Q&A: Don’t believe these Millennial myths

Members of this generation are often stereotyped as disloyal, unprofessional, and tech-savvy—but the truth is far more complex, says Jason Dorsey.
By Dawn Wotapka

Jason Dorsey
Jason Dorsey, co-founder of the Center for Generational Kinetics, says organizations need to "have a conversation that talks about each of the generations and the value they bring." (Photo courtesy of The Center for Generational Kinetics)

Jason Dorsey is a sought-after "Millennial whisperer." As the co-founder of the Center for Generational Kinetics in Austin, Texas, he works with organizations around the world to figure out how people from different generations can play, live, and work together. He is a blend of a researcher and a cultural anthropologist whose clients include Frito-Lay, GE, Mercedes-Benz, and Visa.

The Center for Generational Kinetics defines Millennials as the generation born between 1977 and 1995 (there's no hard-and-fast rule for when generations begin or end, and some researchers have the generation starting a little bit later). Dorsey, a 38-year-old Millennial, according to his definition of the generation, talked with the JofA about Millennials and the accounting profession. An edited transcript of that discussion follows:

Millennials have been a hot topic for a while now. Do we still need to be talking and writing about them?

Dorsey: There is definitely fatigue. People are just going: "Haven't we heard enough about the Millennials? Aren't they just going to grow out of it?" The reality is, Millennials aren't growing out of it. They're just growing up and having more influence.

You've got what is the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. We're going to outspend every other generation in the U.S. this year, and we have the greatest lifetime value of any client you can win. If you really look at us in context, there's a good reason people are talking about Millennials. The problem is, we're just having the wrong conversation.

What is the right conversation?

Dorsey: What are the things that we can hope to gain from Millennials when they join our workforce to unlock their talent? What are the things we can do to best bridge the generations without having to cater to or coddle them as employees so that everyone wins?

What should employers know about Millennials?

Dorsey: If Gen X and Boomers think back to when they entered the workforce, [they'll remember that] they also brought change with them. Millennials are proving to be more resilient and not giving up their characteristics to fit in and make it work. They're actually saying, "No, I'm going to do it in this different way."

Now, there are plenty of similarities: They still want to feel valued like everybody, they want to feel included, and they want to feel challenged. They want to be a part of the company. They want to take on more responsibility. These are all great things to have, but Millennials may communicate them differently. And they may be motivated differently. They may think about work/life balance differently, and even the prospect of loyalty or paying your dues may look different to them. The employers who recognize this and adapt are having a massive advantage.

What are some misconceptions that you think the accounting profession has about Millennials?

Dorsey: The first is that Millennials are going to know how to work in a professional environment. You may have people with no work experience showing up, and they don't know some of the basic things. That doesn't mean they won't be great accountants. They may be phenomenal accountants. But they may not know how to participate in a meeting with a client or how to present ideas to executives. Or even things as simple as the right way to dress in a client meeting versus an internal meeting. A lot of that is just learned through experience.

The myth is, "Oh, Millennials don't know how to work. Look, they're dressed inappropriately, or they said the wrong thing during the meeting." The reality is, they've never learned to do it the right way. They were not taught in school, "Here is how you dress for a meeting. Here is how you shake hands. Here is how you carry yourself in a professional setting." It may sound ridiculous to older generations that this basic training is necessary, but this is a generation that was not exposed to it in school, college, or even their own community. However, when you train them very early on and say, "Hey, look, here's top things to know in order to really be high-performing here," they're amazing.

Another fiction is that people think Millennials are disloyal. Other generations might say being a loyal employee is working somewhere three years or five years, and Millennials may define it as a shorter duration. However, we have many companies that we've worked with that have Millennials who have worked with them for three, five, seven years. It's easy to pick on the ones that show up, stay for three months, and leave, but we would say those were mis-hires rather than representative of Millennials. The reality is, we have to look at what's driving turnover rather than just measuring it and blaming it on the generation.

The third one is everyone thinks ­Millennials are tech-savvy. This is particularly true in more traditional industries. The reality is that Millennials are not tech-savvy. We are tech-dependent, and there's an important distinction. We don't know how technology works; we just know we cannot live without it. People just assume that because we can text without looking, we clearly know how to send a fax or hook up the printer. The reality is that we don't.

What can employers in the accounting profession do to attract Millennials?

Dorsey: What Millennials want to see when they look for an accounting job is: How does this accounting function role or pathway really affect the overall business? Is the accounting going to be used for innovation? Is it going to be used for any one of 10 things that will actually make a difference in the company? Millennials, more than any other generation, want to make a difference from their very first day. When you're trying to recruit them, they need to see how the function fits into the overall organization and that there is a significance to the role. 

The second thing is, you want to humanize the work culture. What that means is Millennials really want to see what it is like to actually work for an employer. One of the best ways to do that is [through] video. Not the overly produced, fake video where you hire a production crew, but the homemade style of video with Millennials saying, "This is what it's really like to work here." You really have to humanize what that experience is on a day-to-day basis through somebody they can identify with. Once you make this video with your smartphone, the place to post the video is directly on your employment or recruiting page of your website. Millennials are immensely visual learners. They love to click a "play" button and see someone like them explaining a company's culture. Put the video right where you want the Millennials to see it: on the page where they apply for a job with you!

At the same time, talk about the culture and the mission of the organization. Every company out there has a mandate to make money, but Millennials also expect the company to take some of the profits or some of their talent or some of their resources and use that to make the community, their people, or the world a better place.

Millennials also want to see what types of challenges and opportunities they're going to have in their first 12 months. A lot of times people want to promote the career pathway and talk about five years, 10 years. None of that makes sense to Millennials. You need to focus on that first year.

Why doesn't anyone care about Gen X? No one talks about them.

Dorsey: They're a shorter generation in duration compared to Boomers and Millennials. Because of all the things they've experienced, they're more skeptical, they're more self-reliant.

What do you suggest employers talk about?

Dorsey: The most important thing when you're having a conversation about generational differences, similarities, or characteristics is not to have a "Millennials conversation," because you're going to immediately lose half the people involved—or maybe all the people. What we always want to do is have a conversation that talks about each of the generations and the value they bring—from their similarities to their differences—not a conversation solely around Millennials. That way, every generation knows they're going to be included, and everybody knows that they're important no matter their birth year.


About the author

Dawn Wotapka is a Georgia-based freelance writer.

Keynote appearance

Hear more from Jason Dorsey at AICPA ENGAGE, where he will be a keynote speaker. More information is available at aicpaengage.com.

To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, associate editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-4125.


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