Bridging the Millennial Divide: Understanding the new generation - Jan 2017

By Sandy Smith

At the turn of the century, the American workplace got its first taste of the new generation most often referred to as Millennials. These individuals weren’t unfamiliar to workplace managers. They had known them all their lives: they were, in fact, their kids, grandkids and their kids’ friends. 

By 2015, that generation-generally recognized as those born between the early 1980s and 2000-became the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, and, without a doubt, that number will continue to rise. According to an article in Time called ‘Millennials Now Largest Generation in the U.S. Workforce,’ “The estimated 53.5 million Millennials in the workforce are only expected to grow as Millennials currently enrolled in college graduate and begin working. The generation is also growing thanks to recent immigration, as more than half of new immigrant workers have been Millennials.”

In spite of the passage of time since the first Millennial got a job and today, when they have overtaken the workforce, the topic of how best to understand them and integrate them productively alongside workers from other generations has not abated. The general feeling from management and older workers is that Millennials are troublesome and resistant to the “way things are done around here.”

Tammy Erickson, author of Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work, comments, “I’d say 90 percent of the Gen X managers I work with are exasperated by Millennials. They say, ‘I had to wait my turn; you need to wait yours. I had to follow rules. So do you. You’re asking for something quite different from what I had to go through.’”

On the other side of the aisle, Millennials feel that they are being hamstrung by outdated rules and methodology. They are frustrated by endless routine meetings and mandated written reports-among many other things. A few years ago, an associate and I met with five Millennial employees who worked for a healthcare client of mine. One of them opened up about how frustrated she was when her manager refused to allow her to text during work hours. “I was at a conference and was texting my team members to alert them to important new developments,” she said. “Management would prefer that I return, write it all down and distribute it by office mail.” She summarized, “A needless waste of a week’s time.” 

Near the end of the meeting, we asked the group, “What percentage of your potential is your employer getting from you?” One of the group responded, “Sixty percent.” The others nodded in silent agreement.

If that assessment is anywhere near accurate in the big picture, it constitutes a huge drain on productivity and sacrifice of potential. It also qualifies as a justifiable reason for companies to move finding a solution significantly higher on the to-do list. 

It is eternally true that elders see rising generations as troublesome upstarts. And every new generation sees their elders as old fashioned and out of date. Regardless of that, young workers have always taken their place alongside older ones to keep the wheels turning. So what’s the difference this time around?

I have often heard that the way we see the world is shaped by the world we have seen. Each generation is shaped by very different trends that greatly impact the lens through which they see the world and construct their values. Although there is a great deal of analysis available specifically about why Millennials hold their views and expectations, that data is often of more use to sociologists than employers. So what should employers understand to bridge the divide with Millennials?

In an engaging Entrepreneur article entitled ‘5 Ways Millennials Are Like No Generation Before Them,’ Dixie Gillaspie says, “Millennials are changing the way we do business.” Gillaspie’s main points are as follows, 

• They don’t believe in being shackled to tradition or location. “They figure out the required outcome and how to get it on their own terms.”

• They don’t believe in the inherent value of face time. “They just don’t see why people get paid for showing up unless the job requires their physical presence.”

• They believe in learning, not pieces of paper. “With a connected device they can audit courses from the most revered universities or consult Wikipedia and countless other reference sites. If they need some practical how-to advice, they can find a forum or a YouTube video. They can learn continually and cumulatively without compromising their work or lifestyle.”

• They believe in learning from someone else’s experience. “[T]his generation is all about learning from anyone who has done something they want to do.”

• They believe in life, not work-life balance. “They want to talk about designing a life. That life includes their family and friends, it includes their hobbies and pastimes, and it includes their business.”

In addition to this, Millennials navigate the digital terrain effortlessly, and automatically employ it for computing, research, education and communication. They hold at their fingertips the greatest tools for change the world has ever known. Who wouldn’t want them on their team?

No one can stop this change. Millennials will rule the world sooner rather than later. Demographics and actuarial tables are on their side, and every generation gets their turn. Meanwhile, they are bringing organizations new ideas and perspectives that may revolutionize business. It may be that what they are saying has been felt by previous generations, though rules or culture inhibited them from speaking up as Millennials do. 

It seems to me that the best course is for management to listen and consider the new ideas. If they are unrealistic or technologically infeasible, say so and explain why. Millennials crave feedback.

In her article in Forbes, entitled ‘Listen Up Leaders: We Are All Millennials,’ Meghan Biro encourages organizations to embrace the winds of change. She says, “Millennials are fearless when it comes to digital and technology. Let’s wrap our minds around the Cloud, Big Data, and the globally inter-connected workplace. They can run social media circles around the rest of us. Right? Well, sort of.... On second thought, these aren’t just traits of a single generation, so much as skills necessary to succeed in the future that is unfolding before our eyes. We are all Millennials now, like it or not.” 

Copyright 2017 Floor Focus