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August 04, 2016

Millennials are growing up too

Increasingly these days a distinction between generations is made by branding groups with an X, a Y or a Z. We also make eager use of the word “millennial.” But what does this term mean, and what influence does this generation have in the workplace?

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Who are the millennials?
The term “millennial” has something of a negative connotation. For the past few years, the media has been describing this generation (born between 1981 and 2000) as lazy, narcissistic, spoiled, impatient, and with little loyalty. However, as more millennials enter the workforce, the conversation is changing. We’re finding that the discrepancy between the goals and approaches in the workplace among the different generations isn’t as big as initially thought.

In a previous blog, my colleague Vincent Henricks cast some doubt on the generation gap in the workplace. And I agree with him. Yes, this upcoming generation has goals and priorities that Generation X (1961-1980) probably didn’t have—or at least don’t have anymore. For example,  a survey from PwC among higher-educated millennials showed that they desire tech-enabled flexibility in the workplace, so that working from home or other coworking space can be just a productive as working in the office.

But, perhaps we are now focusing more than ever on a new generation. Books like Ties and Tattoos, and workshops like “Dude, what’s my job?” put even more spotlight on the role of the millennial in the workplace. These somewhat suggestive titles say a lot about the image surrounding this generation, but on what basis has this image been created?  Research into the differences between three generations indicates that there are actually very few. The research shows that the newest generation has the same career objectives as older colleagues.

Are the differences really that big?
Given the amount of attention paid to technological developments, the millennial group is perhaps subjected to closer scrutiny than the previous generation when entering the labor market. But does this mean they are a completely different type of employee? Research shows that all generations in the workforce want to make positive impacts to their organizations, with millennials leading in that category. In fact, I believe this is an age-old debate that has more to do with how the timing in the personal lives of each generation affects their goals and priorities. Millennials are getting older too, and just like their older colleagues now, they will have to deal with life-changing events like family, children, and health. I know from experience that these do not improve flexibility. So, I think that the minimal difference between different generations in the workforce will shrink even further. Younger employees want the freedom, for instance, to determine where and when he or she works. But when younger employees become older, a moment certainly arrives when the desire for routine and more regularity grows—exactly as it did for the undersigned.

Geert-Jan Blom
Business Consultant Planon Netherlands