If you are a young professional who has recently started a job, you may have noticed a variety of work and management styles from prior generations. Well, they are noticing you, too! The current and future workplace includes people from different generations, and regardless of age, everyone has opinions and perceptions. Millennials tend to think prior generations are rigid, technologically challenged and followers of rules. Prior generations may see millennials as needy and self-absorbed and think that they prefer texting to talking. While work expectations differ from one generation to another, they all share a similar goal: to do well and achieve greatness. From one millennial to another, let me share a few misconceptions and realities.
The world that shaped millennials is intrinsically different from that of previous generations. They evolved in the context of the Cold War, globalization, self-sufficiency and MTV. We grew up with September 11th, the global economic crisis, social media and overprotective parents. How does this impact us? Our environment has shaped us to have certain attitudes. By being sheltered all our lives by our parents and being recognized and rewarded for participation instead of hard work, we have grown to expect the same approach in the workplace.
For example, look at relationships or jobs. Earlier generations are known for their loyalty, personally and professionally. Staying 20 to 40 years in the same company or relationship is not only normal, but considered the right thing to do. Millennials have a tendency to jump around. My mother is appalled every time she sees one of us breaking up with a love interest or leaving a job. She calls us the “use and dispose” generation, treating others like tissues. Every time she tells me we are selfish and lack the willpower to preserve relationships, I sigh and think, “Why would we settle for something with which we are not satisfied?”
These millennial misconceptions exist in the workplace. We will represent 50 percent of the workforce by 2020, and this is a daunting reality for earlier generations. Contrary to previous generations who valued work, discipline and hierarchy, millennials are looking for flexibility, autonomy and ownership, explained Lori Goler, vice president of human resources and recruiting at Facebook. They want to see the boss-employer relationship shifting toward a more horizontal structure, where individuals can be more laid back and have more autonomy to achieve goals. In an interview with CNN, she cited a Wall Street Journal article entitled: “At Facebook, boss is a dirty word.” Is the era of rigid structures in the workplace obsolete? It certainly looks like companies are heading toward a gradual makeover by being increasingly flexible and offering employees more advantages to retain them.
This change is also driven by the millennials’ search for rapid professional growth. Our generation wants a job that keeps us moving, has purpose and entitles us to responsibilities. (Being entitled is one of the biggest pet peeves of elder generations.) For millennials, being part of the (often unpaid) internships generation, we feel we deserve some acknowledgment of our contribution and requests as proof that we can be of value in the corporate world. We are perceived as having a sense of self-importance and wanting to manage projects in order to shine. While this ambition is understood by senior executives (most of whom spent many years climbing the ladder), we want to advance quickly and be recognized for our skills and degrees.
Despite these biases, there are tremendous opportunities for all generations. Companies can be proactive and efficient in understanding how different generations react to one another, communicate and more importantly, how they can work together and learn from one another to deliver the best results for the business.
Slowly but surely, earlier generations are seeing us less as a high-maintenance hassle and more like a well-educated, tech-savvy group who can accelerate business growth and connections with customers. As some employees advance toward retirement and millennials rapidly enter the workforce, companies are embracing the exciting changes and opportunities in store for a multigenerational workplace. Millennials are here to stay!