Many current conflicts between Millennial employees and their older managers stem from generational differences in upbringing, work history and present-day expectations of the job. Let’s examine three common issues, as expressed through the eyes of the manager.
#1 Millennials Don’t Ask Permission to Take Time Off
Managers of Millennials complain to me that their young employees will tell, not ask, their managers that they will be taking vacation or time off and when. Or the Millennial will opt to work remotely without clearing it with their boss. From the Manager’s perspective, this shows a brazen lack of respect for the manager and the workload of others.
The Millennial perspective is quite different. Millennials believe that the 9-5 construct of work is dead. They intuitively understand that the future of work requires a high degree of flexibility – from the employee and the employer. Their willingness and desire to work in such dynamic ways, however, is ahead of what most employers understand, or have the capacity and infrastructure to currently support. Millennials assume their bosses are on the same page about this flexibility, but that cannot be farther from the truth.
#2 Millennials Don’t Take Initiative
Most managers tell me that their Millennials do not take initiative. They complain that their younger employees wait around for work to be assigned to them and only perform the bare minimum required of their job.
When I share this perspective with Millennials, they are shocked. Millennials think that they do take initiative. Their professional ambition and desire to excel in their jobs requires it. This profound difference of opinion stems from the fact that Millennials equate taking initiative with asking questions and collaboratively involving one’s boss. In contrast, older generations believe taking initiative means “figuring it out” on one’s own, without having to rely on others. It is a classic recipe for misinterpretation and frustration.
#3 Millennials Don’t Do Grunt Work
Managers tell me that their Millennials don’t do grunt work. To understand this phenomenon, we must look at the rate of teen employment, which has dropped significantly over the last two decades. While the majority of teens in the 1970s and 80s worked during summer vacation, doing basic “bottom of the ladder” service and administration, less than 1/3 of last summer’s teens held a paying job. Instead, they enrolled in high school or college courses, did unpaid community service work as part of their graduation requirements and/or took unpaid professional internships to bolster their college applications.
While these activities make Millennials more attractive to colleges, there is a noticeable downside. Once Millennials enter the workforce, they lack the experience with service and administrative tasks that past generations gained from summer jobs. This unfamiliarity with the world of work has put Millennials at odds with older hiring managers, who express disbelief when their young employees do not accept “grunt work.”
Bridging the Generational Divide at Work
These contrasting viewpoints between manager and Millennial make sense, given the different generational experience growing up and in the workplace. However, they are cause for costly and avoidable misunderstandings at work that lead to low productivity, retention and engagement.
To reconcile this problematic divide, employers must retool their hiring and onboarding practices to include more education (specific, basic training) on the fundamentals of work and its meaning in the larger construct of the company, and to align Millennials’ expectations about the company, its culture and the roles each party performs in the organization chart. Without this larger conceptual framework and knowledge, Millennials begin their jobs on shaky ground that is difficult to correct down the road. In particular, managers should address, during the New Hire Orientation and onward, the disruption of unplanned time off, the importance of each part in the workflow (from administrative tasks to strategic policy-making), and the balance between collaboration and self-initiation of work. This initial clarity and ongoing support from managers will reduce a great deal of the conflict, and train a new generation to offer their contribution to companies effectively and sustainably.