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Take me seriously: Why millennials are hiding their true selves at work

Close up portrait of young female businesswoman standing in modern office.
Millennials will represent 75 per cent of Australia's workforce within the next three years. (Source: Getty)

They are the generation that have been categorised as entitled, needing constant praise or even lazy, despite most of these labels having been debunked in recent years.

Millennials, or those Australians born between 1981 and 1995, will make up the largest percentage of the global workforce by 2025. Estimates suggest that in Australia alone, they will comprise almost 75 per cent of working Aussies within the next three years.

Understanding this generation and what motivates them is a key focus for many organisations, yet new research from leading global hiring platform Indeed suggests that a significant number of millennials are hiding their true selves at work.

Read more from Kevan Sangster:

Keeping your age hidden is a thing

Indeed’s Workplace Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Report, which surveyed 2,076 workers earlier this year, is one of Australia’s most comprehensive studies on the subject.

According to the data, 18 per cent of millennials hide their age at work, second only to baby boomers (27 per cent), but likely for a completely different set of reasons.

So why do a group of people who will soon be the dominant generation in the workforce, feel like they need to do this?

Yahoo Finance Australia spoke with Indeed’s Kate Furey to get her thoughts on the data.

“One of the most common reasons millennials hide their age is that they want to be taken seriously and assessed on their work ethic and outputs, as opposed to the number of working years they have behind them,” Furey said.

The desire to be taken seriously may be at the heart of the issue, but it’s surprising given older millennials will now be approaching their forties.

And it seems like a growing trend according to Furey.

"The percentage of millennials likely to hide their age has increased from the 16 per cent identified in last year’s report," she said.

“I’ve never forgotten it”

To understand the drivers behind this trend, we spoke to Olivia (born in 1992), who was part of the millennial group surveyed. She was also one of the individuals who admitted to concealing their age at work.

Olivia, who did not want to reveal her full name, works in state government, and in a previous role was responsible for managing staff who were older than her.

She described how her experience there shaped her views.

“In my previous role (with a different employer), I was asked my age by a member of my team, on my first day. It was clear that person was implying I wasn’t experienced enough to be a manager – I’ve never forgotten it,” she said.

Although Olivia’s experience may be an isolated incident, the data shows she isn't alone.

It also clearly had an impact on her future behaviour.

“Since then, I’ve felt pressure to conceal my age in order to gain the respect of those older than me, especially when I step up into a leadership role in my boss’s absence (which I do currently),” she said.

It’s this reluctance to be seen as unworthy of a leadership role, especially in the eyes of older colleagues, that seems to be at the root of the issue.

When asked what she felt her employer could have done to assist, her reply is insightful.

“I think if my manager had introduced me to the team by highlighting my experience and capabilities when I originally started in role, this may have alleviated some of the concerns from others. My manager told me that, in hindsight, she felt she could have done more to help.”

Young female worker holds her head in her hands at her desk
Some younger workers face anxiety about revelaing their age to older colleagues. (Source: Getty)

Companies playing catchup on D&I values

It is this last statement that is a pointer for what companies could be doing to assist their millennial workforce as they progress in their careers. Identifying early that this may be a concern for younger workers, and supporting them at the very start of their role by emphasising to others why they were hired into the position may allow them to be themselves sooner.

It’s not just in relation to age that companies need to be aware of their employees’ insecurities, but a whole range of D&I issues, as Kate Furey indicates.

“Companies are struggling to play catch up with employees’ D&I values and motivations, not just among minority groups but across the board,” she said, going on to add that a failure to do so could result in challenges when recruiting and retaining staff.

Although her own company’s survey showed that the pandemic has improved organisations’ efforts to manage D&I, Furey felt that there is still significant work to be done to achieve truly diverse and inclusive workplaces for all Australian workers.

As the demand for skilled workers in the Australian market continues to exceed supply, it’s a message that organisations would be advised to act on.

With millennials set to be the largest representative group in the nation’s workforce in the not too distant future, understanding and embracing their challenges will become increasingly critical when attempting to create a motivating and productive work environment.

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