Millennials in the Workplace Share Their Secrets For Success

August 13, 2017 • 6 min read
Sara Finkelstein

Sara Finkelstein

Writer, Editor, Content Creator

In my last installment of this series about the perceived generational differences between Millennials and Generation X, I interviewed Millennials to try to understand their professional values. I was curious what they thought about some of the stereotypes commonly attributed to them by their older colleagues.

As a demographic group, Millennials make up the greatest percentage of the American workforce. Millennials surpassed members of Generation X in the workplace beginning in 2015, and the previous Baby Boomer generation beginning in 2013. In the coming decades, Millennial values will become the norm in the workplace. For now, many senior positions are held by members of Generation X because their careers have spanned greater lengths of time. As a result of their having been in the workforce longer, some Millennials are in the position of receiving direction from their Generation X colleagues in the workplace.

In my interviews, I turned the tables, asking what feedback Millennials would give their Generation X colleagues if they had the opportunity. These are their tips and advice:

Millennials in the Workplace Are Not All the Same

It’s never accurate to make generalizations about an entire generation. I have Millennials as clients and they are disciplined and hardworking. Millennials resent any stereotype that would imply that they’re flighty and lack the discipline to stick with problems that they can’t solve instantly.

Let Us Speak

millennials in the workplace

Millennials are attracted to flexibility in the workplace. “I value flexibility more than I value luxury,” says Chad Norris, a freelancer who advises startups and family-run companies on software development, business management, operations training, and marketing and design. He’s willing to accept a lower paycheck if it means he has greater flexibility to accomplish other goals.

Julie Wayer is a marketing assistant at Hansen Belyea, a Seattle-based branding and communications firm. “Really look at what attracts employees,” she says. “People think we want to drink beer, have flexible hours, and work from home on Fridays. But for me, I value access to fair benefits. We have so much debt, we need health benefits, retirement, and public transportation subsidies.”

Our Life Experience is Valuable

After she graduated from college, Wayer decided to take some time before entering a traditional career role. She worked at a foundry, and later, at Whole Foods. She feels frustrated by any indication that this was not time well spent. “Life experience doesn’t translate into a Gen X’ers mind as valuable,” she believes. “If we finish school and decide to change course after realizing we want to pursue something different, it can be perceived as flakey.”

Norris agrees with Wayer. He travels all over the world and sometimes works remotely. He’s gained skills and life experience even though he doesn’t stay for long in the same location. He rejects any notion of this reflecting a lack of commitment. In his mind, he is optimizing the life experiences that define his work, rather than focusing on bolstering the opportunities that translate directly to his resume.

Millennials in the Workplace Are Agile

millennials in the workplace

“We can multi-task,” insists Wayer. “Most of us had cell phones as teenagers. The advantage of this is that our brains process information quickly.” She can monitor her email and text messages, at the same time she’s posting to Instagram and other social media sites, because she gets notifications. She’s felt frustrated when a week goes by before one of her Generation X colleagues answers an email.

“We are more connected than ever,” says Norris. “I can use Facebook to direct message someone in another city who knows how to solve a problem for my client. I can use YouTube to learn a new skill.”

In my own experience, I appreciate that Millennials are responsive and can be reached through multiple channels of communication. There are alternatives when I need a more formal approach, but sometimes a quick text is all I need: “Did you get my invoice?” or, “All good with the executive summary?” In my experience, my Millennial colleagues and clients respond in real time, and this allows me to move on quickly to something else that might require more of my time and energy.

Show Empathy

Recent headlines have predicted that Millennials will be the first generation to experience less financial security than their parents. There are many factors: the high cost of education and resulting debt, a higher cost of living plus falling real wages in many sectors of the economy. Trying to survive on entry-level wages in cities with skyrocketing housing costs is not easy, and it can be a struggle just to get by. This kind of instability can be draining, and can take up a lot of emotional energy, undermining the positive outlook that many people in their twenties and thirties have historically had.

“It’s more of a struggle than other generations realize,” says Kelly Barnard, manager at a local Seattle fitness facility. “It’s crazy how much everything costs,” she says. “Sometimes it feels like it’s impossible to move up. It’s hard to fathom having a house: that’s a joke. That’s the life we are meant to strive for, and it’s unlikely that it will happen.”

“It’s getting harder to end up where you want to be,” agrees Wayer. “There is so much more competition, and we’re saddled with debt.”

We Can Work From Anywhere

millennials in the workplace

Telecommuting remains a growing trend. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 80 to 90 percent of the workforce says they would like to telework at least part time. Fortune 1000 companies are reimagining their offices to accommodate the growing trend of teleworking, and there are 40 percent more employers offering flexible work hours today than they did five years ago.

Many Millennials in the workplace like this increased flexibility. The universality of WiFi and the availability of cloud computing enables them to be productive from anywhere. I met Chad Norris at a local coffee shop for our interview. He pointed out two Millennial-aged professionals with open laptops at a nearby table. “It’s 7:30 PM, and they are probably more productive now than they would be a 9:00 AM, dragging in with a cup of coffee. I can work and be productive from anywhere,” he says. “As long as I’m plugged in and connected, I’m good to go.”

In my own experience as a freelancer, this is true for me too. I value flexibility, and I’m more productive when I find my own rhythm. I like to write where I’m inspired, rather than being constrained by regular working hours or being tied to a desk. I have the Internet at my fingertips. And between my cell phone and email, I can be reached at most hours of the day by anyone. This works well for me, and a generation of Millennials who are making strides in the workplace.

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