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Really Different or Rarely Different?

I hate labels such as “Millennials” – a term first coined by Strauss & Howe in their book Generations.

My wife asked me to write an article on Millennials in the Workplace. The general definition of Millennials seems to be those born between 1980 and 2000. Now, I am in the habit of doing (almost) everything my wife asks of me, but why me? I doubt I have anything more to add to the myriad of opinions out there. Everyone has a position on the topic, and none of the research is conclusive. I have spent the last week having an internal debate in my head and thinking of reasons why I should not do this. I can’t justify turning down my wife…

So here are my Generation X (generally born between 1960 and 1980) observations, solely within the workplace.

This is based upon what I have observed, what I feel etc., not scientific conclusions, just my biased non-researched views. So there, you can’t challenge me for this article. And, by the way, what qualifies me as remotely capable of writing down my views? Probably because I have three Millennials as kids and that I work with about 30 of them at Wazee Digital every day.

The way I think about Millennials in the Workplace is to begin by understanding what they faced when they entered the workplace. Yes, there could be all sorts of psychological factors that influenced them prior to that. However, I focus on what they faced from about 2005 to 2010 when the earliest group of them left their college and protective parent years behind and entered the workplace. Not quite losing the generational lottery, but during this short 5-year period here is what they generally saw:

  • Global Financial Crises & the Mortgage Loan debacle
  • Many of their parents unemployed and or savings depleted
  • Disastrous and costly Middle East Wars
  • Climate Change and an Environmental mess
  • Political gridlock
  • Corporate scandals
  • Resurgent China and offshoring depressing wages
  • Terrorism close to home

As I think about it, the only things Generation X have provided Millennials that provide great utility are: The Internet, the cellphone & e-commerce.

So, I totally understand why Millennials often exhibit a high degree of skepticism and distrust with Generation X. Estimates say that by 2020, nearly half of all workers in the workplace will be Millennials. I believe all workplaces have this unavoidable Millennial/Gen X combination – typically with Gen X as management and Millennial as non-management. Workplaces will have to understand these factors and challenge the traditional management/employee dynamic. For me, the cornerstone is all about inspiring the Millennials, understanding the different views and avoiding stereotypes.

While I agreed with my wife to write an article (short) not an essay (long), let me close by listing all the disparaging terms I hear about Millennials and give you my opinion as they relate to the workplace: They..

  • Have a lesser work ethic than Gen X – untrue. You are not inspiring them.
  • Want to do meaningful work – true. What’s wrong with that?
  • Have been so sheltered – why is this even relevant? If it’s true it’s the Gen X’s fault – so fix it.
  • Are overconfident – great.
  • Provide immediate candid feedback – who wants to work with folks who “suffer in silence” anyway?
  • Think communicating is texting – true. Texting and email are great for information sharing but awful for convincing or relationship building.
  • See supervisors as mentors not bosses – yes, Gen X’ers they actually want your help!
  • Are over entitled – sometimes. Probably because Gen X parents over protected them and are not finding that “air-cover” in the workplace.
  • Don’t have a defined career path – fair point. Keep encouraging and give them freedom to explore.
  • Value job satisfaction over financial rewards – correct. But the Gen X obsession with money has not worked out so well.
  • Look for a better work/life balance – correct. Why not? Travel, health, and rest are proven to provide more productive employees.
  • Don’t trust management – correct. Most Gen X management teams have not earned this trust.
  • Change jobs when the going gets tough – fair point. This is one the Millennials must own. The grass is rarely greener.
  • Don’t ascribe to Corporate Values – partially true. But most corporate values are BS anyway.
  • Rudely multi-task – yes, Millennials (and a number of Gen X’ers) you are guilty as charged. You can’t fully participate in a conversation and have one eye on your phone.
  • Have a strong BS detection antennae – correct. They sniff this out very well.
  • Have a greater sense of community purpose – correct. Companies should be part of the societies in which they live. Millennials are challenging companies to turn this from an annual report fable into a true commitment.

Hopefully my views can form part of the beginning of a generational understanding in the workplace not the end of the debate. Yet most of all, I hope that Millennials have the courage to mimic the Gen X strengths and learn from our Gen X’s many mistakes – so that they can preserve my social security benefits for years to come!

Mark A. Pougnet | COO and CFO
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