Battle lines are being drawn in the workplace over more than just the thermostat setting.
It looks as though the generational shift in employee mindsets is going to be bumpier than usual.
The clash is becoming evident between the baby boomers, many of whom fill senior or management positions, and millennials, those born between 1977 and 1997 and often called Generation Y.
Baby boomers are about 76 million strong right now and most are deeply entrenched in the workforce. There are about 80 million millennials and although many have yet to enter the workforce, they will soon. About a third of workers are millennials and within four years they will account for half of the working class. By 2025, this generation will dominate stores and offices as baby boomers fade away into retirement or, well, let’s just say take a permanent lunch break.
Why the disdain?
A lot of it is natural evolution and to be expected. Older workers howled when it became passe to keep a bottle of whiskey in the desk drawer for an afternoon drink. They cringed when smoking in the office went away. Some couldn’t understand why it was no longer acceptable to pinch a female co-worker’s bottom or make some sexual comment about someone. These were still occurring in some places just a few decades ago.
So once again comes a seismic shift. A generation that has never known life before cellphones, the internet and Facebook is bringing its own changes.
The friction comes when those new ideas engage with what is still accepted custom and protocol.
For example, Talia Ben-Ora quickly found out boundaries exist. Just days after starting her job as a customer service representative for the company Yelp, she wrote a letter to the company’s CEO saying she deserved more money for what she was expected to do. She posted what she wrote to her personal blog and it went viral. She was promptly canned.
Or consider a summer intern who rallied others to challenge a company’s dress code as biased because one worker was allowed to wear non-dress shoes. The intern complained to her manager, who said the policy was not flexible. That prompted the intern to write a letter to the owner and get all but one of her compatriots to sign the rant against the policy. Their ID badges were collected the next morning and they were shown the door.
Miscues like these get a lot of headlines and spark massive online debate and criticism in which millennials are stereotyped as lazy and self-absorbed.
Millennials have plenty to offer, though. And, like it or not, they are about to become the future.
As a generation, they are considered the most socially conscious group since the 1960s. They are collectively among the most ambitious group and seek guidance from their counterparts.
They are a product of tough times, coming of age in a time of a lackluster economy.
The biggest generational gaps are in such things as flexibility and work/life balance, which are not exactly the strong suits of baby boomers. The latter group cut its corporate teeth in an atmosphere that was always demanding more and often put work above family and personal life. Millennials are firm believers in having a life away from the desk and expect businesses to be willing to bend to their schedules.
Wired magazine writer Clive Thompson says the attitude collision is to be expected and it’s simply millennials’ “turn to be vilified.”
“The real pattern here isn’t any big cultural shift. It’s a much more venerable algorithm: How middle-aged folks freak out over … cultural differences between themselves and twentysomethings,” he writes. “Every generation is inevitably reduced to a stereotype: Millennials, in the popular imagination, are all 25-year-old startup employees who complain about low pay in posts, get fired for it, and subsequently go back online to whine about the firing. They hoverboard around their open offices, drinking energy drinks, selfie-ing, monetizing their social media presence, pining for the imagined past of the ’90s, drinking kale smoothies, whatever.”
Millennials are starting to learn a lot about the workplace of today. The workplace of today is starting to learn a lot about millennials.
Where this ends is still up in the air.
But it’s going to make for an interesting transition.