One of the most hotly debated topics of today is inter-generational relationship in the workplace and as a social construct affecting the world today. Unfortunately, that’s just a fact. It’s not a comfortable topic, because regardless of which generation you fall into, your mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents and siblings probably fall into one of the other two generations in question.
For those who have had their head under a rock for the past decade, three generations are in question – Generation Y (The Millennials), Generation “X” (The bulk of the workforce) – Baby Boomers (Those who are older, and normally the parents of Generation X, and Grandparents of Generation Y). This mix seems fraught with danger simply because of the different contexts and ideas that each generation has. For more in depth descriptions, look at my previous posts, and you’ll see more.
The major issue is the widely held belief that Millennials are disrespectful in the workplace. May I preface my post with the statement that I have two sons, one who falls smack bang in the middle of Gen Y stereotyping, and one who presents with Baby Boomer values, and is absolutely smashing his way up the corporate ladder.
I believe the issue is not disrespect. I think the real issue is misunderstanding and miscommunication masquerading as disrespect. Probably the most persistent stereotype is the ‘trophy kid’: deluded by grade inflation, awarded prizes for just showing up, assured they have no weaknesses, only ‘weaker strengths. This idea is not only causing great discomfort for the top-level managers, but also for the Gen Y’s. Millennials grew up with instant access. Even less-affluent families have an Internet connection, and if they need to know something – they will go and find out. People believe that Millennials get defensive or deflect [responsibility] and create problems for other people. Or maybe they just quit. But it’s quite the opposite. Millennials enter the professional world with access to information that far surpasses our predecessors. For all the stereotypes, Millennials are unquestionably creative and innovative. Often, Millennials stepping into an office can immediately identify things to be done quicker, different, better.
To some up, they’re narcissistic, disrespectful, have no work ethic and need constant confirmations of their over-inflated self-esteem.
Why are they so full of themselves? Millennials have different thought process because they have never experienced a “hard life”. The economic conditions of their world have always been full of opportunities, and good ones. Life is rich and abundant, the world is not only their oyster, but its being served on a plate by their parents, who caught, cooked and presented it to them. As the older generation, changes that scare or discomfort us, is something they thrive on and love.
My son for example, re-arranges his living space once every three months. When asked why, his reply was – "I was getting bored, it felt claustrophobic". Conversely, if anybody were to move my furniture, I would be horrified and confused.
They grew up with technology, remember, and it’s the way they communicate best. They are impatient, communicating with others at the speed of the Internet, rather than the old ways of writing letters. Have you ever even seen a Millennial write something down?
But it all comes at a price. Physicians believe that the generation has the highest depression rate of any generation, and one in seven have clinical anxiety issues. On top of that, the entire generation has developed “general chronic anxiety” – a condition derived from their ability to follow multiple streams of information simultaneously. In essence, the brain of a millennial works likes the tabs on an Internet browser.
Ask a Gen Y about their career objectives and they’ll stare at you blankly. Ask them who Joseph Kony is, they’ll tell you in striking detail. They’re focused on today, now, next week, next month. If they can’t control the outcome immediately, it’s not worth their time.
The immediate key to understanding Gen Y is to understand that they will respect you, only when you respect them first. The old world ideal of respecting your elders, for better or worse, has gone out the window.
But, and here’s the bottom line - No matter what your understanding, judgment or understanding, Generation Y has never been more influential in the workplace.
That aside, if you can’t understand them, manage your expectations of them and make sure you can handle their needs, perhaps my greatest piece of advice, with experience from my children and colleagues is to manage output, not process. Something that frustrates the hell out of many Generation X’s is the perceived work ethic of Millennials. Just because it’s not your way, that doesn’t mean that it’s flawed.“Think evolution not revolution,” – said a blog I read on this subject.
For you Millennials reading this - don’t presume all colleagues want to be confidants. “Generation Xers and baby boomers have a home face, a friend face, and a business face,” The takeaway: Not everyone has to be a Facebook friend or drinking buddy.
This all comes back to understanding. If you treat Millennials with respect, and let their actions speak for themselves, they may surprise and even excite you. They will perform for you, if they feel it’s worth their while. Unfortunately, they’re here to stay.
Until next time, Be the Best you Can be, no matter what your generation.