Millennials in the Workplace

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Millennials is one of the biggest words in recent years, but who is it really referring to? Millennials, who include anyone born between the mid 1980s to 2004, grew up in an electronics, social media, and social networking focused world. Millennials tend to be one of the most diverse and tolerant generations. They’re also known for being the generation that follows their dreams, and takes at times, non traditional routes towards success and fulfillment. Both their parents and the media constantly remind this generation of how unique they are, and that they can do anything in life. Currently, there are 40 million millennials in the workplace and many companies around the world are still trying to understand exactly how they fit into the office culture. In the workplace, millennials often have more of an entrepreneurial, what’s next mentality.  Older generations, by contrast, adopted traits such as driven workaholics, paying your dues, respecting authority, preferring structure over freedom, and above all, working long and hard.

89% of millennials would rather have a position where they’re able to choose when and where they work rather than commit to a 9-5 schedule. 45% prefer a job that has flexible hours and pays less over a job that pays more and is less flexible. The average time a millennial spends at a job is two years. Gen X (those born during the mid 1960’s- the early 80s) spent 5 years at a company, and Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) worked for an average of seven years before moving on. Millennials are often described as lazy, entitled, self interested, unfocused, and untraditional. Simon O. Sinek is a British/American author, motivational speaker, and marketing consultant who speaks about how millennials and older generations can cope together in the workplace despite their different approaches to work.

Sinek explains that to lessen the gap between millennials and older generations, leaders are now asking them what they want. Their answers range from wanting to work in a place with purpose, to making an impact, to free food, and beanbag chairs. Even if leaders grant their wishes, Sinek reports that millennials are still unhappy because there are several missing pieces to the puzzle: parenting, technology, impatience, and environment.

According to Sinek, millennials today suffer from bad parenting. Parents tell their children from an early age that they’re special and can do anything they want in life. They can have whatever they want just because they want it and often, if they don’t get what they want, they’re rewarded anyway. Older generations never got participation awards for coming in last in youth sports tournaments. Once these kids enter the real world, they realize their mom can’t get them a promotion. They understand that they can’t have whatever they desire, and there are no rewards for coming in last place. This realization comes at a heavy price; their self esteem is shattered, and because of this, millennials have much lower confidence than the generations before them.

Millennials also deal with technology in ways their parents never dealt with before. This generation grew up (and is still growing up) engaging with social media, which releases the feel-good chemical dopamine. Dopamine is highly addictive. It explains that mini trauma that occurs when you’re unfriended on facebook, or why you count Instagram likes. Millennials constantly crave the feeling they get when they feel connected to someone on social media, and long to recreate it when they feel disconnected. This generation doesn’t rely on friends to cope with career or social stress. They rely on social media. Instead of having meaningful relationships, they have more surface level ones and that only gives them a temporary way to cope with life’s stresses.

Another crucial missing piece to the puzzle is patience. Sinek describes how millennials lack patience and expect instant gratification; they want things to happen exactly when they want them to happen. And we can’t blame them. Growing up with Amazon, Netflix, and Tinder allows them to buy, watch, or date at the click of a button. Millennials can have everything they want immediately, except for job gratification and strong relationships. These aspects of life are slow, messy, and fulfilling processes. The things that really matter in life such as self love, confidence, empowerment, and so on, take time.

Lastly, environment plays a huge role in why many millennials are unhappy in the workplace. Sinek argues that if you take capable kids and put them in traditional, office settings (non start-ups), where sales matter more than the kids, this environment isn’t helping them learn valuable skills such as cooperation, or how to work hard for something over a long period of time. Leadership in these corporate environments is lacking and millennials must work extra hard to build their confidence. It’s not that millennials are incapable of succeeding in a corporate world, they just need the right guidance to do so.

It’s the older generations who need to help millennials overcome their need for instant gratification and how to better balance social media and real life.  Millennials need mentors and leaders who can make small changes like forbidding cell phones in the room during meetings so they can learn how to socialize with their coworkers. The younger generation in turn should embrace leaving their phone at home when they’re out with their friends. They should get an alarm clock and charge their phone in their living room to distance themselves away from social media and technology for a few hours. Instead of looking down at their phones, millennials could take in the world around them because innovation and creativity is what happens when you observe your surroundings.

Millennials have all the tools to become successful in the workplace, they just need mentors who are as invested in their work and progress as they are. To succeed in the workplace, both Millennials and older generations must change their approach; older generations must be willing to teach and invest in their young employees, provide a challenging environment, and give them the resources and support to make a real difference in the company. Millennials must shed all ideas of immediately finding fulfillment and be willing to work hard over time to achieve their goals.