In all my research about how to create psychologically safe work cultures, I always end up seeing more similarities than differences when sorting out the needs and wants of the different generations at work.
I will get to these basic ways we are all so much alike, in a minute.
Meanwhile, let's take a brief walk back in history. While every generation has experienced change, today it does seem to be happening faster than ever. Radical changes are occurring because they have to.
Modern society is at the end of its rope.
Technology has connected us in important ways and we get information about the state of the world in seconds, which is much faster than ever before. Here is where the millennials are ahead of the curve. They grew up as technology natives and they can maneuver all kinds of devices faster and smarter than, as they call it, the "OWG" (old white guy) generation.
Millennials also grew up seeing drastic weather changes over and over with what seems like more rain, snow, fires, earth quakes; hot days in what used to be cold climates, and cold days where it used to always be hot. There was a time when we all thought, along with Dorothy and Toto, that tornadoes only happened in Kansas!
This instability has had an impact.
It has made the millennials the first generation to really think beyond the motivators of the past. Not that long ago the desires of those entering the world of business were money, status, early retirement, reliability, and more money. It was a time of classic clothes with designer labels and cars that were fast and sleek and shouted out "I've made it."
Today the younger generation wants to make a point, make a difference. It is not enough to prove how smart they are. They are aware that what they do, and more importantly, how they do their work has long range implications. Here are how the changes in this fragile world have impacted the way millennials think about what matters at work:
- Broader vision: They want to work at socially responsible companies, ones that are not planet polluters.
- Deeper mission: There is a desire to care about the community in which they live and are willing to volunteer to be of service to help those who have no voice, the homeless and disenfranchised.
- Faster learners: Not as impressed with degrees as they are with those who are creative, information gatherers. College is only one route to success, not the only one.
- Better at playing Leap Frog: The corporate ladder has been put in the closet. Good ideas trump being politically correct and office politics are a waste of time.
- Quicker to adventure: Material goods can only last so long while memories of travel and camaraderie last a life time.
The stereotypes, that millennials are selfish and entitled, do not hold up under the microscope.
This group of young people seems to know at a core level how they conduct themselves at work has major implications past their own personal lives.
Social media means that what you do and how you do it can be seen and heard in minutes. There are fewer places to hide bad behavior, so being ethical and responsible is the new normal.
There is a dramatic change in work patterns. Open space, free time to think and create, working virtually, being in charge of one's own schedule, and on the spot collaboration are now totally accepted.
Hierarchical organizational charts give way to organigrams. Think wheel rather than ladder. The challenge of today is to redefine the meaning of work. And we are in that process with this group of young people leading the way.
Now, what are the similarities that do not change from generation to generation? The desire to be heard, appreciated and included.
In the past the doors for honoring diversity, inclusion and engagement were only open to the privileged few. The desire was always there, the route to satisfying the desire was blocked.
This is the time to break down all the old barriers to working together and create workplaces that are alive with connections that transcend age, gender, racial and all the other divides that kept us in silos.
The millennials are a vital force for positive change, let's celebrate their coming of age.