Millennial “Generation Gap” May Be Impacting Your Office

If your workplace is like many organizations today, you probably have a number of millennials on your team; you may be one yourself.

meeting of team of business people

Younger workers may bring some different talents and expectations to your organization.

Just to make sure we’re on the same page, millennials are those who were born between 1980 and 2000. The oldest would be turning 35 or 36 this year and are likely to be productive staff members, or visibly becoming that way.

What can we say about them as a group? Most millennials won’t remember Ronald Reagan beyond having read about him, and a few millennials weren’t even out of diapers when Bill Clinton held the Oval Office. Many will not have watched first-run episodes of television’s “Friends.” Some may not have been old enough to comprehend why there was so much fuss about Monica Lewinski or why Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s hearings were controversial.

Some of their uniqueness can be relevant at work. Many millennials are more accepting of change that might have seemed cutting edge to Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers. I don’t think it’s a matter of being more liberal, but simply the reality that they have grown up with. Many had mothers who worked out of the home, attended schools that were more racially segregated and experienced other differences that would have been new, even startling to older generations.

Just the same, I don’t write about this topic often because I’m leery of using broad categories for classifying people. I’ve found that individual differences are usually the biggest factor in personnel management and individuals are what good management should most focus on.

For example, there are millennials who are bigoted, don’t believe women should be in the workplace and more. They may express themselves differently than an older person who shares essentially the same beliefs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t cause issues at work. That’s something you should remember.

And yet, if you’re looking for some tips to help manage a team with an increasing number of millennials, I might offer a few thoughts:

  • Maybe it’s just because they are young, but I’ve found that millennials tend to ask questions, even when the boss is giving them an assignment. Some people associate this with millennials having been raised by Boomers (who once questioned everything!). Others see this more as a result of their education, which emphasized critical thinking and inquiry. Regardless of the cause, if you have millennials on board your ship, be ready to explain more. For most millennials, it’s a matter of wanting to know “why” and better understand goals, rather than questioning authority.
  • Related to this is a tendency to utilize communication, including at work. Although I’m not convinced this is unique to millennials, I’ve seen an overall increase in “talking through” projects where people at one time may have accepted assignments and returned to their cubicle. Some of the best management uses of this involve nothing more complicated than budgeting time for staff or team meetings where individuals can have input, even work out who does what on a given project. Managers should develop the flexibility to utilize this frequently good source of ideas while also developing diplomatic ways to communicate limits of time, money and other resources.
  • I’ve heard millennials described as born team members who like group activities. While this is somewhat true, it’s also important to remember this is a generation for whom work-related activities can be inherently suspect. This generation has grown up with corporate dissolutions and mass layoff that have likely ingrained in them the need to keep their eyes open for opportunities, including other jobs or self-employment.

I still believe that working with individuals and developing individual strengths is the best strategy, but there are generational differences that can have impact at the office. If nothing else, it could be a good idea to keep these factors in mind if you’re having difficulty with a particular staff member who in this age group.

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