Vv Magazine‘s Danielle Jobb addresses the differences between millennials and their older colleagues—and how to strike a truce between generations with radically different priorities, strengths and working habits.
Being a Millennial is an excuse for anything from being perpetually unemployed (despite the four years and $50,000 that went into that liberal arts degree), being unable to pay attention to anything for longer than 12 seconds or having a passionate opinion regarding what Kim and Kanye should name their next kid. Chalk it up to #millennialproblems, but what happens when your generational habits are hindering your abilities in the workplace?
My mother has been teaching elementary school for twenty-five years, and has noticed a drastic shift in the way children learn since the twenty-first century began. “The way we used to teach doesn’t work anymore,” she explains. “Kids don’t have the attention spans to sit and listen anymore.”
But it’s not just teachers who are noticing the differences in work and learning habits.
According to popular culture, Millennials are narcissistic. They’re unwilling to work hard. They have no interest in diaspora. And, most disturbingly, they come with a feeling of entitlement that Baby Boomers and Gen X simply cannot understand. While these criticisms bear truth, it is important to understand that millennials’ brains are wired differently from a lifetime of convenience supported by technological advances (they were born with machines that wash their dirty dishes for them) and with that come both challenges and opportunities when bridging the gap between Baby boomers and Millennials in the workforce.
“Research has shown that boomers identify their strengths and organizational memory, optimism and their willingness to work long hours,” says Jay Gilbert in an article published in Ivey Business School. An article by Elissa Collier adds that “the Baby Boomer work ethic is characterized by dedication, loyalty and a willingness to stay in the same job for a long time.”
On the other hand, “millennials are well-educated, skilled in technology, very self-confident, able to multi-task and have plenty of energy. They… prefer to work in teams rather than as individuals. Millennials seek challenges but work life balance is of utmost importance to them,” Gilbert explains. The Millennial need for social interaction, immediate results in their work, and desire for speedy advancement is often seen as a weakness by older colleagues because they were not granted these liberties when climbing the ladder themselves.
Millennials don’t see the necessity of a 9 to 5 workday, when they’ve got a laptop at home and they tend to work better at night. They don’t see why wearing a suit to the office will improve the quality of the work they produce when they’re simply more comfortable in jeans. They don’t care for tradition; they care for convenience, quality and innovation. It’s important for managers to set clear expectations for the formality of their workplace culture and likewise for Millennials to respect it.
“One of the characteristics of millennials, besides the fact that they are masters of digital communication, is that they are primed to do well by doing good. Almost 70 percent say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities,” writes Leah Buchanan in Meet the Millennials. As a result, working jobs with no evident civic benefits can often make a Millennial feel stuck and at a loss for meaning. “GenXers and Millennials are likely to seek alignment between their work and their personal values and lifestyle,” says an article in Forbes. Conversely, “Boomers tend to think of working as utilitarian and feel they need to do whatever is needed on the job.”
Ryan Coelho is a Millennial Engagement Consultant. His goal is to stop the Baby Boomers in charge of major organizations from playing the blame game and instead leverage the worth of a millennial. It’s important that employers and millennial employees meet in the middle and try to understand each others’ perspectives.
Coelho also stresses that Millennials need to realize that the professional world “requires skills beyond what they learned in schools.” Mainly communication skills; the ability to look someone in the eye when they’re talking, how to properly shake hands, and how to speak in front of a large group of people. These simple nuances are lost on the generation that grew up in front of television screens. Coelho hopes to encourage Millennials to focus on acquiring those skills in order to meet traditional employers in the middle.
The research is pretty conclusive. There are many differences between the way Baby Boomers and Millennials define work ethic, but neither is better off. 86 million millennials will be in the workforce by 2020, making up 40% of the total working population, according to Forbes. Millennials would do themselves a service by learning from traditional, corporate methods of management and doing business. If we don’t retain some of that tradition, moving forward, the world of business and finance will exist atop a rocky foundation. On the other hand, if Baby Boomers can learn to leverage Millennials for their commitment to speed, technological skills and ability to multi-task, they might see their businesses grow and prosper in ways they would not have been able to fifty years ago.
What do you think of the millennial work ethic? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.