There is a lot of talk about the generational differences in today’s workforce – baby boomers vs. Gen X vs. Millennials. Then there are those of us in between the last two, because no real consensus seems to exist regarding the cutoff year. This in-between generation has been given several unofficial names (my favorite being "Generation Catalano" because of my love of “My So-Called Life”), all mostly stemming from the fact that most of us on the cusp do not want to be classified as millennials. We don’t feel that we subscribe to the negative traits (e.g. a bloated sense of entitlement) associated with the youngsters, and we are proud of the hard work we’ve done to get where we are. That being said, however, there are some “Millennial” behaviors in business that I definitely support and encourage. So maybe we shouldn’t protest quite so much after all.
They rebel against outdated norms.
Just as we must adapt with new technology, we must also expand our mindsets. Millennials are great at this – they don’t just accept “this is the way it’s always been done, so this is the way we have to do it.” Instead, they push for change. They don’t want a set daily routine – they know what needs to be done and by when, so it doesn’t matter if they’re working at 1pm or 1am. They don’t wear suits to the office every day, because they know they’re more productive when they’re comfortable. Some don’t even go to an office every day, because technology allows them to do their work from the comfort of home, the local coffee shop, or anywhere else they’d rather be. It doesn’t mean they are lazy so much as they want to use their time in better ways than staring at the clock waiting for 5pm.
They demand reciprocation from their bosses.
Traditionally, bosses are in the power position. They make the rules and decisions, and control the work lives of the employees. Meanwhile, they often aren’t held as accountable themselves, especially when they own the business and don’t answer to anyone else. I’ve seen many with the attitude that they are doing the employee a favor by giving them the job. But the Millennials are turning the tables. They now recognize that they have the talent the business needs, and they are the ones doing the favor by accepting a job. They are demanding that employers make the effort to keep them happy, and not just the other way around. This may be frustrating for some, but I think it’s beneficial for all to have a more reciprocal working relationship.
They push for work/life balance.
The concept of work/life balance wasn’t around when I started my career. But it’s probably the Millennial agenda I respect the most. Work is important, but it isn’t everything. People who are happy in their personal lives are better workers than those who are frustrated at home (or worse, who aren’t even home often enough to be frustrated there). There are so many ways to improve this balance – telecommuting, flex schedules, better benefits (beyond insurance), etc. These solutions don’t always work for everyone, but business owners and managers need to look for potential ways to help. Employees with more flexibility tend to have higher levels of job satisfaction, and happy employees care more about their work.
So what do we (Gen Xers and in between) do?
It’s easy for the older generations to scoff at this behavior, to think these kids don’t know what they’re doing and need some good discipline. But times are changing. The overall business culture is changing. And the last thing we want to do is to get left behind. So why not embrace these new work attitudes? We can still demonstrate our values, teach our work methods, and share our experiences. But, we can also learn from new ways of thinking, even if they seem contradictory to what we’ve always known.
If you’re not willing to evolve or accept this new normal, be prepared to defend your systems with logic. If your way is better, show and explain why, and help people understand. As a business owner/manager, you might feel that your employees should just do what you say and not question you. But, if you want engaged workers, they need to understand why things are done that way. If it doesn’t make sense to them, they won’t do it effectively. I once argued with my high school chemistry teacher after he said I couldn’t sleep in class (I worked full-time, so I was often tired). I pointed out that I had an A in the class, so it shouldn’t matter. He didn’t have a logical comeback – my naps weren’t negatively affecting anyone – so he let it go. Maybe I do have a little bit of millennial in me after all. The point is, if you turn down an employee’s request for flexibility, make sure it is for a valid reason and not just because the traditional 40-hour work week is what you’ve always done.
Finally, please understand that you may lose some great and valuable employees if you’re not adaptable. If you won’t compromise, they will seek opportunities that better align with their priorities. Instead, be a positive role model and encourage their growth and ideas while also giving your own guidance. We might not agree with all the Millennial behaviors, but we do have to work together. So why not give them a chance and discover how we can all learn from each other?