Millennials: Are Trophy Kids Getting a Bad Rap?

Sensationalism in the media and countless books (including my own) about differences between the generations paint a picture about the emerging Millennials that might be more myth than right.

Today’s workforce is comprised of Baby Boomers (born 1945-1965), Generation X (born 1965-1980) and Millennials. There are more than 80 million Millennials, also called Generation Y in the U.S. alone and while many of them are already in the workforce, the rest are on the verge of entering it.

For those of you who still get confused between Gen Y, Gen WHY, Generation Y, and the Millennials, here’s a reminder: These titles all describe the same group of young adults and teens born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s.  They have also been described aptly as the Digital Generation but not so kindly as the Trophy Kids.  If you have read anything recently or managed these young workers, you might have learned that these Millennials expect preferential treatment and may be difficult to manage.

Free Chapter - Millennial Generation  
New York Post film critic Kyle Smith’s recent review on the movie Final Destination 5 includes his opinion about this young generation.  Mr. Smith, along with a long list of authors, experts, and business consultants before him apparently find the Trophy Kids moniker a glove-like fit:

Young adults born in the 1980s and early 1990s leaped out of nicotine- and alcohol-free wombs to be deemed geniuses every time they passed a test, awarded trophies every time they caught a ball and tucked into comfy car seats on the victory ride over to their favorite sushi palace.


They took groovy public-service internships at an age when their grandfathers were sweating on assembly lines or being shot at by Nazis, lived with their parents until they were 28, then proceeded directly to their shrinks for marathon weeping sessions every time they messed up a project at work. They’re as soft as pudding, and they know it. The Greatest Generation didn’t need triathlons or X-treme skateboarding; every Friday night was a thrill ride after manual labor and eight Schlitzes.

While Smith’s perspective might be true for many Millennials, it certainly doesn’t fit all. I for one – an older Baby Boomer – can identify just as many of my peers (Baby Boomers) whose entitlement and “soft-as-pudding” attitudes fit Smith’s opinion of Millennials more than they do the hard-working, self-sacrificing memories of Industrial Age and pre-World War II generations.  

Mr. Smith concludes his review with “Previous generations constructed an amazing world — but nothing new gets built anymore, and now all the old stuff is being held together by rust.”  That might be true.  They did build an amazing world but it’s not the Millennial’s fault that “all the old stuff is being held together by rust.”  Millennials, and Generation X to some degree, didn’t allow it rust – the older generations did.  Granted, the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers built much of our infrastructure but then left it to younger generations to figure out how to maintain and/or replace it. While the argument might be made that subsequent generations are responsible for maintaining what prior generations build.

But not a single Millennial can be held responsible for slashed budgets that cut out funding for maintaining the old and replacing with new.  And they aren’t responsible for the screwed up educational system they passed through, underfunded entitlement programs they inherited, and no-lose-everyone-is-a-winner games they played in. In fact, the older generations “built” this younger generation and now complains incessantly about what they created and their inability and/or unwillingness to fix the mess they inherited.

Our world also has evolved from a time when productivity was measured by brawn to a world where brain power is the new economic engine. While we do need manual labor to build and re-build our infrastructure, the next chapter of our amazing world will be written by those who “know-how,” not by those that “can-do.” Ironically, this story and the opinions of others like Smith is nothing new. 

Older generations have been complaining about younger generations since the beginning of time. According to a new report released by Kenexa:

Upstart generations and their sometimes brash attitudes and behaviors have long been a cause for consternation among older generations….While the sound bites proclaiming the differences between the Millennials are voluminous, scientific research is scarce….we are still not sure if Millennials are any different than any other generation when they were young.

The Kenexa WorkTrends study, by tracking more than 25 years of opinions, refutes the “malcontent” stereotype: Millennials are more positive than both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. The study reveals important trends that have significant implications for company recruitment, engagement, and retention strategies.

Sixty percent of Millennials also say they are strongly satisfied with their organization as a place to work. Even more – 63 percent -report that they have opportunity for growth and development at their company. When it comes to pay, 42 percent of Millennials say they are paid fairly, compared to 41 percent for boomers and 38 percent for Generation X.  While those results are not something to celebrate, the Millennials do not feel more jilted or satisfied than older generations.

The study also examined attitudes about leaving their current organization for better opportunities. Thirty-one percent of Millennials working today are considering leaving their job while 27 percent of Generation X is looking too.  Nineteen percent of Baby Boomers were looking too. But if you look back to 1990, 31 percent of 27 year old Generation Xers were considered leaving their organization, identical to today’s Millennials.

There is no question that the attitudes and characteristics of one generation may differ from another. But in the end, many of the differences attributed to a generation are really just typical of youth regardless of the decade in which they were raised.

What do you think?  Are the Millennials a generation that will force the world to conform to their values or is their behavior just past history repeating itself? 


Ira S Wolfe


  1. open - minded man September 9, 2011 at 10:41 pm -

    I don’t believe in labeling people a certain generation just because of their age – that is silly, because there is no such thing as a “generation”. Why? Because people are born in a continuum (you don’t have 50,000,000 babies born between 1900 and 1918, then no one born during the next 2 decades, then another 60,000,000 born from 1938 – ’48). Also, there are individuals who do not fit into the generation to which they were assigned. For example, I was born in 1979 and call myself a Millenial because I have very little in common with Gen X (there are also men and women born in 1990 who fit the profile of Gen X in many ways). This whole thing of using dates to define a generation is really just a mass – media and marketing tool, and should not be done. Let everyone be who they want to be!