New Data Shows Millennials Are More Humble, And Less Narcissistic, Than Many People Think
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
Allegations of narcissism are one of the most frequent charges I hear non-millennial managers hurl at their Millennial employees. I get it. I’m in the over-40 category myself, and I know how different it is to work with younger generation employees. I even wrote a book about it.
But calling a group of people narcissists, first of all, is emotionally charged and attacking behavior that only fuels more discord between the generations. Secondly, the accusation just isn’t true. The data simply doesn’t support it.
It’s been my observation that what typically irritates managers about Millennials is the lack of self-awareness they perceive from these younger employees. Managers are okay with Millennials lacking skills, for example, but many managers get apoplectic when they think that Millennials think they’ve got great skills.
Narcissists maintain the perception that they are competent, and usually they’ll tell you that they’re highly competent. Which means, if Millennials are in fact guilty of narcissism, as so often charged, then we’d expect to see some pretty high scores when we ask them about their skills abilities.
My firm, Leadership IQ, recently conducted a study involving over 3,000 employees from virtually every industry (see 4 Shocking Charts About Millennials At Work). And among the hundred-plus survey questions, we asked people to rate how their writing and communication skills stacked up against their peers.
Our first discovery was that only 28% of folks in the 18-30 group, the Millennials, think their communication skills are better than their peers’. By contrast, 42% of people in the 41-50 group think their communication skills are better.
Now, if Millennials were as narcissistic as we’re told they are, wouldn’t they all believe their communication skills are better than their peers’? I look at this data and not only do I not see narcissism, I’m somewhat inclined to think Millennials may actually have a low self-esteem problem (or they truly have poor communication skills and they know it).
What about their writing skills? Here Millennials are less critical of themselves, but not by much. Only 35% of Millennials think their writing skills are better than their peers’ while 49% of people over sixty think their writing skills are better.
Now, I’m not saying that Millennials are, or are not, great writers or communicators. What I am saying is that Millennials don’t think they’re great writers or communicators. According to this data, Millennials are not generally walking around narcissistically crowing about their skills (especially when compared to the other generations).
Maybe you do work with some Millennials who are delusional narcissists (they think they’re great but really stink). But those few bad apples shouldn’t damn an entire generation (any more than forty-something bad apples should indict me and my peers).
Which tells us that perhaps it’s time for managers to stop focusing on their irritation about a wrongly perceived notion that Millennials are a bunch of deluded narcissists who think they’re great but are actually incompetent. Instead, it seems time to start addressing a very different issue here, which is that Millennials may be entering the workforce lacking certain key skills. And that is something real to worry about.
I recently spoke with Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, who leads the Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults: Work, Education and Identity which surveyed a thousand 21- to 29-year-olds. Jeffrey shared some interesting study results with me that closely align with the data I just shared above.
First, 43% of millennials (or ‘emerging adults’ as Jeffrey calls them) feel that their education so far has them very well prepared for writing clearly and persuasively. And 42% feel very well prepared to read and understand complex information.
Now, you could look at this and say, “Well, 42, 43 percent, that’s not too bad. In fact, it’s better than I thought.” Or you could say, “Holy cow, I either better start interviewing candidates more wisely or else up my employee training.”
Along these same lines, Jeffrey’s study found 56% of Emerging Adults say today’s job market does not value a liberal arts educational background. Now, given that writing and communication are essential components of liberal arts training, I find it worrisome that Millennials don’t see those skills being valued, especially when I hear companies complain every day that ‘Millennials can’t write.’
A few more of the interesting data points from the study include…
- More than 3 in 5 are currently unhappy with either their work-life balance, salary, or both.
- 70% have not made as much progress in their careers as they would have hoped.
- Although their ideal job would pay a lot of money, when push comes to shove, 59% of Emerging Adults would choose a job they love, even if it comes at a lower pay grade.
The boundaries that define a generation are getting narrower as the speed of the world increases. The Millennials that threaten to shake up the status quo in today’s organizations are just the forerunners of many generations to come. Millennials may not operate in the work environment the same way as preceding generations, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to work. In fact, the data clearly shows that many of them want to work hard to get better at what they do.
According to a recent survey from Progressive Insurance and Wakefield Research, 81% of millennials interested in a new job in IT would accept a less attractive compensation package to do work they were more passionate about. 82% are even willing to relocate for a job they’re interested in, and on average, they’d be willing to move more than 600 miles.
There are many myths about Millennials; they’re narcissistic, unwilling to learn, unwilling to relocate, etc. But as the data from Leadership IQ, Clark University and Progressive show, we need to rethink these myths.
Maybe Millennials don’t have every ounce of preparation we’d like them to have. But if we make continual, concerted and honest efforts to teach them, and even make some reasonable adjustments to how they work best, we’ll earn and keep their trust. And given their increasing numbers in our offices, that’s a huge competitive advantage.