WASHINGTON — Jared Ro-galia, 25, a Hertz rental car manager-trainee in Alexandria, Va., is as cranky as someone twice his age when he deplores his generation’s work ethic.

Here’s how Rogalia characterizes his age group: “The first is: really spoiled and lazy. The second is: We’re free-spirited. And the third is: They’d rather be poorer and have free time than have a lot of money.”

The millennial generation — about 50 million people ages 18 to 29 — is the only age group in the nation that doesn’t cite work ethic as one of its “principal claims to distinctiveness,” according to a new Pew Research Center study, “Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change.”

The Washington-based nonprofit organization found that young adults and their elders agree: Baby boomers and members of Generation X have a better work ethic and moral values than those in their 20s.


In a survey of about 1,200 people of all ages, millennials chose other traits to define themselves: 24 percent said “technology use,” 11 percent went with “music/pop culture,” 7 percent chose “liberal/tolerant,” and 6 percent said “smarter.” Only 5 percent noted their generation’s “work ethic.”

In older generations, at least twice as many people cited work ethic as a badge of their age group’s identity: 17 percent of boomers, 11 percent of Gen X-ers, and 10 percent of those 65 and older. The older three generations also take pride in their strong values or morals and in being “respectful,” terms that hardly any millennials in the survey used.

“Millennials may be a self-confident generation,” the study concluded, “but they display little appetite for claims of moral superiority.”

Some young adults — much like Generation X-ers who found themselves labeled “slackers” in the 1990s — believe such generalizations are nonsense.

Maya Enista, 26, chief executive at Mobilize.org, an advocacy group for young adults, said the term “work ethic” is misleading: “It’s not about being at a desk from 9 to 5. I work part of every hour I am awake.”


Her peers’ constant connection to technology keeps them as tethered to their jobs as older workers are, Enista said. “It’s a given that we work hard, because the reality is that millennials are the most educated and most in debt.”

But other young people in the area — and their older managers — can be their generation’s harshest critics. At Potomac Pizza in Chevy Chase, Md., Omar Haleem, an assistant manager, said he is often put in the awkward position of haranguing colleagues his own age.

“I have to call out their faults and make it real obvious that they’re not doing their job,” said Haleem, who is 22. “If they’re standing there watching TV, I say, ‘OK you don’t want to work as many shifts?’

“They leave food on the line that’s ready to be delivered to tables or put in bags. They’ll order food in the middle of a dinner rush and enjoy their slice and not answer phones, which is really annoying.”

Rea Pyle, 34, Potomac Pizza’s owner, said many younger workers do not accept that it takes long, concerted effort to build a career.

“They’ve been blessed with parents and grandparents laying the foundation to give them a better life but that hunger is not really in them,” he said. “But the desire for success is. They want to make money” but don’t want to put in the time or effort.

In the high-salary realm of management consulting firms, which hire hundreds of young adults annually, executives say the youngest employees are far more likely to ask to work from home or during off-hours.

Nicole Furst, a senior executive at Accenture in Reston, Va., said younger workers there have little interest in putting in long hours simply because that’s what earlier generations did.

“They make it clear that it’s not a pattern they would adopt,” said Furst, 38. “They look at all the Generation X-ers and say, ‘I don’t want to put in all those hours when I am at that point.’ “

Furst said younger workers’ emphasis on a better balance among work, family and friends even from the start of a career is “admirable. You sit here, and say, ‘That makes sense.’ “

The influx of a big bulge of workers into the economy, especially at a time of starkly higher unemployment, has spawned an industry of pollsters, authors and consultants seeking to explain the young generation.

The titles of books about millennials appear to reveal a certain condescension: “The Dumbest Generation” and “The Trophy Kids Grow Up.”


Even more neutral studies focus on the generation’s supposedly weak work ethic.

In the new book “The M-factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace,” authors Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman report on their 2009 survey that showed that almost nothing bothers older workers as much as having colleagues who put in fewer hours, whereas millennials seem wholly unperturbed by that reality of the workplace.

Jennifer Miller, director of talent acquisition at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, said that even in interviews, younger nurse recruits frequently make schedule demands.

“They say, ‘I can’t work evenings.’ I was schooled in ‘You don’t put up roadblocks at all in an interview,’ ” said Miller, 44.

Some young nurses crave more responsibility and grander titles without the years of grunt work that previous generations saw as the gateway to advancement, Miller said. “We had a new grad, she finished a master’s degree, and she wanted to be a nurse manager. But she had no nurse-managing experience. I wouldn’t have made the assumption that the mere fact I had finished this new degree meant that my employer would find me a new job.”

Rogalia, at the suburban Hertz location, said his peers are sometimes easily distracted. “We’ve had to take disciplinary actions,” he said. “We had a new hire who was watching video on his iPhone with his headphones on, and the customers were kind of looking around to see what this kid was doing. He was laughing. He stopped showing up after a while.”


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