What do millennials not understand about communism

The Millennial Paradox

The focus on generation models does not help, especially since these are often full of contradictions. Wolf Reiner Kriegler has a counter-proposal.

There is a blatant contradiction in what one hears, hears and sometimes experiences about Generation Y, the “Millennials”. On the one hand, optimists of social change argue that with this generation a new way of thinking is finding its way into companies. For them, the “Generation why?” Asks the question of meaning in the company, rejects hierarchy, demands “Purpose”, wants to identify and realize itself. In contrast, many employers perceive this age cohort very differently, and the criticism is harsh in places. Millennials, it is sometimes heard, “did not learn anything really useful” and did not even want to, because they were “not interested in work topics”. They are also not capable of criticism and are quickly demotivated or even offended. Let us assume for a moment that both perspectives apply. Then where did we end up?

Who is right now?

Millennials seem to have a “wash my fur but don't get me wet” expectation. They project idealistic motives onto the employer and hope for a meaningful orientation function according to their personal ideas. At the same time, however, they do not want to devote any particular energy to contributing according to rules other than their own. However, they do not recognize the contradiction due to a lack of life experience. They come with false expectations, which of course have to fail and ultimately become unfulfilled or even unhappy at work.

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On the other hand, they meet employers who not only have professional expectations, but also want an interest in the company, commitment and commitment. In the competition for talent, efforts are made with all sorts of measures and incentives to create the expected “feel-good atmosphere”. And it also falls into a contradiction, namely to criticize millennials for expectations that you still support yourself. The Millennium Paradox that can - beware, spoilers - be resolved. But first we have to get rid of the idea that generational models help us in practice.

Generation models do not help in practice

Anna-Leena Haarkamp, ​​for example, has already pointed out the methodological inadequacies of generation models here on HRM. And in a very clear video, Prof. Uwe Kanning from the Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences explains where these models reach their limits in practice. The core of the criticism lies in the fact that we have a snapshot of young people at a certain point in time. They have certain ideas about life right now - but can these actually also be used as applicant preference patterns? It is therefore imperative that we contrast something that we also have in personnel management. We know that at 25 we have different needs than at 35 or 45. In a nutshell:

Life phase suggests generation model.

This is best seen in young people who become parents. Generation X and Y then no longer differ in their preference patterns as employees: First of all, they are parents with a very specific life situation that has to be managed. Let's go one step further and look at Generation Y. Here the last representatives of the cohort are only just entering the labor market, while the first are already moving into the management floors. The millennial paradox is taken to extremes when the 40-year-old Generation Y executive criticizes the 25-year-old graduates of his own cohort for "shutting down point five and just going away."

What speaks against idealism?

Let's make a tough cut here. Isn't idealism always a hallmark, if not the hallmark of youth? Ex-Telekom board member Thomas Sattelberger, who today sits in the Bundestag for the FDP, was a functionary of a communist splinter group in his youth. When you're young, you have power, you want to change the world. That's life. Today young people come armed to the teeth with references, certificates, internships and what they believe to be “new and correct knowledge”. You can see potential for conflict and even generational explosives in it, but you can also consider very practically how to deal with it. To do this, however, you have to deal professionally with a topic that is never really addressed in the generation discussion, but the central variable is: identity.

Identity as a bridge

If we compare the expectations of both sides again as a pair of terms, then the gap can suddenly be bridged. Some shout "Give me an offer of identification", others demand "Give me your commitment". Of course, commitment leads to identification. I work with others on a task, a challenge. We master them and grow together as a group. Then we identify ourselves. However, employers should not make this commitment a prerequisite, because the result is inconceivable for young people in this form, and the approach is simply not accepted.

The mechanism works the other way round: Identification leads to commitment and then to mutual success. This is where the "purpose" comes into play. It is part of an identity that young people are looking for. Identity in the workplace is practically becoming a consumer factor in self-realization. By the way, non-profit organizations have always worked this way. There you are part of a larger cause and contribute with a commitment that companies often dream of. “But we are not a non-profit company,” you might be thinking now. You don't even have to be. “Purpose” is only part of the identity they offer. A lot of other attributes and components contribute to this. But “Purpose” is a clear factor in employer branding.


Focusing on the supposed characteristics of millennials in generational models does not help. Analogous to the phase of life, there is a need for identification that companies have to serve. Working out an unmistakable identity is a process that begins with an analysis of the corporate culture and requires a "purpose" for this. This identity aims to establish a strong motive of belonging. In other words: you have to want people to want to belong to you.