Millennials Speak Up About the Workplace

July 26, 2017 • 6 min read
Sara Finkelstein

Sara Finkelstein

Writer, Editor, Content Creator

Census data shows that the population of Millennials in the workforce exceeded the total number of Generation X employees beginning in 2015. The generational differences of styles and approaches to work, leisure, and communication are here to stay. Moving forward, it makes sense for Millennials and their Generation X colleagues to learn how to work together in order to maximize job satisfaction and productivity.

As a result of my conversations with both Generation X business owners and Millennial employees, I believe that one of the best ways to overcome these cultural differences is communication. This strategy also complements my findings about the values of Millennials; their generation reports open communication and having a seat at the table with their older colleagues as core values in the workplace.

I reflected on Millennial’s desire for inclusion in the workplace in the first part of this series, How Millennials Thrive in the Workplace. Paul Hanken, a partner at Seattle-based property management firm NxNW, has observed his Millennial employees desire to have a seat at the table. In his experience, Millennials appreciate being consulted about business processes and strategies.

For this installment in my series about Millennials in the workplace, I’m turning the tables and talking to Millennials. It’s only fair, given the amount of literature devoted to criticizing Millennials. I was curious to hear how Millennials understand the differences between their Generation X colleagues and their peers. What are their greatest assets? Are their actions in the workplace sometimes misunderstood?

This is how Millennials think about their strengths and where they think their Generation X colleagues might be lacking:

Millennials in the Workplace Know Technology

millennials in the workplace

Millennials grew up with computers and smart phones, and they are used to adapting to different modes of technology. They know how to anticipate change, and even welcome it. It can be frustrating for them when their older colleagues are reluctant to embrace new innovation or have difficulty learning new software. “They can be totally resistant to bringing in anything that will make the gym modern and current,” says Kelly Barnard, manager at a local Seattle fitness facility. “They’ll drag their feet, no matter how many times I say, ‘This will be easier! Let’s just do it.’”

Chad Norris, a freelancer who advises startups and family-run companies on software development, business management, operations training, and marketing and design, agrees. “Everyone in a job has to prove themselves, so they are willing to do something less efficient, because it’s what they know,” he says. “When they do that, they lose. They make it hard for Millennials to do what they are good at.”

Millennials in the Workplace Value Affirmation

Millennials are criticized for needing what is often portrayed as constant affirmation. When I asked Millennials, they understand their need to feel appreciated as a desire to be recognized in the areas where they are excelling. “Saying ‘thank you’ or ‘good job’ goes a long way in getting things done,” says Julie Wayer. Wayer is a marketing assistant at Hansen Belyea, a Seattle-based branding and communications firm. Barnard agrees: “I don’t expect to be constantly praised, but I do appreciate being thanked. It’s nice to hear about the things you’re doing right. Otherwise it’s easy to get discouraged and lose motivation to do our work well. It’s not hard to say thank you.”

Millennials in the Workplace Value Balance

millennials in the workplace

Millennials aren’t lazy. They put more stock in quality of life than their Generation X predecessors. “We have more of an emphasis on relationships,” says Barnard. “We grew up watching TV, and we saw what happened when the dad never came home. We want to prioritize our friends, our families and our significant others.”

“I value flexibility more than I value luxury,” says Norris. “If I have time and freedom, I have the ability to think and study and engage in social projects. That’s more important to me than money.”

Millennials in the Workplace are Diverse

Millennials feel misunderstood when they are painted with one broad, often dismissive, brushstroke. It’s not fair to generalize about an entire generation. A couple of the people I spoke to actively bristled at being considered a part of the category, as though “Millennial” was a pejorative term.

“Don’t make assumptions. Don’t dismiss us,” says Wayer. Barnard agrees: “Making enormous generalizations about an entire generation is unfair and inaccurate. The vast majority of us are trying the best we can. It’s not easy, and it’s not for lack of trying.”

Millennials in the Workplace Value Experiences

millennials in the workplace

Millennials are the first generation that are predicted to experience less financial freedom than their parents. They understand this and have less incentive to work for pensions or retirement bonuses. Even stock options aren’t as attractive. “I know I’m never going to get Social Security or a pension, and I’m going to be saddled with high taxes. I’ve accepted that,” says Wayer, “I’m not going to stay locked in a job that I hate for two years, just to have it take up space on my resume,” says Wayer.

“I don’t aspire to a car or a home,” says Norris. “I aspire to a lifestyle. I’m maximizing my time and my experiences. If I feel bored by a job, I will leave. If I’m not involved in the decision-making, I will leave. If I don’t like the mission, I will leave.”

It can be frustrating for Generation X employers to understand these Millennial values. Millennials know that if they don’t like one option, they have the freedom and agency to explore other options. For them, this flexibility can be quite exciting. For another generation, this same behavior might be interpreted as flighty or non-committal.

In the next installment in this series, I’ll cover tips and advice for Generation X from their Millennial colleagues.

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