Is There a Millennial Misconception?

December 22, 2015

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My name is Thi and I’m a millennial.

Yes, one of those dreaded millennials you read about in the news, the supposedly entitled ones who want trophies for everything and spend all their time on their smartphones.

But if you work with millennials, as I’m sure most of you do, you’ll know we’re not all like that. While media outlets like to blast millennials, hiring and working with this generation does have its benefits.

A coworker brought up this positive trait about millennials in the workplace: The fact that we grew up with technology means we are more likely to embrace rather than fear or get frustrated by it.

That means millennial technicians may be more eager to work on vehicle technologies and new diagnostic tools. They may be more comfortable working with a complicated fleet management information system. They may have less of a learning curve adopting new software into the fleet.

Millennials & Fleet’s Future

People can’t seem to agree on the boundary years for millennials, but The Pew Research Center’s categorization of those who are 19 to 35 seems reasonable.

Using this definition, 12 of our “20 Under 40” fleet professionals in the January issue are millennials. I’m impressed with the entire group of 20, who have made an impression with people in their own organizations and within the industry.

How is this group different from others? I don’t have hard statistics for comparison, but 25% of the “20 Under 40” are women and 30% have master’s degrees, which seems higher than the norm.

We also asked what they were excited and concerned about for the future and nearly all of them mentioned technology. Most fleet managers I talk to, no matter their age, say that rapid changes in vehicle technology make it an exciting time, but this group will still be working for the next 30 years or so, dealing with the challenges these new technologies will create, along with data management. I imagine integrating autonomous vehicles into a fleet will be interesting.

Generalizations Don’t Apply to Everyone

I may have generalized above, but generalizations about millennials don’t apply to everyone. There are stereotypes about each generation, but the people within each group can be as different as night and day.

Bradley Northup, fleet coordinator for San Diego County, Calif., turns 32 this January, and he thinks someone on the older end of this generation is much different from someone on the younger end.

 “There’s a huge difference between someone who was born in the early ’80s vs. the late ’80s and what they were exposed to as they grew up,” he said. He said that includes memories of wars, growing up without cell phones or the Internet, and how 9/11 impacted them.

And he and I both agree there are so many negative connotations about being a millennial that it seems better to keep some distance from the term.

My 75-year-old aunt-in-law is on Facebook all the time, while my mother, a baby boomer, never touches the computer. My millennial coworker is trying to teach me how to use Snapchat, but I wonder what the point is in sending out silly messages that just disappear.

Some generalizations are true, but giving 75.3 million Americans the same characteristics can’t be accurate. Your Gen X employee may be the tech guy on the shop floor, and your 23-year-old technician may not know how to tweet. While it may be helpful to generalize, once you get to know someone, you see everyone’s a little different.

Since Northup works for a large fleet, he has coworkers from all generations. “The more diverse the workforce you have, the greater respect you have for all age groups,” he said.

What are your thoughts as a millennial or your experience working with millennials?


  1. 1. Steve Kibler [ January 29, 2016 @ 03:47PM ]

    Wow, this article is a month old and no one has commented. I need to take issue to this. Thi, it would interest me to know what triggers you to think up these provocative subjects. “Oh crap! That dumb kid just ran into my car while texting, I think I write about an article about millennials.” That would be my motivation, although I’d use a different expletive. In my long career, just about every generation that was assigned a generational title, has worked for me; the Greatest generation: they exhibit unmatched patriotism. The Boomer generation: they live to work. The X generation: they work to live and the current Millennial generation: they are the techies that haven’t learned the meaning of M-F, 8-5. I would like to take the opportunity to coin the next generation: The Faux generation: They only eat organic chemicals, drink only toxic bottled water which the label says is pure, eat vegan meat, prefer to telecommute and demand starting salaries you would only pay a 20 year employee. The truth in the end the millennials and even the fauxs need the opportunity to live the American dream. They will be the industry managers of - - OMG, they’re already asking for entry level management positions…

  2. 2. Matt Stewart [ March 22, 2016 @ 02:03PM ]

    Steve, to correct your summary of generational attitudes toward work, the Millennials are the generation that mixes work and life. We bring our personal lives to work, and we bring our work home. There is sometimes little distinction between the two, especially in administrative, support and management positions – except that we generally report to earlier generations that want us in our chairs for the workday.

    I cannot claim to speak for a generation of which I am barely a part, having been born in 1981 and feeling little in common with people who barely remember things like 9/11. So I will speak for myself and the few in this industry that may agree, and I will use the word “you” loosely and in reference to the entirety of the previous generations who express these complaints about us damn kids. I do not mind being a little hyperbolic and pompous here – I’m more down-to-earth in real life, I promise, but since it is acceptable to speak broadly and disparagingly of Millennials (Bobit even expended ink printing your comment in the latest Government Fleet) I will respond in kind.

    You complain Millennials want to work from home and work fewer hours: We see you show up religiously for your assigned work hours, most of which you waste due to your inability to write or to use data effectively or because you think your presence in the office or shop earns you the salary you deserve due to your longevity. To us, while you have great attendance records, you’re just wasting your time and ours. We would prefer to do the work we need to do and get out of there. That does not mean we are lazy or do not want to work: When ARRA grants hit, the bulk of the work of responding to those grant opportunities within my agency at the time was done by a few Millennials working into the evening hours most nights for months – and then again for years until the awarded projects and reporting were complete.

    No, we haven’t learned the meaning of “M-F, 8-5,” and I hope we never do. Try to get someone from your much lauded generations on the phone or to answer an email after quitting time or on a weekend (not to mention on a day off or on vacation). That’s family time or personal time for you, and work can wait until sometime Monday after you have had your coffee. A Millennial will shoot back a quick response or answer the phone whenever they can.

    You complain about Millennials’ values with regard to the environment, water and food. That seems less than relevant, but I answer that we see your values reflected in your generally dismissive attitude toward the ethical standards to which public employees should be held. We treat public time and property (and our jobs) as public property, while we watch you make the local and industry news for stealing fuel, tires, work on your personal vehicles or whatever it is this week. We make purchases by following the law, not through your network of friends from the old days. We follow regulations and permit requirements, trying to minimize environmental impacts of our operations, while you lament the end of dumping used oil into the ground behind the shop.

    As for the salaries we think we need, the decline of wages in real dollars, the lessened opportunity afforded us by an increasingly expensive education (which we were told by you to obtain at any cost) and the failures of public pension systems are topics too big for this forum. You could probably start a family, buy a house and put food on the table on a single mechanic’s wage in your early days, and you planned to put in your time, be rewarded with a promotion every decade or so and get out after thirty years or the next time your agency offered an early retirement. That is not a possibility for most of us. Further, when we accomplish more before 10 AM than you get done all day we expect to be paid for it.

    Why do we want your management positions? Because we have skills that most of you will never learn, and those skills allow us to generate and control and consume information, which means we (given the right attitude, guidance and experience in the industry) can make better decisions and can better justify and communicate those decisions than you. We need a few years to learn the particulars and some opportunity to practice leadership, but in this industry we are moving into jobs formerly filled from the ranks of twenty-year employees who could not write effectively, could not analyze data and make decisions based on that analysis and – if you pressed them – really had no desire to be stuck at a desk all day and would rather have stayed in their lower-level positions. Those of us with a desire to contribute to the improvement of our respective organizations are not inclined to sit back for very long and watch you fumble your way along while we wait for the job to owe us what you felt it owed you.

    I’ve worked with plenty of good people from all of the current generations who embody the best of what I described above, and I have worked with someone from each of those generations who is lazy, incompetent or wrong for position they hold. There are strong leaders in your generations that learn and adapt and thereby accomplish much. And there are lazy people in my generation, though they are not the ones working their way into management in this industry.

    I respect my superiors, coworkers and subordinates of previous generations; I know I have to learn from them and very much appreciate them being willing teachers; and I can understand their perspective and why they treat work the way they do. To speak of generations, though, requires broad generalization, so I did that here. I suggest being a little more hesitant to disparage Millennials and disregard their perspective, because you can be painted with the same sort of broad strokes, and, as illustrated above, you can look pretty bad to us.

  3. 3. Gary McLean [ May 17, 2016 @ 10:51AM ]

    Wow, spirited discussion! The generational thing has been a source of endless discussion here at City of Lakeland, from our mandatory HR-provided training to higher education to strategic planning to you name it and the one thing I've taken away from it is everybody should be played to their strengths and weaknesses. We have staff in our fleet group from the tail end of the Silent generation all the way to folks in the early 20s. The very nature of vehicle maintenance requires our staff to be here for set hours and our Millenial representation seems quite able to deal with that. They also seem able to work at least as hard or harder than anybody else in the shop, so no problem there either. If there's one aspect our younger employees stereotypically bring to our table, it's the tendency to embrace technology. I don't know how other folks are doing with their multi-generational mix, but we like ours just fine here!


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Author Bio

Thi Dao

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Executive Editor

Thi is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She is interested in maintenance management and alternative fuels.


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