Bridging the Decade-Gap Among Millennials
For years the business world has talked of the “approaching” Millennial workforce. Researchers have shared how businesses can prepare for Millennials, particularly focusing on the technology related changes required to attract and best provide for a Millennial workforce. Today, in what may feel like a sudden shift, nearly the entire Millennial generation (anyone born between 1980 and 2000) has launched into the working world. In fact, those between the ages of 18 and 34 compose nearly 75% of the workforce.
In the world of IT, which is always searching for more talent, Millennials are plentiful. But lumping those IT professionals who have gained ten plus years of experience in their careers with those in their generation who are just exiting college could lead to serious tensions in the workplace. After years of focusing on bridging the generational gap between Millennials and Baby Boomers, it’s time to bridge the inter-generational gap of the two-decade-span that encompasses the Millennial Generation.
By examining two key conflicts that can arise between Millennials born in the first decade of their generation and those born in the second, we’ve come up with solutions both for Millennials and the generations working with them that will help maintain positive employee relationships.
Conflict: Identity with the ‘Millennial’ Title
‘80s-Born: The “oldest” of the Millennial group, those born in the ‘80s, tend not to see themselves as Millennials at all. This group, especially those born in the early ‘80s, has sometimes been referred to as “Xennials,” falling somewhere between the Gen-Xer and early Millennial categories. In many ways this categorization makes these individuals key players in bridging the generational gap between Gen-Xers and Millennials. However, when lumped into a category with their ‘90s counterparts, this group is likely to feel frustrated. They generally see themselves as less entitled than the ‘90s born Millennials, while valuing the fact that their personal traits stem from the best characteristics of both groups. As IT professionals, Xennials are proud of the fact that unlike the younger Millennials who grew up surrounded by gadgets, they had to actively learn about technology in their later teen years. This experience makes them feel well equipped to continue learning about changes in the IT world, and maintain a professional edge.
‘90s-Born: Those born in the ‘90s are generally very comfortable with their identification as Millennials. They’ve embraced the ways in which they differ from Gen-Xers, and are proud to have been proponents for a changing society. These individuals value entrepreneurship and social responsibility, and possess a strong environmental consciousness. However, they can feel tension in the workplace when their ‘80s-born counterparts choose to identify with Gen-Xers instead of Millennials. To the ‘90s-born Millennials, such a disassociation can seem to suggest that ‘80s Millennials see themselves as “better” than the youngest of their generation. ‘90s Millennials are aware of the negative labels that others have placed on their age group, but most find such labels to be insulting, and an inaccurate description of themselves. As IT professionals, these Millennials feel that their life-long immersion has taught them how to ‘figure out’ new technology as it comes, which they see as an advantage when it comes to solving uncharted tech problems.
Resolution: Identity with the ‘Civic Generation’ Title
If you’re a Millennial:
- Don’t Reject the “Other-Half”: What this conflict comes down to is a general rejection, by both groups, of the stigma that has resulted from “Millennial” stereotyping. ‘80s-born Millennials – remember to be sensitive to the fact that your disassociation with the Millennial title can be insulting to ’90s-born Millennials, and is likely to create workplace tension. On the other hand, ‘90s-born Millennials can help bolster intergenerational relations by valuing the experience that your more seasoned counterparts have gained, and respecting the difference that a few years as a working IT professional can make.
- Focus on Your Similarities. All Millennials will find more success by focusing on their similarities, instead of their differences. In the Generational Cycle, all Millennials can be categorized under the “Civic generation” type – a generation of people focused on innovation and working as a team to implement change. When approached from this angle, Millennials from both ends of the spectrum are able to use these commonalities to experience success, and achieve their goals.
- Don’t Take Offense and Be Understanding. In addition, try not to take offense when older generations refer to you as Millennials or have a hard time understanding your work patterns and preferences, and don’t judge them for the differences in their behaviors and styles as compared to your own. Remember that Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers didn’t grow up with technology the way you did, but there are many ways to be successful in the workplace, and lessons can be learned from all generations.
If you’re a Gen-X or Baby Boomer:
- Avoid Stereotyping. For those on the outside of this conflict, it’s important to remember that ultimately both groups just want to be seen as individuals, and not as a stereotype of their generation. The bottom line: avoid categorizing your coworkers as Millennials to prevent yourself from being inserted in the middle of this conflict, and stepping on toes.
- Value Their Idealism. Thinking of the younger generation through the “Civic” Generational-cycle lens will help you to remember that these two groups share similar and positive goals when it comes to shaping society as a whole. They are optimistic that things will turn around and shape up, and such an outlook benefits them as IT workers.
- Allow them to Learn From You and Evolve With Them. Also remember that Millennials are eager to learn and receive direction—be willing to act as a mentor and build cross generational relationships at work. The group as a whole is not afraid to embrace the constantly evolving world of technology, and has no qualms about robots in the workplace. To Millennials, change is a good thing – it’s what best characterizes their generation, and makes them a valuable asset to your team.
Conflict: An Ideal IT Workplace
‘80s-Born: By now, many ‘80s-born Millennials feel ready to enter into managerial and lead IT roles if they haven’t already. They are searching for honest feedback on their work, and want to know how they can advance professionally. If they haven’t already begun to take on some responsibility, they are likely to start searching for other opportunities where the chance for advancement will be greater. As 72 percent of Millennials say that they would like to be their own boss, ‘80s Millennial IT employees, who have already gained their ten or so years of experience, are likely to start turning toward consulting opportunities that might allow them greater flexibility and the feeling that they are earning more responsibility. Traditional IT employers may need to make adjustments to their total rewards initiatives to hold on to these professionals.
‘90s-Born: Though just beginning their careers, the ‘90s Millennials group is also looking for a sense of responsibility in the workplace. While this group may not yet be qualified for some of the IT positions that ‘80s-born Millennials are setting their sights on, they do place a high value on flat organizational structured businesses as opposed to the traditional corporate “lattice.” They want to feel like a part of a team, and are seeking gigs where their opinions will be valued. These Millennials also place a high value on gaining experience, and therefore are more likely to stay with companies that allow them to dabble in various aspects of IT, which they believe will help them to grow professionally.
Resolution: An Open-Minded IT Workplace
If you’re a Millennial:
- Share Responsibility. As a Millennial—’80s or ’90s-born— you place a high value on responsibility, so collective projects can lead to tension. While ’80s-born Millennials need to work on entrusting your peers to handle some of the responsibility, it’s important for those born in the ‘90s to recognize the authority and experience-advantage that your coworkers (both your ’80s-born counterparts and those of other generations) have over you, or the positions that those coworkers may be striving toward.
- Remember Your Common Goal: The Company’s Success. Accomplishing this sort of teamwork, however, may be even more dependent on how connected the Millennial group as a whole feels to the business they are working for. You care deeply about where you work, and place a high value on a company’s branding even at the conception of your IT opportunity search. You want to feel connected to the culture of the places you work, and have a desire to be involved in that culture by participating in decisions to develop your company. When ’80s and ’90s-born Millennials work for a company that they mutually value, you are able to work together more smoothly, focusing on ways you can work to better the company instead of focusing on responsibility distribution.
If you’re a Gen-X or Baby Boomer:
- Don’t Feel Frustrated By the Need for Feedback. Keeping in mind that Millennials value trust, responsibility, and leadership, it’s important that you give members of this group frequent feedback – whether that means discussing with an ‘80s Millennial what he or she can do to improve their work or earn that promotion, or providing a ‘90s Millennial with positive feedback, and constructive criticism as they enter into new positions.
- Respect Their Desire for Flexibility. And of course, hand-in-hand with their desire for trust and responsibility, both groups of Millennial IT professionals place an extremely high value on workplace flexibility. They are seeking opportunities where they can work remotely, either part of or all of the time, and desire flexible working hours. For you, this might seem lazy, or like they are not committed to their work. But Millennials are not only seeking work-life balance — they have come to believe in work-life integration. Through technology, they are constantly connected and ready and able to do their work from anywhere. Understand that they want to work hard, and they want this work to be a regular part of their lives. By allowing them some flexibility, with accountability, IT employers and coworkers are likely to see positive and productive results. Like Millennials, all generations can benefit from the understanding that your way, isn’t the only way to approach your professional life.
It’s no longer time to prepare for Millennials in the workforce; the time has come to embrace their already-established presence. As some Millennial IT workers move into positions of greater authority, others are just beginning their careers. No matter what stage they may be at in their professional cycle, these individuals all have a lot to offer as IT pros. However, establishing which end of the dual-decade Millennial spectrum your teammates fall under could help you to better understand them as individuals. Millennials will appreciate this individualization, and are more likely to experience professional success and satisfaction. And there are many advantages to happy Millennial IT pros, including a strong, productive workforce and fewer turnovers. It’s only a matter of time before the Gen-Zers (who are currently in high school) bring a whole new set of values into the mix, so for all generations, bringing a spirit of adaptation and understanding to the generational differences of your coworkers will set you up for future success.
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