Millennial Think Tank: The Multi-generational Workplace

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Last week we focused on a topic that is much talked about in my personal social circles, especially among GenXers and Boomers: the challenges of a multi-generational workplace. Our goal was not to run through the standard gripes about older generations wanting to see younger workers follow the chain of command and ‘wait their turn,’ but rather, to talk about the issues in order to identify ways to ease tensions and make work life more enjoyable for all.

Joining us on this week’s panel were the following:

You can listen or watch the entire hangout, or read the recap below:

Here are some facts to frame the discussion:

  • One third of US employees report to someone younger.
  • 15% work for someone 10 years younger.
  • The majority of 25 – 34 year olds and those 55+ prefer to communicate on important work issues face to face.
  • 69% of younger employees work after hours; 60% of older people do.

What motivates you to excel at work?

Samantha: Her job alone is her driving ambition; she is motivated by a passion for social change.

Kelsey: Working in a non-profit field, money is not Kelsey’s motivation; she is driven by being accountable other people. Kelsey answers to internal stakeholders, and she loves making them happy.

Albert: Motivated by gaining new skills, Albert gets to touch cool pieces of cutting edge technologies, and it adds to his resume.

Kiernan: Still at University, Kiernan is a couple of years from launching his actual career, but he wants  one where he is engaged with people. He would rather not report to anyone.

Kelly: Working in a flat organization, not having to report to anyone and not having reports, would please Kelly. He prefers to work alone, and does not want to be in any kind of service job.

Tiffany: Knowing that she did a good job and is helping a lot of people is what drives Tiffany.

Do you see generational conflict at work?

Tiffany has challenges at work, but doesn’t see them as generational. Her biggest challenge as a younger and new manager is to figure out an individual’s work style and allow them to work the way they work best. She considers herself to be results oriented and referenced the Mike Rowe video. She appreciates the institutional knowledge that older workers bring to the table.

Interestingly, Albert doesn’t want to report to someone his own age and finds it easier to report to an older colleague. He thinks there is a lot of peer pressure to behave a certain way with GenY, and he has a much easier time with the expectations put on him by older workers.

Samantha enjoys the non-hierarchical structure of her workplace, where she reports to the board, and the board reports to the employees, and there are no generational issues.

What does loyalty and time served mean to you?

Albert, who works for HP, had a quote that I can’t stop thinking about:

As a contractor loyalty doesn’t really mean anything. I am always on that constant job search.

He went on to say that being assigned interesting projects, and being included on important meetings and calls, indicates that he is performing and will be around for a while. He does admire people who have remained at one company for years, and referenced his mother and her 30 years at IBM. Albert and his mother view the job market from very different perspectives because their experiences have been starkly different. He admires anyone who has remained at a company, managed the corporate projects, adjusted to reorganizations, and delivered results over the long haul.

Kelly understood that, but thinks that the fast pace of technological change makes it necessary to have people who embrace that change. He wondered if people who have remained at one place for decades perhaps should have moved on.

Kiernan thought it very much depended upon the type of work we’re talking about; he respects people in specific positions until they give him a reason to withhold that respect.

Are conscious of being a “Millennial” at work?

This question immediately touched a nerve with Kiernan, who detests the ideas that Millennials are entitled in any way, and brought up his anger at Boomers for bringing our economy to the place we’re at now.

Kelsey works in a very collaborative organization; she does have conflict with one person regularly who is indeed a Boomer, but she thinks that’s an individual personality issue and not generational in anyway. She is, however, very conscious of being a Millennial because she feels old. Her university is marketing to GenZ, and she needs to keep up with the technology that younger people are using. Imagine that: a Millennial who already feels old because of technology.

Albert is very aware of being a Millennial at work, but not because he gets negative feedback; social media is a very ‘protected’ work segment internally, and he is trusted more because he is younger. His boss gives him more power and freedom with new technology, and he knows that he is listened to on those subjects because of his age. He did want to state for the record that he has never been “accused” of being a Millennial.

Tiffany only really feels like a Millennial when programming etc. comes up at work; she does, however, hear a lot of negativity directed at young people for their poor work habits, but she doesn’t feel that she is defined by her generation at work. Her office has  4 generations working together.

Samantha feels her Millennial age, but primarily because there are so many people younger than her at her workplace.

What is your greatest communication challenge at work?

Albert loves working in an office, and prefers it to working virtually because of the interpersonal communication that’s possible, and the immediacy of face to face conversations.

Tiffany’s biggest challenge is not generation specific; the fact that people of all ages seem incapable of putting down their technology during meetings brings unwanted distraction. She has one Boomer work colleague who doesn’t even like email; to her that is evidence that individuals have different communication preferences and you must change your methods in order to get your work done. It is essential that she behave like a chameleon at work to be effective.

Kelsey, whose organization lacks a marketing head, is often frustrated by her colleagues choosing different communication methods, and the need for face to face conversation can slow things down. She has issues with other Millennials who choose to use email to discuss highly divisive issues instead of using an in person meeting. She actually had to ask a colleague to stop checking their phone during her presentations, and it was a Boomer. None of her challenges are necessarily generation based.

Kiernan is overwhelmed with electronic communications and much prefers in person meetings when possible.  Even Kelly, an admitted introvert, prefers face to face communication to avoid distractions.

To clarify: every one of our Millennial panelists highly values, and in most cases prefer, in person verbal communication.

Do you value niceties and formality at all in your workplace communication?

Albert finds most niceties, such as beginning an email with “I hope this finds you well,” as a distraction. He skips that and goes right to the meat of the communication, and never responds to any of the “how are you doing?” questions.

Kiernan definitely resents the lack of niceties in face to face work at his coffee shop with the younger kids. He sees a devolution of language, and regrets that very much, where Tiffany sees that as behavior all teens have shown throughout the decades.

Samantha echoed Tiffany’s statement that it is necessary to be a chameleon at work, and respond to individuals based on their own style. Kelly sees that as a generational survival technique, and sees GenY as the ‘missing link’ between the older and younger generations, sort of the middle of a technological sandwich. I pointed out that many GenXers see themselves the same way, and wondered if this is how all oncoming generations will see themselves as technology changes the way we communicate at a faster and faster pace.

How often do you expect to be promoted?

Tiffany sees this question as a bit odd, since she only expects a promotion when the results she gets at work earn her one. Albert has never been promoted, and doesn’t think about it, because he is a contract worker. Kelsey has never been promoted because she has been forced to go from job to job, but thinks it should be based simply on performance.


This hangout was packed with information. My take on the key insights are as follows:

  • Our panel was not driven by money; each one of them mentioned, in some way, that getting results at work was their primary motivation.
  • Generational conflict was not an issue for a single panelist; they all thought the challenges they had with individuals were not generation based.
  • This generation is very aware of the new, younger people coming up behind them and face their own technology challenges because of that fact.
  • Although they respect a colleague’s ability to remain at one company for years, none of our panel sees that as a possibility for their own career. I wonder what the current practice of committing to employees for yearly contracts means to the future of business; why would an employee show a company loyalty when they are shown none themselves?
  • Every single one of our Millennials prefers face to face communication at work on any important issues.
  • Millennials see themselves as chameleons when it comes to how they communicate with their co-workers, and see the ability to change styles and methods of communication as a necessary survival technique.

Join us next week as we focus on what Millennials do with their leisure time.


Photo credit: lyzadanger via photopin cc.

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