle.
Paul Jarley: Baby boomers and millennials share characteristics because they kicked off technology cycles, while Generation X-ers and Z’s are similar because they closed out these cycles.
Bob Danna: I think there’s a number of defining features for both of those groups that actually parallel quite interestingly the characteristics that were associated with both the boomers and the Gen X’s. I’ll just go through them really quickly. Millennials were seen as optimistic. Gen Z are now starting to be seen as realistic. And think about boomers and X’s as I’m going through here, as well.
Paul Jarley: We’re going to give you some common contrasts between boomers and X-ers along the way so you can compare. Nothing scientific. Boomers, optimistic. X-ers, pragmatic.
Bob Danna: Millennials, collaborative. The Gen Z, independent.
Paul Jarley: Boomers, consensus. X-ers, independent.
Bob Danna: Millennials, digital pioneers. Gen Z, digital natives.
Paul Jarley: Boomers, early IT adopters. X-ers, digital immigrants.
Bob Danna: When it comes to millennials, they’re very public. We’re seeing on the Gen Z, they’re becoming more private.
Paul Jarley: I got nothing here. Bob’s right. Some of his contrasts have obvious parallels between boomers and X-ers. But others, well, they just don’t seem to fit. For example, social media didn’t exist in the baby boomer, Generation X era, so the privacy contrast that seemed to differentiate millennials from Z-ers just doesn’t apply to the two earlier generations. Makes you wonder, are all these labels really accurate? Libby Mustaine points to some limitations of this research.
Libby Mustaine: What are the millennials like? And we come up with some list of characteristics. Some of them are a little bit stereotypical, because we don’t all have all of them, you know? I think there’s definitely limitations, because society does not do a complete 180 every 25 years. And I think a lot of times with generations the differences with the generation is … are the younger people. And as you get older, you begin to lose, perhaps, some of your uniquenesses.
Paul Jarley: These differences might fade pretty quickly. Bill Steiger, head of our Professional Selling Program, sees no real differences across generations of college students and what they want in a career.
Bill Steiger: I just studied the 2,000 business students here at UCF with regard to what are their expectations for their first job? What are they looking for? What’s important to them? What I found is, some of the basis for my study was a questionnaire used ten years ago with Gen X-ers. And guess what? Four of the top five things that were most important were exactly the same.
Bill Steiger: Number one was the job itself. In other words, a meaningful job. Number two was a defined career path. Number three was supervision. Number four was comp. It was the only extrinsic motivator in the top five. And the other one was … the fifth one was personal development.
Paul Jarley: So, supervision was about feedback? Is that what you’re-
Bill Steiger: A defined feedback loop. And in business, the days of the annual performance appraisal are over. They’re done. Nobody in their right mind, even with boomers, wants an annual performance appraisal.
Paul Jarley: The serious empirical work on generations is far from conclusive. Listen to Dr. Chris Leo from our Integrated Business Program.
Chris Leo: There’s a lot of conflict with this. So you’ve got one researcher by the name of Dr. Jean Twenge who’s written a book called The Me Generation and sold over a hundred thousand copies, and she purports that her research supports that there are generational or cohort differences.
Paul Jarley: Which generation does she think is the me generation?
Chris Leo: That would be the millennial generation.
Paul Jarley: So, it’s really interesting to note that the original me generation were the baby boomers.
Chris Leo: And this is the other problem, is how do you define the millennials versus Gen Y, versus Gen X? There are a lot of different authors and researchers that have different definitions. Some Pew research says that millennials start from 1981. Other researchers say 1970. So there’s no agreement among researchers as to how do we clearly define these generational cohorts.
Chris Leo: In the other camp, you’ve got a researcher by the name of David Costanza, who’s at George Washington University, who says look, there’s no empirically sound research that is able to pull out time effects and age effects versus just looking at the generational cohort.
Paul Jarley: If the research on generational differences is so shaky, why do people keep wanting to talk about it? Bill Steiger offers one explanation.
Bill Steiger: It’s fun to talk about. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s evident in popular press. And it, in fact, provides some basis to explain what is inexplicable, which is the way that people behave.
Paul Jarley: Chris Leo says maybe it’s the almighty dollar.
Chris Leo: This is big business. There are generational consultants. There’s … I mean, the author that I mentioned, she sold 115,000 copies of her book.
Paul Jarley: Nobody in the College of Business is against making a buck. But both Chris and Bill agree that basing your HR policies on generational differences is a very dangerous thing to do.
Bill Steiger: I think any situation where you make an assumption based upon how the other person is going to react, if you make that assumption before you ask questions, you listen, you are going to find yourself in some deep water, because people don’t behave the way that, fundamentally, they always behave within a generation.
Paul Jarley: Chris explains this concern in greater detail.
Chris Leo: I think that it leads us to stereotyping. We cannot assume that a person who was born in 1981, that may have these stereotypical characteristics, to be like another person or to be different from a person who was born as a Gen X-er. So, we would say that … a common stereotype is, well, you know the millennial generations are more tech savvy. Well, I mean, that’s not to say that a Gen X-er may not be as tech savvy. You never look at the average and then apply that average to the individual. That’s dangerous.
Paul Jarley: Great. If this is all hokum, what do I tell my millennials, all of whom believe they’re part of a special generation destined for greatness?
Chris Leo: Well, I mean … I think we’re … I think every generation is great. I think every generation is special. Everyone is unique. But, the recipe for success doesn’t change. Whether you’re in this generation or that generation, it’s hard work, and it’s persistence, and it’s taking risks, smart risks, and persisting in the face of failure.
Paul Jarley: Chris, by the way, is a millennial.
Bill Steiger: I would guess that last year’s undefeated UCF football team, Scott Frost didn’t tell every player that they were special. Everybody had a role. That role varies. And within context of when you were born, you have a role. Whether you’re special or not really is determined by you.
Paul Jarley: Yes. Everything at UCF eventually does come back to our National Championship football team. Both Bill and Chris might poo poo generational research, but they both believe in period effects. And as Bob Danna notes, the times, they are a changing.
Bob Danna: The younger workers, the younger of the millennials, feel that they are unprepared for industry 4.0. They expect the companies they’re working for actually to help them prepare for industry 4.0. So, what happens after everything that can be automated is automated? Everything that’s turned over to AI and cognitive technologies has been turned over to AI and cognitive technologies. Everything that’s self-service is self-service. What’s left for them? How are they gonna now contribute in an organization? They feel unprepared to answer that question.
Paul Jarley: If you’re a boomer or an X-er, you probably think you’re gonna be able to retire before this wave really hits. But if you’re a millennial starting the middle of your career, this scares you to death. And frankly, it keeps deans like me up at night. How do we prepare students for this great unknown? It’s time to call the question. So, do you think millennials are a thing? From Libby Mustaine.
Libby Mustaine: Yes, I do.
Paul Jarley: From Bob Danna.
Bob Danna: I’m a big believer that there are generational differences.
Paul Jarley: From Chris Leo.
Chris Leo: We like using labels.
Paul Jarley: From Bill Steiger.
Bill Steiger: No, I don’t think they’re a useful thing.
Paul Jarley: It’s my podcast, so I get to go last. Boomers started the IT revolution. Millennials launched the digital age. These two generations have had the huge impact on our world. But that doesn’t mean that they’re all wired the same way. Gross generalizations are dangerous, and some things are timeless. A good job is one of them. And as far as millennials wanting things too fast, well, that sounds a lot like that old guy who tells kids to get off of his lawn. Sorry, millennials, you’re not special, and you’re not really a thing.
Tiffany Hughes: Oh, heavens, I hope we didn’t hurt anybody’s feelings.
Paul Jarley: What’s your take? Check us out online and share your thoughts at business.ucf.edu/podcast. You can also find extended interviews with our guests, and notes from the show.
Paul Jarley: Special thanks to my producer, Josh Miranda, and the whole team at the Office of Outreach and Engagement here at the UCF College of Business. And thank you for listening. Until next time, charge on.