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The Professionalization of Millennials

Drilling-down on the Workplace Reputations of Millennials

I have previously blogged about the work ethic and goals of the Millennial generation. Millennials have been defined as entitled, impatient, and results oriented. These characteristics, combined with the prominent world of technology and social media, have made previous generations ask if this is simply a “results oriented” generation, or a generation lacking basic ethical standards? Numbering roughly 77 million, Millennials make up about one fourth of the U.S. population and account for $200 billion of annual buying power in the country.

A report issued December 25, 2015, sheds some light on the issue of whether Millennials care about the way they are regarded in the workplace. New research from the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and public relations firm Weber Shandwick shows that far from being self-absorbed and uncaring about their work ethic, Millennials are more concerned with their workplace reputations – along with their social media reputations – than their elder colleagues. According to IPR, as provided by Steven Drake Associates, distinct differences exist in what Millennials think makes or breaks their reputations at work compared to older generations, especially when it comes to networking and socializing on the job. The survey reveals Millennials’ hyper-focus on their reputations at work – 47 percent of Millennials report that they think about it all or most of the time compared to 37 percent of Gen Xers and 26 percent of Baby Boomers. Surprisingly, although Millennials have grown up in this digital revolution, they place even greater value on their in-person interactions at work and after hours than their older, less digitally-bred colleagues.  

While job performance and punctuality top the list of reputation builders at work for all the generations surveyed, networking and socializing during off hours are more important to Millennials than any other generation. Thirty-four percent of Millennials see meeting with colleagues outside the office as a positive driver of their work reputation, compared to 14 percent of Gen Xers and 15 percent of Boomers.

When it comes to behavior that can harm one’s reputation at work, Millennials are less aware than their older cohorts how hearsay and feeding the grapevine can damage their reputations. Millennials are less likely to see the danger in saying negative things about coworkers than GenXers and Boomers (64 percent vs. 74% vs. 79%, respectively) and engaging in gossip about colleagues (64 percent vs. 72 percent vs. 74 percent, respectively). Millennials are also more likely to believe that not socializing with colleagues outside of work can hurt their reputations (20 percent compared to 7 percent for Boomers).

These results do not really surprise me as a professor who has taught Gen Xers and Millennials. I have found Gen Xers more focused on moving up the ladder of success as quickly as possible and doing what it takes to accomplish that result, including working long hours under sometimes stressful conditions.

On the other hand, I have found Millennials overly concerned about socialization. In my classroom I have to ask them for their attention sometimes two or three times to start a lecture. They like to talk to each other even after I have started to talk; they seem almost oblivious to my presence. They are usually showing a friend something on their cell phone or laptop. Quite frankly, I have found such behavior to be all too often rude and disrespectful.

Employers continually report that their new Millennial employees have difficulty understanding when it is appropriate to use social media in the workday. The fact of the matter is that checking your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter takes time away from completing work. Most Millennials don’t recognize that checking social media at work is stealing time and therefore money from their employer.

This does not mean Millennials are devoid of positive attributes. One redeeming quality of the Millennial generation is that they want to work for an environmentally and ethically sound company. Many argue that this finding, along with the fact that Millennials would rather have a job where they are contributing to the good of society rather than just making money, will make for an interesting future in business going forward. However, the desire to work for an ethically sound company or have a positive impact on society does not mean that Millennials are ethical people. These desires simply reflect self-interests rather than the actual ability to reason and act ethically.

So, my conclusion is that Millennials need to be de-socialized and increasingly professionalized to contribute more to the working world. Clearly, many are already doing so. One answer is for professors like myself to address this issue in the classroom. Learning how to act professionally in the classroom should be part of the curriculum especially in professional programs such as Accounting, which is my home turf. I do what I can in this regard but I am always concerned it’s not enough.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on January 7, 2016. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: