Before this post goes anywhere, I just want to say that this is not a “slam piece” on my job, my boss, or anything like that. It is, however, a post about reality.
There is actually a large number of businesses that, in the past year, have accused millennials (81 million people) of ruining everything from wine corks to Scion.
My generation, the millennial generation is the generation of children born between 1982 and 2002, some 81 million children who have taken over K-12, have already entered college and the workforce, according to CPCC. This is the generation that will replace the Baby-boomers as they retire. Not that I’m not grateful to have something to learn from older generations in the workforce, but thank goodness some of you people are retiring.
We millennials have grown up in a society that is very different than any group before us. We have been plugged into technology since we were babies, we are a safe generation, we are the first generation for which Hispanics/Latinos will be the largest minority group instead of African Americans and have the most educated mothers of any generation before us. We are the most scheduled generation ever, are true multi-taskers, expect to have 6-8 careers in our lifetime and are attracted to diverse environments–all according to online, career based, sources.
Yes, I know my age is showing, as I did not go to a library to find any of this information. But I have become increasingly curious about what it has been like for each generation entering the work force after high school or college graduation–including mine as well as the concept of “paying one’s dues.”
According to the Incentive Research Foundation, “most generational experts suggest that what differences do exist, result from a combination of the time frame within which a person is born and the stage of life in which they reside.” This seems obvious, however the interesting thing is that my generation doesn’t work side by side with just one other generation, but four. I never really put a whole lot of thought into this but it still surprises me when I really consider it.
As of February 2015, about 55 million “Millennials,” (16-34 year olds) form the largest share of the US civilian workforce. The remainder of the workforce includes about 53 million 35-50 year olds—“Generation X”, and about 44 million 51-70 year olds — “Baby Boomers.” The remainder, about 4 to 5 million, are of the “traditionalist” generation; those still in the workforce who are 71 years of age and older–so says the Incentive Research Foundation.
“At a superficial level, we tend to paint members of the various generations with the same brush by labeling all or most members of a generation with identical attributes.”
Let’s look at this picture of generations not so much like we would the paint isle of hobby lobby, but as a forest–much like the well-known South African generational expert, Graeme Codrington–looks at it. If differences between generations do exist, and result from a combination of the time frame within which a person is born and the stage of life in which they reside but also can’t be defined in a broad stroke… then yeah, we are like trees.
Take one individual tree. In order to draw conclusions about a specific tree, according to Graeme, “you have to look at it individually, but trees that were planted at around the same time in a particular place will share common characteristics, and it is possible to predict broadly how fast and large they will grow, how much fruit they will produce, etc.”
Why didn’t I go into Sociology and Anthropology? Anyways…
I took a job late last year, fresh enough out of college, as a social media manager and administrative assistant. This is not news. The company I work for is by no means on the “cutting edge” of technology–one of our printers is so old the Flintstones most definitely sold it to my boss in a garage sale.
But I do find myself somewhat unhappy in my job and I already am planning on leaving it in about four years. I can’t help myself, I have a life plan. I wanted to know if the reasons I’m unhappy, or at least frustrated, are because I am not doing my job as well as I want, because my boss does not encourage me enough, or if my unhappiness is just a symptom of my generation.
Aside from the notion that my generation is a bunch of entitled, pampered, narcissists, the consensus among researchers is that Millennials are the most “racially diverse generation in American history”; that Millennials are “the first generation to be born into a digitally connected world”; that Millennials are “more indebted and more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than [Gen Xers] or Boomers were when they were in the same age category as Millennials are today”; and that Millennials were more likely to be “highly parented” than other cohorts at work today— certainly in comparison to Gen X (more on this point later).
Beyond these four descriptors, according to The Council of Economic Advisors to the White House, (2014) there is also a consensus that Millennials, more than other generations, want to work where and when they like. Perhaps this sounds impractical to some not raised in the digital age. My husband and I were even talking earlier in the week about the future of working from home and the advantages of telecommuting.
According to Forbes, most employees in every generation want this freedom to work when and where they wish, however, unlike other generations, Millennials may have a difficult time understanding why it should be any other way–why shouldn’t we want the freedom of working when and where we like especially when technology allows it?
Experts argue that Gen Y (Millennials) were raised in a world in which they were recognized and rewarded for almost everything—even for simply showing up to work, school, etc. According to author William Damon, they “…are so afraid of commitment that many of them may never marry, and they’re so uncertain about picking a career that they may wind up living at home forever.”
Not only do I want to punch Mr. Damon in the face for that comment with the fist bearing my wedding ring, I want to laugh (bitterly) out loud from my desk at work where I hold the beginnings of a career. But this isn’t a “woe-is-me” piece, so I’ll stop there.
The fact that some Millennials may feel disadvantaged, according to recent Pew research, might contribute to their lower overall levels of trust in people in general, taught to them by their Gen X parents. This is another potential area of differentiation between the generations, unfortunately, there appears to be no general consensus among generational experts on this characteristic of suspicion. It does make me think about my own level of paranoia when paying bills, signing a lease, taking a new job, opening a bank account, shopping online, etc.
Research conducted in 2010 by California State University at Fullerton found that contrary to assertions that Millennials are more interested in challenging and creative work than other generations. Actually, Baby Boomers that show the most interest in this regard and by a wide margin. Millennials, according to Forbes, aren’t looking for trophies or job security (although job security would be nice) as much as they are looking for their boss to be a coach.
“Millennial employees expect greater accessibility to the leadership in their offices and are looking for more mentorship rather than just direction,” says Jeff Fromm of Forbes Magazine. Research shows that the number one reason Millennials are likely to leave their current job is because of their boss. Fromm continues, “Creating an environment where Millennial employees feel supported and valued by the leadership will lead to increased productivity and valuable relationships.”
IBM’s 2014 survey and study of Millennials found that the notion that “Millennials want constant acclaim and think everyone on the team should get a trophy” is a myth. Thank God that fact has been debunked. If I could somehow solidify that fact further or make it bigger and flashier, I would.
Generation X, America’s neglected middle child, is more independent than other generations because they learned to take care of themselves at an early age. Perhaps more profoundly relative to work attitudes, Generation X was the first to witness the breakdown of the compact between workers and employers, and also, the breakdown in the sanctity of marriage. Many saw their hard working, loyal parents downsized and laid-off after years or decades of service to an organization. Others lived through their parents’ divorces, and many experienced both.
According to PEW Research, many experts agree, “Xers have sometimes been portrayed as lazy, but a larger consensus believes that they focus on doing their work in the fastest, most logical way possible so they can leave the office to live their lives outside work,” according to the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF).
Like Millennials and Boomers, Xers value the opportunity to work remotely.
Despite not being part of Generation X, I can absolutely understand wanting to live life outside of work and wanting to get work done without having to take it home. Who truly wants to take work home? Well, the Baby Boomers.
Boomers have shaped the workplace culture all generations now experience, just as Millennials are likely to do as they come to dominate the workforce over the next decade or so. Boomers were more intensely parented than generations before them. This is due to the fact that the widely popular advice of pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock during the 1950s and 60s influenced many parents to praise their children more, listen to them carefully, and restrain themselves in their use of corporal punishment. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if corporal punishment made a comeback, but that’s neither here nor there.
Boomers were also born into one of the most optimistic periods in US history. After WWII the economy grew rapidly, technology and medicine brought vastly improved lifestyles, progress in science, including space travel, created an era in which anything seemed possible. Hopefully I don’t sound spoiled in saying this, but I wonder what growing up then might have been like. I also wonder if that simple idea, the idea of growing up in a time where the vast majority of the population is optimistic about so many different aspects of American life, is a big part of why a certain political campaign was so successful.
Given the events that occurred in their era, Boomers are said to be the most idealistic of the three generations. While Millennials also share this trait, Boomers are, relative to Millennials, unrestrained idealists. Yet, despite the influence of the peace, love and hippie movements, Boomers are believed to work harder—or at least longer— than Millennials or Generation X, putting in punishing hours and working overtime to make their organizations and the world a better place.
It is said by the IRF that Boomers live to work, they seek advancement and status, they want respect and they expect others to pay their dues. Many generational experts place Boomers closer in their values and characteristics to Millennials than Xers. But Millennials share characteristics of both Boomers and Xers.
(graphic credit: Incentive Research Foundation)
I still don’t think I grew up with a bunch of pampered narcissists, and I don’t think my boss is lazy because he is a Gen Xer. But I can absolutely identify with wanting my boss to be more of a mentor and coach than just a supervisor. I spoke with my boss about this when I first started–he isn’t planning on having me be a life-long employee, and I don’t want to be a life long employee. He is trying to prepare me and my resume for a better job down the road. For that foresight on his part I am thankful.
But what got me on this topic to begin with was the fact that I feel like I am paying my dues. Learning the ropes of my job and career, driving home thinking to myself “I have to be better, I have to learn more, I can do this,” I just wanted to know if every generation, when they first started out, felt like this. I understand that that is also a very abstract question.
I think the Baby Boomer, when they started out, thought “I’m starting my first job. I can do this. I will do this. Why wouldn’t it be possible for me to be the CEO?”
I think the Gen X thought, “I hope I can do this. I don’t have a choice but to do this and succeed. I have trust in my own ability.”
What do we think?