Gen Next on the Job

millenialSometimes called Gen Next or GenMe, members of the Millennial generation seem to feel entitled to have it all, have it now and have it their way. Perception or reality? Read on.

Generations in the workplace

We now have four generations in the workplace at one time, each communicating based on their experiences.

Consider these generational details and cultural signposts (adapted from 'When Generations Collide' by Lancaster and Stillman, 2002):

  • Traditionalists/Silent: Born 1900-1945, influenced by two world wars and the Great Depression. 75 million strong
  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964, influenced by the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement. 80 million strong
  • GenX: Born 1965-1980, influenced by single-parent homes, latchkey situations, Madonna and cable TV. 46 million strong
  • Millennials/Gen Next/GenMe: Born 1980-1999, influenced by cyberspace, outer space, the Oklahoma bombing and 9/11. 76 million strong

What are Millennials?

The newest identified generation, Millennials, Gen Next or GenMe, are the people who have always had a computer in the house, always had e-mail, always heard about work-life balance, grew up multi-tasking, carrying a cell phone and texting.

What a difference from Traditionalists who reused aluminum foil or Baby Boomers who waited patiently to get a letter (via snail mail, no less) to find out the result of tests or job interviews. Good at delayed gratification, Boomers waited to have these children and Millennials feel close to their parents.

After Baby Boomers delayed family life in search of self-awareness or career success, finally the birth rate began to rise again in 1975, leading to what is sometimes called the "Echo Boom," also dubbed the "Group Thinks Generation" (Johnson). Parents thought it safer for those children to participate in groups, so the GenMe kids have always been put into activities and scheduled to the hilt. All these conditions shaped the characteristics we think of when someone says Millennial generation.

GenMe/Millennials grew up in a different world than earlier generations and their cultural gauges are also different.

Recent research on GenMe/Millennials

New research by Jean Twenge, et al in the Journal of Management (March 1, 2010) says that GenMe seems to want jobs with more leisure time and high pay. Nice work if you can get it.

Twenge and colleagues studied nationally representative samples of high-school seniors across generations. The study covers more than 16,500 students answering questions about work attitudes during the years 1976 (Boomers), 1991 (GenX) and 2006 (GenMe). The time lag set-up allows researchers to compare generations at the same age of development. So they can account for whether their values are due to age or generation.

While 23 percent of Baby Boomers said that "work is just making a living," 34 percent of Millennials voted yes on that one. Both GenX and GenMe were more likely to value a job with extrinsic rewards than Boomers were.

So maybe GenMe/Millennials find meaning in their work? Not so much, according to this study. With intrinsic values such as having an interesting job or having one where you can make friends, there was a slight decline across generations. With digital friend connections, GenMe hasn't the need to make social connections at work that previous generations had.

And GenMe/Millennials were no more likely to have a desire to help others than the other two generations.

These researchers felt that the decline of job security in the workplace at a time when workers are spending more time at work may have led to GenMe's lack of commitment to companies, as well as a desire for more leisure.

The study notes publications such as Business Week, Fortune and the Wall Street Journal covering organizational changes being made to adapt to GenMe preferences. For example, major companies added features to appeal to work-life balance, relaxation and leisure. The study states that SAS has an in-house gym; Google offers onsite laundry and massage services; and eBay designated two rooms for meditation. Will these help attract and keep GenMe/Millennials? Maybe for now.

The future for GenMe/Millennials

Zero tolerance for delays won Millenials the entitled and impatient award. But that's their life experience. Their parents raised them to think they could have what they strive for and the digital age taught them they could find out now.

Wanting a work-life balance might sound pretty good to Boomers too, right about now. The generation who worked their lives away competing amongst the millions are finally thinking that having a happy life outside of work is important. It seems that each generation could learn a bit from the others.

Rather than a sense of entitlement, perhaps what GenMe/Millennials have is what the rest of us have. "Generational myopia," as Meagan Johnson calls it. They don't know what they don't know. In other words, they have little knowledge of how others see the world. And from a communication standpoint, they only know how to relate to others from their perspective.

Perhaps that will change too.

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