Embracing Millennials in the Multigenerational Workplace

Posted by: Nate Regier

In the first quarter of 2015, Pew Research reported that the millennial generation – those born between 1980 and 1999 – had officially surpassed Generation X as the largest group represented in the U.S. workforce.

So why is this shift posing problems for U.S. employers?

Millennials are a generation of employees entirely different than their predecessors, which can cause misunderstandings and difficulty communicating between generations in the office. This year’s global research reports by McKinsey/Lean and Deloitte Consulting reveal several key trends among millennials.

Action and results oriented: In general, millennials are more action-oriented than baby boomers, and want to see immediate, tangible results for their efforts. Older generations have embraced the “pay your dues” mentality, where, for example, they work for a number of years at one job and move up the ladder slowly. Millennials on the other hand, want to get their hands dirty quickly and see equally fast returns.

Passionate (and impatient): The desire for results often makes millennials seem both passionate and impatient. While passion can often be confused for loyalty, millennials tend to leave jobs that do not support their passions. Their true passion tends to be around making a difference, whether for a company or in a more altruistic sense.

Global and tech savvy: Millennials have been exposed to greater levels of technology and connectedness than any generation before them, and the result of this connectivity is a global orientation. As companies become more globally focused, their employees follow suit, and millennials have a desire to travel more for their jobs than previous generations (bonus if that work trip includes a site seeing destination overseas).

How older generations respond

With these qualities in mind, employers have experienced difficulty when it comes to blending millennials into an intergenerational workplace. Members of previous generations have responded to millennials in three ways:

Acceptance: One-third of the older population fully embraces millennials

Work place application: Managers can help millennials work closer with this group by forming intergenerational work teams and mentoring relationships. Allow millennials to introduce the older generation to newer technology, and allow the older generation to share their experience with past change initiatives. The key is to create a casual environment that fosters personal relationships rather than workplace reviews.

Reluctance: One-third reluctantly accepts millennials as part of the workforce but still goes along with the changes the generation is creating

Work place application: Managers should encourage cooperation between millennials and this group by focusing on specific performance goals, highlighting how each person’s skills contribute to the overall purpose, and emphasizing how different strengths can come together to tackle big problems.

Resistance: One third resists the influx of the new generation and digs in its heels, desiring the “good ol’ days”

Work place application: This group may prove most challenging for managers as they attempt to round out the multi-generational workplace. They should approach this group by keeping the focus on performance, job duties, and contribution to the good of the company or team. Regardless of how long a person has been at their job, if they aren’t learning new things and growing each day to keep up with a changing world, they aren’t helping the company.

Concluding thoughts

Millennials may be the majority of the workforce, but they shouldn’t abandon all of the practices of past generations. Organizations need to emphasize the importance of collaboration and skills exchange between the intergenerational workforce. In the workplace of the future, workers won’t settle for their job to be “just a paycheck.” Employers and managers will emphasize the importance of passion as well as the ability to deliver results. Millennial employees will be increasingly reliant on technology to help speed up operations, improve communication and automate processes.

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About Nate Regier

Nate Regier, Ph.D., is co-founder, owner and chief executive officer of Next Element. A former practicing psychologist, Regier is an expert in social-emotional intelligence and leadership, positive conflict, mind-body-spirit health, neuropsychology, group dynamics, interpersonal and...See Nate's full bio.