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Research says millennials are terrible employees – really?

Posted by | June 11, 2015 | Millennial, Workplace

Via LinkedIn : There has been increasing media attention on the plight of millennials in the work force.

Let me preface this post by pointing out that I am a millennial, as my youthful complexion from my profile photo would indicate. (As an aside, members with a LinkedIn profile photo get 11x the number of profile views compared to members who don’t. Happiness is linked to vanity!)

Like any discourse, there are two sides: some articles explain the different circumstances that shape millennial perceptions (or what our elders call ‘excuses’). Other articles make observations of the unrealistic expectations Generation Y have for life amongst other things.

I’m not here to argue for one side or the other. I want to talk about how we interpret research and gain insights from them, using this discussion as an example.

I have picked an article to look at how they report on millennials in the work place because it has popped up in my network updates on LinkedIn recently.

The problem with Gen Ys at work:

This article cites research delivered by my colleagues, so this is close to home. This piece leads off with the fact millennials are less likely to question authority than baby boomers, and expands on this point by speaking with examples of both audiences to get their opinion.

Comparing between different audiences gives us context around the difference in mindset, which informs the insight. Thinking critically, there are two things which stand out to me:

  • What was the expected result? Has there been previous research which indicates the same trend or the same magnitude?
  • Since the different audiences are informed by their seniority and experience, what if we re-based the line of questioning to ask baby boomers about their meekness at the same stage of career that current millennials are in?

When you look at the blog post which presents the research, we can see that 54% of respondents are more comfortable challenging their boss now then when they started their careers. The insight is not that millennials are ‘yes’ people because it is a general mindset, but that work experience leads to increased confidence in your own professional judgement.

Of course it is unfair to be completely critical, because some data points are unavailable or they were not in the direct scope of the research they were quoting.

So when you see an article or report which cites facts and figures from research, remember two things:

What is the baseline?

Numbers in isolation are arbitrary. We can apply our perception of high value or low value, but for different circumstances it may not be appropriate to apply the same scale. Is it possible to have an expected value, or an average figure based on historical observation of the same situation to compare against?

What is it relative to?

Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of observing a trend over time. In other cases, we are measuring something where an established benchmark is inappropriate to apply since the circumstances are different enough. In that case, we ask the same questions to another segment to compare and contrast differences.

Context is everything. Think critically, and use data responsibly.

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