Why Don’t We Trust Millennials? Low Trust in the Job Market

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In my strategy research, I investigated strategies for navigating low-trust vs. high-trust environments.

I learned that when we claim this or that environment as “toxic” or “low-trust,” it’s actually not correct. The same environment might be defined as a low-trust and high-trust for different groups: it might be low-trust for one group of people (say, for people of a specific age, profession, gender, or origin group), but fine for others (say, of another age or gender group). So, if you claim that the environment you work in is low-trust, it might be low-trust for people like you, but wonderful for others.

Being back to Millennials, let’s look at how we talk about them. We keep citing the Time magazine and Forbes, which described Millennials as the “Me, me, me” generation—narcissistic, fame-obsessed, convinced of their own greatness, critical of the establishment, and technologically addicted (Time magazine) and overconfident, with high expectations, inward focus, misplaced education, and low attention to building their credit scores (Forbes). We make cartoons about them as privileged kids who get used to getting a trophy for any move. We laugh on them. Being a Gen X, I use “we” on purpose.

It’s clear that our trust for Millennials is quite low.

What exactly do we do? 

Being back to my research, market actors, operating in a low-trust environment, constantly scan each other through the “whom can I trust?” and “whom should I know?” criteria. Both parties – Millennials and employers apply a two-stage process of “selectivity” and “verification” of each other. 

Only after traversing a “selectivity filter of trust” at the level of personal and professional interaction does a person have a chance of advancing through a “filter of verification based on their value and contribution.” Trust building always comes first in the low-trust environment, and proof of value follows. Unable to overcome barriers to garnering an employer’s trust-based in generalized preconceptions, both parties often find themselves blocked from being considered. 

Employers, when finding no trust and probably no value in a millennial job candidate, use a strategy of avoidance as a default one. They hire “people like us,” who might be less qualified but known or predictable.

How do Millennials react?

Millennials got it. They also do not trust us. So, if they don’t see an obvious value, they disappear after the first interview or change jobs one after another. If they need us for some value (e.g., Millennials need money so they get a job), they apply a strategy of instrumental exchanges and rituals. They do it as “just a job,” “just a visit”, etc., while they departmentalize their passion in the place they trust (music, brewery, political activity, social clubs, travel, etc.).

What can be done to bridge Millennials and employers? 

The topic is so big, but I promise to keep writing about it. And you, please, share your thoughts – from the point of view of Millennials or employers, especially if you are, like me, Gen X.