My last article “The Millennials are Coming (What do we do now?)” prompted some email responses from some readers who wanted to add further perspectives or to respond to points I made. In general, I think they agreed with my observations, but added some rich commentary about why these points are so. It reminds me that it is very difficult to generalize about something as complex as an entire generation, and there are as many perspectives as there are people.
One person wrote:
“So, I will start with the caveat that I am extremely defensive about this topic also I have read a lot of articles but disagree with most of the approaches or data findings. My issue is that I read article upon article that states these generational preferences and I think that the statements lose meaning without further exploration.”
“For me,, she continued, “there is a lot of value in understanding ‘why’ the generation is different because I think the rationale as to ‘why’ exposes one of the most positive generational differences which for me is ‘extreme flexibility.’”
This generation has seen dramatic changes in technology use and has adapted to it as experts (where I would say baby boomers are just adapting as learners). The generation has been exposed to extreme changes in the work force and corporate responsibility and will likely have the most exposure to globalization. The flexibility the generation exhibits is the most impressive to me and is further explained using the next points:
- Gen Y-ers want flexible work hours – of course! We lived through a time when our parents missed our concerts and games and missed the connectivity to family events that our grandparents demanded with such norms as stores being closed on Sundays.
- Furthermore, we grew up in a time when moms stayed at home and families could afford that setup and therefore a working adult didn’t need the flexibility of coming home to meet the cable man, etc. Today, more economics has made dual career families a necessity. So we have to learn to balance many more issues than did our parents.
The issue of More “Me Time”
- “I’m not sure Gen Y-ers need more “me time” at work. My colleagues started working at a time when going home truly meant that your focus moved from work to home. Now, we are constantly connected and interrupted by work during all hours of the day at night with little transition between focuses. So my perception is not that we need more “me time” at work but rather that we need to make a choice (at some point) to take care of ourselves because we never get to turn our work-life off.”
On this point, another reader added:
- “It also seems like “me time”/flex time might be more a consequence of technology than of generation–since more people are able to work from home or check email outside work hours, people expect that in exchange for that, they should be able to take time off during the day to go to the gym or to deal with personal stuff. I know people who work at Lockheed where everything’s so classified you can’t have a cell phone or bring work email home who have a much cleaner work-life boundary.”
Constant Flow of Feedback
- “Gen Y-ers expect a constant flow of feedback – I think this is true, but again I think it is interesting to think about where this comes from. Since I have been working (not yet 5 years) there have been at least 3 down-sizing’s that could have impacted my job. My perception is that this was not as common for our Baby-boomer colleagues. So I need to know how I am doing because it may impact my job! And frankly my Baby-boomer colleagues are the ones who taught me to constantly get the feedback because they are sitting in the same position as me. We all need to validate our work to ensure our job. This is just a change in the workforce and I think it impacts EVERYONE, not just the Gen Y-ers.”
The Need for Mentors
- “They are looking for mentors – who isn’t? I actually think this is more common for the mature generations then the green ones….But if I humor the concept for a moment, then I would say that we have to find mentors because we are so worried about fitting in. We need feedback and we need connectivity because people constantly tell us how our generation is bad/wrong/not grateful etc. So, we exhibit proactive behaviors to prove these perceptions as wrong.”
I find it interesting to read how some of these people feel defensive about criticisms they hear, I presume, from older people. I don’t think that is anything new. I can surely remember my parents commenting that my generation was getting it all wrong. They didn’t understand how we dressed what we saw in Rock and Roll, or how we could be so disrespectful to our country to protest. I also saw that my aunts and uncles at the time agreed with them.
Sure Millennials are different. And so they should be. We all learn from our parents and want to make our own way. Looking around the planet, it’s hard to argue that the Boomers got it all right. There are surely many serious problems we are leaving for the next generation to solve.
I believe that those of us in positions of power (older people) build our organizations – including all our policies and procedures – to fit US. We build our companies around what WE believe, think, and value.
The fallacy of this is that in just the blink of an eye, our children are our employees, and our customers. So we need to think more about how to build our organizations around THEM. This should prove vital as they seek to attract and retain the best talent. This is especially so in industries where technology can be a differentiator. Millennials are extremely tech savvy, and are better networked than any preceding generation. There should be a way to harness this skill set and turn it into a competitive advantage . . .
I find it interesting that when I show examples in my classes about companies like Zappos, Netflix, Google, etc., the common reaction is, “Wow that would never work in our organization.” People seem to think it is some weird California thing. I suspect these tech companies are more generational focused on younger employees and it is setting a new bar in how graduating college kids are thinking their future employers should look. My hypothesis is that the less “Google-like” your business looks, the more of a disadvantage you are at in attracting this increasingly important age group.
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