Capability Building

The Workplace Millennial 2.1

Posted on in Capability Building · Millennials · Zeitgeist

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Episode 2.1: Impostors

The Workplace Millennial feature aims to debunk myths about so-called ‘millennials’ in the workplace and capture how we – yes, the writers are ‘millennials’ – actually think, fell, act, respond, work, plan, dream, worry and all the rest.

“I live in constant fear that everyone will find out that I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Research this week appeared to confirm what some braver (read, sufficiently respected and protected) millennials have been saying for a while: we’re often made to feel like impostors in our own workplace.

The study was widely reported as being about a crisis of confidence among millennials. I guess that makes sense given the prevalent, ill-considered assumption that ‘millennials are over-confident.’ If you’re a journalist you’re going to present things as part of/in response to the dominant narrative. I get it.

What if that assumption is wrong? “Ah-ha,” you say, “that’s exactly the point of the research: showing the assumption is wrong.”

Not so fast. Just because the assumption is wrong doesn’t mean that the only thing worth doing with research is to debunk the assumption. Sure, there’s value in that – but how about considering what, in the workplace, is causing this?

First, in this blog, I’m going to address the assumption itself. In subsequent blogs I’ll turn to the reality of millennials’ workplace mindset as it relates to this impostor issue, and what might be causing that. I’ll then look at how you might go about making sure millennials don’t feel like impostors.

Don’t be lazy!

I’d like to put aside the obvious stupidity of believing that everyone currently aged 18-34 is over-confident, but I can’t. That’s because, in my experience, it is exactly the kind of stupidity with which many people are infected. And, that same stupidity could well form the heart of the problem with successfully integrating people of my generation into a company.

How about starting from the position that millennials are likely to be like you? As that article I linked above suggests, even senior people in companies lack confidence. Hell, my 53-year old super-senior mentor confesses to the deepest crises of confidence – and he’s achieved about everything you could ever want in life.

Then, consider how rich you would be if you had a pound for every time someone (usually a middle-aged white guy, in my experience) filled a meeting with bullshit bluster.

Do you actually think that comes from a place of confidence? Always? Might it not be covering something up? For example, perhaps that person is actually under-prepared or lacks the belief in the underlying facts/subject matter they are talking about. Or their ability to sell or deliver it.

Now, if that sounds sensible to you when considering the middle-aged blusterer, what about when you perceive a millennial displaying confidence?

I’d like to see some comparative data on workplace confidence generally and the things that lie behind crises of confidence. In fact, I’m going to look into gathering some together – watch this space. I suspect the reason we think this is a ‘millennials’ issue is rooted in the assumption that the relevant difference is age, when actually the relevant difference is mindset (irrespective of age).

Evidence, vision and strategy in this area need to be developed. That’s what I’m here to do, so stick around. In the meantime, don’t be lazy in your thinking. It doesn’t suit you. It also does your colleagues, of any age, a disservice.

Adam Papaphilippopoulos

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