Beyond The Millennial Stereotype: Passion, Authenticity, And Purpose

Nancy Langmeyer

I must say I’m guilty. Yes, I’m one of the many people in the world that has stereotyped millennials. I believed the research I read and thought the most common labels associated with this generation – entitled, lazy, adventure-seeking, job-hopping, and disrespectful of older colleagues – were right on the money.

And of course, those stereotypes must be true if they show up on American reality TV, right? The 2016 season of “Survivor” pitted the so-called instant-gratification, fun-loving millennials against the older, more methodical and conservative Gen Xers. Described as “old ideas versus new ideas,” the show glorified the generational differences (at least after its artful editing), such as highlighting when one millennial noted that he “will never grow up.” Now, interestingly enough, the carefree, pleasure-seeking millennials are holding their own, with one more tribe member remaining than the Gen Xers as the season nears completion (at the time of this writing). 

But wait…is this fair to this generation?

After having admitted that I believed the hype about millennials, it may be hard to imagine that I try to avoid stereotypes, but I do. I know from experience that global characterizations are nearly ever 100% correct, and shame on me for collectively believing the ones about millennials.

The “Survivor” show was a tipping point for me, as I said to myself, “Enough…the world needs to give this generation a break.” This feeling was fueled by the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to work with several millennials as they developed blogs for a series called Millennials on Purpose. The blogs focus on this generation’s view of purpose-driven business and I learned quite a bit from each person’s submission.

Now, having interacted one-on-one with these millennials over the last couple of months, I know without a doubt that like any stereotypes, the ones slapped on these young people are not one-size-fits-all labels.

Here’s what millennials really care about…

What I have learned is there are several commonly shared traits that millennials are quite proud of, but that don’t often show up in the research. For instance, the millennials I have interacted with seem to be universally proud of their innate ability to see the truth. As one millennial, Thomas Leisen says, “Millennials have really good BS-sniffers when it comes to authenticity.” Sam Yeoman, another millennial I’m working with, says his generation is “wary of anyone trying to sell us something.”

Why is this attitude prevalent? Well, because if anything fishy is detected, these self-proclaimed smartphone addicts will be the first to Google it and they will rapidly uncover the truth.

What about work-life balance, and putting life – and fun – first? According to Leisen, he said this is another myth. He and the millennials he knows are passionate about their careers, despite the fact that are often bashed for job hopping and their readiness to take the next big job offering. Again, Leisen deflects this characterization, noting that he personally would love to grow and develop his skills within one organization.

Another millennial, Jessica Gutierrez agrees, saying that she wouldn’t categorize millennials as caring more about work-life balance than about going the extra mile. “When a company gives millennials a chance,” says Gutierrez, “they will have incredible loyalty and be willing to stay longer, work harder, work smarter, and invest in their career.”

So what really makes them tick?

Beyond the hype, the myths, and the stereotyping, what are millennials really passionate about? What do they value? It’s pretty simple, when it gets right down to it – they care about things like purpose, values, and sustainability, and they want to work for businesses that are vocal about these attributes.

Kishore Kumar, a contributor to the Millennial series, says in his blog, “I believe why a business exists is almost more important than how well it is run. I also believe it is critical for businesses to find their core purpose, and then pursue it relentlessly, if they want to be successful.”

In her blog, Gutierrez says, “I believe that millennials will gravitate toward organizations that demonstrate their purpose and values in the culture and work environment. In turn, millennial employees will be influenced by their working environment and will begin to live out the purpose, values, and strategy that the organization embodies.”

And from millennial Faith Woo’s perspective, sustainability is another lens through which she and her peers can examine the impact of purpose-driven business. “Championing a cause and promoting a purpose engages and inspires millennials,” says Woo in her blog, “and I believe we value companies with a strong environmental and social record.”

I agree here and now to stop…

I personally am finished stereotyping millennials and will seek out more articles like this piece, which Gutierrez shared with me, that bust up the myths about this generation. And I now wholeheartedly believe pieces like this one, which shares research that states millennials “are loyal to companies that allow them to stay true to their personal and family values.”

Get to know a millennial today – you might just be surprised at what you find below the surface. Or, if you’d like to get to know the ones I’ve worked with, then you can meet these SAP millennials here as they personally share their passions and their insights about purpose-driven businesses.

This blog is part of our Millennials on Purpose series. To learn more about SAP’s higher purpose to help the world run better and improve people’s lives, visit sap.com/purpose.


Nancy Langmeyer

About Nancy Langmeyer

Nancy Langmeyer is a freelance writer and marketing consultant. She works with some of the largest technology companies in the world and is a frequent blogger. You'll see some under her name...and then there are others that you won't see. These are ones where Nancy interviews marketing executives and leaders and turns their insights into thought leadership pieces..