How Millennials Thrive in the Workplace

June 12, 2017 • 5 min read
Sara Finkelstein

Sara Finkelstein

Writer, Editor, Content Creator

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, Millennials have surpassed Gen X’ers as a percentage of the American workforce in the first quarter of 2015. One in three U.S. workers are part of the Millennial generation – those born between 1990 and the early 2000s. This means the Millennial generation now comprise the greatest percentage of U.S. workers, more than Gen X’ers, the population born between 1965 and 1979.

There are documented cultural differences between these two generations, and they sometimes have different working styles. When working alongside their younger colleagues, Generation X’ers can feel frustrated by the challenges of understanding a more affirmation-driven, digital generation.

millennials in the workplace

To better understand the realities of the situation, I checked in with a few Generation X colleagues that I respect to learn more about their experiences with Millennials. I was curious to learn more about the learning that occurs as a result of engaging with a different set of experiences and values.

In future columns, I will acknowledge the challenges of working across generations, and offer some advice about how to approach workplace interactions with Millennials. In addition, I will give a sampling of Millennials space to detail their experiences working with their Generation X colleagues in a future article.

Millennials Have Strong Social Values

A job isn’t just a job for Millennials, explains Janis Machala, Managing Partner at Paladin Partners. Paladin Partners is an executive coaching and business advisory firm. Machala has observed that twentysomethings are more motivated to care about the environment, and are more socially conscious than generations before them. These values extend beyond their personal lives; they want to incorporate their values into their work too.

Danita Delimont agrees. She is the owner of the stock photography business, Danita Delimont Stock Photography. She’s noticed that Millennials in the workplace tend toward going paperless out of a concern for the environment. Sometimes she has to instruct her twentysomething employees to print legal documents and contracts. “Computers crash and computers die. I explain to them that if we don’t have a document backed up on hard copy, we don’t actually have it,” says Delimont.

Millennials Want to Provide Input

millennials in the workplace

Paul Hanken at NxNW, a Seattle-based property management firm, has observed that Millennials in the workplace want a seat at the table. “They don’t respond well to a top-down management style,” says Hanken. He sees this approach as a good thing, citing the history of Lee Iacocca’s turnaround of a bankrupt Chrysler Corporation in the 1970s. Iacocca borrowed Japanese strategies for innovation and quality improvement. Their approach was to embrace ideas from all employees—from upper management to factory workers. When Hanken includes his Millennial employees in decision-making, he gets automatic buy-in.

Millennials Are Great in the Global Workplace

Because they are digital natives, Millennials in the workplace think very little of being available twenty-four seven. Machala believes that work is just one channel in their ubiquitous online world. Consequently, they are fabulous at managing the demands of global companies, with workers occupying multiple time zones across the U.S., as well as in India, China, and Europe. They usually respond right away, no matter the time. They are comfortable conducting business in virtual offices with video conferencing and instant message technology as the sole means of communication.

Millennials Experiment with Changing Technology

From Myspace and Facebook to Instagram and Snapchat, Millennials have adjusted to technological innovation from the start. “They have always had to adapt to remarkable changes,” says Hanken. They are not only creative and adaptable when it comes to figuring out new technology, they are creative and adaptable in the workplace. “Millennials in the workplace really get internet and mobile marketing, and they are willing to experiment,” says Machala. The world of marketing today is all about experimentation, so Millennials add great value to these kind of initiatives.

Millennials in the Workplace are Versatile and Fearless

millennials in the workplace

Millennial workers are great in startups. Machala believes that there is a population of Millennials grew up being told they were wonderful and could do anything, so they are not afraid of anything. In a startup environment, it’s necessary to wear many hats, and juggle different job descriptions. According to Machala, this dynamic is perfectly tailored for some Millennials because they’ll dive into anything with confidence.

Millennials in the workplace are tremendous risk takers. They are the first generation that believes they will not be as financially well-off as their parents and for whom homeownership is not a priority. “I’ve met young people who’ve quit their jobs to move to Seattle because they know it’s a hot job market.” Machala believes that because many Millennials do not have have houses or children, they don’t have as much to lose. As a result, they are great entrepreneurs and successful cultural fits for start-ups.

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