“These headphone-wearing, disrespectful, entitled idiots…well not idiots, but kids, they’re just kids.” This was how an upper level manager at a national construction company described his Generation Y coworkers. Generation Y, or the Millennials, are born between the early 1980’s and the early 2000’s. Many baby boomers and members of Generation X often say the following regarding the Millennials: they crave recognition, have short attention spans, have compartmentalized personalities, are disrespectful, are technologically dependent, and act entitled.
It is easy to see the downsides of these attributes, but these traits can also be useful in the workplace. The construction manager went on to chastise the Millennials for assuming they should get to choose the projects they work on, should get to work from home, and for asking for promotions rather than working their way up the corporate ladder.
This article is the first of a two-piece series about the workplace communication issues between different generations. My goal is to translate certain Millennial traits into terms that baby boomers can appreciate, and create unique opportunities that bridge generational communication gaps in the workforce.
Crave Recognition = Give Me Experience
Millennials claim that many of their supervisors do not remember their roots because these supervisors act as though they entered the workforce with years of experience. What these supervisors do not understand is that Millennials will work hard if someone simply notices them and praises them. They crave recognition almost as much as a secure salary. Millennials hear, “You need more experience,” and they reply, “That’s what I’m trying to get.” This is a problem for every generation, and managers need to find more creative ways to recognize younger employees. This recognition doesn’t have to come from financial rewards.
Short Attention Spans = Give Me Challenging Work
It’s true that Millennials have grown up in an environment that pulls their brain in multiple directions at the same time resulting in very short attention spans. We can partially thank their parents, the media, and educators for helping create this monster. Just because someone has a short attention span, however, does not mean he or she is a poor employee. Millennials are excellent multi-taskers and they expect to be given interesting and challenging work.
Compartmentalized Personalities = Valuing Relationships
The online presence of social media, coupled with the ability to create anonymous online personalities, has heavily influenced the way Millennials view relationships. They want to keep their personal life separate from their work life, and they think about relationships in a different way. They also place a lot of value on family relationships; taking a page right out of the baby boomer’s “family values” mantra.
Disrespectful = Respect is Reciprocal
I often hear that Millennials don’t respect their seasoned coworkers. Respect is a matter of perspective and perception because it all depends on what actions people pay attention to and what meanings they attribute to those actions. However, organizational leaders should earn respect, not demand it. Respecting someone for their position in a hierarchy or their title is not good business; there are plenty of substandard workers in positions of power. Effective and consistent actions should garner respect. So when veteran employees extend respect to their younger coworkers that respect will usually be reciprocated. This generation has been taught to speak up and ask questions and this can either be interpreted as disrespectful of company norms or an engaged person trying to solve problems.
Technologically Dependent = Technology is a Tool, Not an Enemy
“They can’t do their job without being ‘plugged in.’ They have no concept of relationship building or how to have face-to-face conversations.” It’s true that the Millennials are often called digital natives. Millennials simply use technology as a means to more efficiently accomplish their jobs. They grew up with iPads instead of magazines. They use the internet to “pull” information to solve problems whereas baby boomers typically use it to “push” information via email. Communication technologies such as texting, Skype, Apple facetime, and Google documents are quickly becoming the standard in communication. It is possible to develop and cultivate relationships through electronic forms of communication.
Entitled = Let Me Make an Impact
“They just don’t want to put in the time to move up the ladder,” or “They don’t respect the traditions that have been in place before them.” This is the most common remark used to slander Millennials. Millennials may present themselves as entitled but it is only because they have an air of confidence that many previous generations find disagreeable. There is a fine line between arrogance and confidence but the Millennials are simply asking their predecessors to let them make an impact. This generation is very achievement-oriented. If they are entitled to anything it’s their desire to positively impact their work environment. Traditional concepts of family, war, and privacy have changed in their lifetime, so why not the work environment as well?
Millennials want to be recognized and praised for their work regardless of their age or experience. We see this logic embraced in entrepreneurial startup cultures and the technology sector. Outside of these two areas the “reward me for my work” logic is antithetical to traditional workplace hierarchies and cultural norms. In 25 years, however, that logic will be the norm of the workplace and the workforce will look vastly different. Remember, when you view Millennials as entitled idiots you are overlooking their many positive qualities and setting up a distrustful, unproductive, and problematic workplace environment.