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

By Julia Ivy

November 11, 2019


In my strategy research, I investigated strategies for navigating low-trust vs. high-trust environments. Why is there such low-trust in Millennials?

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 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).

If you claim that the environment you work in is low-trust, it might be for people like you, but it might be wonderful for others.

Going back to Millennials, let’s look at how we talk about them. We keep citing Time Magazine and Forbes, which describe Millennials as the “me, me, me” generation: narcissistic, fame-obsessed, convinced of their own greatness, critical of the establishment, 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 are used to getting a trophy for their every move. We laugh at them. Being Gen X, I use “we” on purpose. It’s clear that our trust in Millennials is quite low.


What exactly do we do? 

Looking back at 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.”

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 in garnering an employer’s trust based on generalized preconceptions, both parties often find themselves blocked from being considered.

When employers find no trust and probably no value in a millennial job candidate, they use a default strategy of avoidance. They hire “people like us,” who might be less qualified but are predictable.


How do Millennials react?

Millennials also do not trust us. Therefore, if they don’t see an obvious value, they disappear after the first interview or change jobs one after another. If they need us because they see the 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, breweries, political activity, social clubs, travel, etc.).


What can be done to bridge the gap between Millennials and employers? 

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