The Misunderstood Generation - understanding the Millennial mindset

“My Millennials, ‘stay woke”. Maxine Waters

8 mins read

C ome to think of it, this is the first time since modern history that all the four generations would play a role at the workplace at the same time. Incredible isn't it!

With the fast-paced technology driven changes everywhere around us lately, we are left with no choice but to discern and accept these changes without complaints and use them to our benefit. And the harbingers of this tech maniac lifestyle are the millennials.

To put this in context, it is now typical to find that the board of directors and the Group Chairman of many organizations are distinguished members of the baby boomer generation, while the Chief Executives are sterling examples of a successful generation X. To complement them, the Millennials now hold sway as the General Managers and Group Heads whilst the Generation Z joins the foray as the newer burgeoning work force and supervisors.

It’s indeed a great time to be alive!

There are no rules whatsoever on how interactions and conversations amongst these groups of individuals should go and we must in particular unlearn the things we hold dear. Just as we are in for a rude shock as we attempt to manage the expectations from the older generations with decades of years head start with that of the younger vibrant and non-conformist generations.

This is where the challenge lies!

We expect the Millenials to conform to the rules that Generation X and Baby Boomers stuck to doggedly for many many years. And once they do not align with those value systems, we term them rebels. We call them lazy! We admonish them for their short attention span and sudden lack of interest. We berate them for job hopping. We chide them for not respecting our values. We bug them for wanting to have flexible work hours. We look down on them like they are errant kids that lack focus. We hate that they live practically inside their phones. 

They have been called all sorts of names from cocky, entitled, delusional, superficial, coddled, narcissistic…and alot more words than I would like to put on here.

We simply can’t deal! They are everything the generation X aren’t. And they are therefore most misunderstood!

Perhaps a bit unfair, but we need to unravel the mystery behind the Millenials and provide clarity to guide the older generations to manage them and get the best of them.

It is often said that the things we do not understand we mystify!

Now, before I delve into the depths of this topic, I would like to say that I do not regard myself as a millennial, neither am I from the old stock of Generation X. And this is because the researchers can’t seem to agree on the boundary limit (year) for either. 

And so I would perhaps just float across the blur boundaries at will, whenever it pleases…lol. So one minute I am a bit of a millenial and some other time, I am wielding the conservatism of Generation X.

Trust me I will write about the Generation X in my subsequent post.

And this is not forgetting that I remain 29years with a whopping 11years experience at it, therefore earning the stripes to choose which side of the divide I would rather be.

I have worked with millenials and I know for sure that they are the most misunderstood generation. While they have also been well and truly appreciated for some qualities, they have also been seriously maligned for many others.

Now let’s get into the conversation to clear things up.

Millennials, also known as Generation Y or the Net Generation, are the demographic cohort that directly follows Generation X. The term Millennials is usually considered to apply to individuals who reached adulthood around the turn of the 21st century. I mentioned earlier that the precise delineation varies from one source to another and I will put all the dates out there so you can figure this out yourself.

Proposed dates for Millennials:

  • According to Iconoclast, a consumer research firm, the first Millennials were born in 1978.
  • Newsweek magazine reported that the Millennial generation was born between 1977 and 1994.
  • In separate articles, the New York Times pegged the Millennials at 1976-1990 and 1978-1998.
  • A Time magazine article placed the Millennials at 1980-2000.

Overall, the earliest proposed birthdate for Millennials is 1976 and the latest 2004.

Given that a familial generation in developed nations lies somewhere between 25 and 30 years, it is then safe to say that ‘76 – ‘04 it is!

Now, check yourself! If you are 3-4 years shy of your fortieth birthday, I am sorry to break the news to you, but you are kinda part of the misunderstood generation!

Now let me be a little controversial.

First, if you are born within this range of years in Nigeria you are a mix-millennial. Almost evenly distributed among the GenX and Millenial. In essence our true definition of a Millenial in Nigeria can not exactly be in alignment with that from developed countries.

On the strength of this argument, I like to fondly divide the millenials in Nigeria into two broad groups. One group still tethered to the values and systems of Generation X and the other truly enabled by the technology driven upbringing. 

I think the confusion on whether you are a millenial in Nigeria is defined by the country’s late entrant into the technology dominated world. It was not until the mid to late ‘90s that Nigeria could really lay claim to having some semblance of internet and the penetration was quite low at the time. So how would someone born in 1978 claim to know the internet? 

Infact someone born in the mid 90’ would be most appropriate to lay claim to being a true millennial, if we consider that they would be using a smartphone while being a teenager a decade later.

So to balance things up, I would like to seperate or perhaps propose my perspective on the generations and their periods as below;

Gen X – Latest years would be 1988. Invariably, if you were born up until this year you are still a GenX. It reflects how far behind Nigeria (Africa) was in the adoption of technology and the internet which fueled the growth of smartphone and subsequently the behaviour and lifestyle of the true millennials. In Nigeria, the Gen X is about the largest generation. They are the generation currently dominating the middle class and the policy and decision makers of our time. They are however stuck and unable to wring power from the decision makers dominated by the Baby boomers.

Millennial – 1989 – 2012* I have chosen these years based on the similarity in behavior and lifestyle of individuals born within this period. They are strikingly seen as deviants and lack the values of yesteryears.

For the purpose of this conversation, please use the true millenials (1989 – 2012) as defined earlier to mean the Millenials. Shikena.

Please permit me to brandish a few statistics perhaps it would help you accept that you are probably a millennial.

  • 46% of millennials have been reported having 200+ Facebook friends
  • Millennials are 2.5x more likely to be an early adopter of technology than other generations
  • 50 percent of Millennials consider themselves politically unaffiliated.
  • 29 percent consider themselves religiously unaffiliated.
  • 55 percent have posted a selfie or more to social media sites versus 20 percent of Generation X.
  • 8 percent of Millennials claim to have sexted, whereas 30 percent claim to have received sexts.
  • They send a median of 50 texts a day.
  • As of 2012, only 19 percent of Millennials said that, generally, others can be trusted.
  • Millennials are the last generation born in the 20th century.

Characteristics of Millennials

Millennials grew up in an electronics-filled, technology driven, increasingly online and socially-networked world. Millenials were born at the period in human history where technology was moving at an incredibly fast pace and this redefined the way things were done.

They are the generation that has received the most marketing attention. As the most ethnically diverse generation, Millennials tend to be tolerant of difference and work pretty well with other people.

Interestingly, the Millennial generation’s confidence has been argued to spill over into the realms of entitlement and narcissism. 

One reported result of Millennial optimism is entering into adulthood with unrealistic expectations, which sometimes leads to complete disillusionment. A factor responsible for the get quick syndrome and the desperation for short cut.

Many early Millennials went through post-secondary education only to find themselves employed in unrelated fields or underemployed and job hopping more frequently than previous generations. 

Their expectations may have resulted from the very encouraging, involved and almost ever-present group of parents that became known as helicopter parents.

Millennials and technology are peas in a pod

Millennials grew up with computers, the Internet and a wide range of technology gadgets. They had electronic washing machines, they had the laptops, vacuum cleaners, fashionable and more comfortable cars and color television. To mention but a few.

Older generations would say that millennials are tech savvy, forever tweeting and blogging their way through life. They are always on Facebook, designing apps, coming up with ideas like Uber and airbnb to make their lives easier. They don’t have time to waste.

However, just because technology has become an everyday part of their lives, does it really mean they truly understand how to use internet technology, or can they just not imagine life without it?


This familiarity makes them adept at understanding technology enabled devices and they tend to adjust readily to new programs, operating systems (OS) and devices and to perform computer-based tasks more quickly than older generations. Although it’s been proven that multitasking is not usually an effective way to work, Millennials may be the employees that are most likely to pull it off.

Millennials are generally comfortable with the idea of a public Internet life. Privacy, in the Millennial eye, is mostly a concern of functional settings limiting who sees their online shares. This comfort with social media means they are good at self-promotion and fostering connections through online media. But this approach often results in an issue when comparing themselves to peers. Millennials are sometimes frustrated by the grass seeming greener on the other side of the fence. That impression may be due to people’s image crafting, which emphasizes their good qualities and exciting parts of their lives. 


What Millenials are like at work

The traditional 9 to 5 working day has officially gone out of fashion especially in many parts of the developed world. This is because the millenials remain constantly connected to their devices in the office, on the move or at home and can get just as much done without being in a brick and mortar office.

Millennials now communicate with colleagues across the world, instead of just across the office, increasing both collaboration and productivity. Having grown up with the evolution of communication and technology millennials understand how they go hand-in-hand and for them technology has become an outlet for communication wherever they are. The world is literally at their fingertips.

Millennials are driven by opportunities rather than monetary rewards, they now want to contribute, feel appreciated and travel the world. They want a better work/life balance instead of being stuck in an office, which in turn is beneficial for both parties as it helps increase job satisfaction and reduces turnover. 

They are less likely than previous generations to put up with an unpleasant work environment and much more likely to use social networking to broadcast their concerns. On the other hand, satisfied Millennials are often employee advocates for the organizations they work for, providing honest, free — and convincing — public relations (PR).

Having grown up being bombarded by advertising, Millennials tend to be skeptical about promotional material of any kind. Whether buying products and services or considering employment, Millennials are more likely to listen to their friends than to be affected by marketing or public relations material. This characteristic makes both conventional marketing and employee recruitment practices often ineffective for Millennials

Why are the Millennials misunderstood?

Millennials have grown up with the world watching them every step of the way and who have watched the spin tactics and marketing tactics of the last era with disbelief. This is the generation which asks ‘Is this true?’ and then uses technology to prove it false.

Millennials are also the only generation to live through multi-step parent families as the norm for many. Many may have grown up in broken homes and lived with single parents. The nuclear family that was once depicted in television shows familiar to many of us, is now an unfamiliar concept to many millennials. Primarily because of high divorces rates many millennials have never lived very long in a home with a traditional nuclear family. Millennials therefore idealize marriage, children and value religion.

Millennials have very strong values that have been shaped by the tumultuous history that precedes their 13th birthday. Their values will lead to the rebirth of unions, the emergence of a new, ethnically diverse nuclear family and the rethinking of old age pensions programs.

Research indicates Millennials, the once spoiled generation, are emerging as traditionalists, closer in values and culture to the generation that fought in WWI and WWII.  Their social networks, writing and lifestyle are demonstrating their fondness for fairness, and peer-to peer-sharing.

This generation is clearly different, redefining the norms of the generations ahead of them.

To completely understand the Millenials you must agree to see things from their perspective. You must first understand their b ackground and what drives a millennial to get things done, to achieve set targets. Rather than judge them with set of values from the older generation, they should be rather appreciated for their unique gift and perspectives which can be put to the best use to get the best off them.

If you read this far, I am sure by now you will have some understanding about why they act the way they do and why they are less bothered by opinions that paints them as entitled,cocky and all worth not.

In conclusion, what all this means for employers is that they need to drastically change how they approach a generation that has been assumed to consist of pampered brats who will amount to no good.

Leaders in organizations must harness the unique strengths of Millennials to deliver on their strategic goals and create an environment where Millennials can co-exist in perfect harmony with older generations to deliver the dividends to shareholders.

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