Of course I'll be there, it wasn't like I had season tickets to the opera or anything...
April 12, 2010 8:44 AM   Subscribe

Help me be less Millennial.

I need suggestions, tips, tricks, advice, anecdotes and cautionary tales that will improve my outlook on work and ultimately make me a better employee, especially as it relates to inter-generational conflict in the workplace.

I fall among the very oldest of Millennials - too old to be a true Millennial, too young to be Gen X. And my work ethic and outlook on work/life balance tends to straddle those two groups. Millennial thinking still creeps up on me, regularly. And whether it is correct or not, I am convinced that it is a professional liability.

I know this song gets played as every new generation enters the workplace, but I'm specifically curious about this particular variation on the theme.

Employers: What behaviors really make you hate younger workers? What qualities make you want to groom and promote younger workers?

Employees: How have you successfully navigated this generational divide? Were you once an entitled/upstart Millennial, and if so how did you get over that?
posted by greekphilosophy to Work & Money (27 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
What specifically about your work ethic etc. do you see as problematic?
posted by amethysts at 8:46 AM on April 12, 2010

I welcome the millennials at work - they can use the computational machine without training! - is there someway you can reframe this? That you bring value to the organization?
posted by cestmoi15 at 8:51 AM on April 12, 2010

If you're having problems being motivated at work, my best advice to anyone regardless of age or "generation" is to start doing something you feel passionate about. There are always tasks within jobs that can be interesting and/or challenging so try focusing on those or on finding a job that you are actually excited about.
posted by Kimberly at 8:54 AM on April 12, 2010

I joined the workforce in the late 70's and was told at that time that "All young people want to start with big salaries, they think they know it all, they don't want to start from the ground up." (Also, apparently none of us could spell or put together a grammatically correct sentence.) When I first read about "The Millenials" I thought, 'Yeah, so?" Supervising millenials is just like supervising any age group. I have people of all ages who need more feedback, less feedback, offer lots of input, or have nothing to offer, have loads of initiative, or need fires lit uner them. I supervise my staff according to their individual requirements, not by age group. If you want to do well at work, just work hard, show intitiative and be willing to learn.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:56 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Go into work, put in a 100% effort while you're there, be polite to others, don't spend the workday watching YouTube or texting. You'll be fine. Older workers don't expect anything special. They just want to know you take the job seriously and can be relied upon.
posted by MorningPerson at 8:58 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

It is totally normal to want to be better paid or feel uninspired about busy-work you have to do so you can feed yourself.
posted by The Whelk at 8:58 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm a millennial currently working in business, and some of my higher-ups recently attended a conference where someone important told them that millennials work best when multitasking (ie, cycling between tabs and between work/non-work). My bosses seem to be fine with this behavior as long as we get our work done on time. I do make myself available to troubleshoot computers when necessary, which I think people like.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:59 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

This bit of free advice comes from reading your Twitter feed. I do not see you as entitled. You'd want to look at some of the eljay communities covering customer service to see real entitlement issues. (Customers suck, bad service, baristas, etc.) In a corporate environment, I rarely see entitlement issues causing a problem between employers and employees. I generally see loyalty and trust issues causing problems. There is no loyalty between employers and employees today. Employers do not trust their employees to use their better judgement. Employees do not trust employers to treat them as human beings. Unfortunately, both sides have very good reasons for their lack of trust and loyalty.

I don't believe that you should try to be a better employee. Strive to be a better worker & coworker. Handle the job at hand. Work to improve your skills. While trying to advance your own career, avoid hurting another's wherever possible. Above all, try to be a better person to those around you. Avoid the gossips and the toxic behavior. I cannot give you specifics, only these general recommendations.
posted by crataegus at 9:07 AM on April 12, 2010

When I'm working with people who are of a different generation than I (my work requires that I bridge both older and younger gaps- and I'm in my early 40s), the main thing that helps is direct and clear communication. Try to match the communication mode, frequency, vocabulary, and emotional tone of the other group (or at least meet in the middle), and this will allow for any other issues to be worked through more easily. For me this is both what is most effective but also most challenging.
posted by kch at 9:14 AM on April 12, 2010

I was just having this discussion, as I had no idea what Millennial "work ethic" meant. I'm sure it means different things to different people, but my boss and I came to the following conclusion:

We're probably the first generation of workers who really grew up connected to the Internet. In college when working on projects we didn't need to be together, we felt at ease collaborating where ever we happened to be. We use e-mail heavily and trust e-mail completely. If we send an e-mail message we assume it will be read or at least glanced out relatively quickly.

In some industries, especially high tech, I would assume this applies very little. But by and large, the economy is not full of high tech workplaces, but average people who probably really didn't use the Internet besides to pay bills online up until relatively recently. You now have a whole generation of people that assume everyone has the same skill set. This can be problematic.

An example: We have an internal web site we use to track the progress of things. The younger people, will send me a quick e-mail like this:

Why is that still pending I thought we resolved it last week?
Any mail program will convert that to a clickable hyperlink. Copy and pasting from the address bar is inuitive and easy. Older people? Not so much. I'll get things like this:
Why is issue 11 still pending (Internal Web Site -> Pending Issues -> Pending Issues By Client -> Big Client -> Issue 11)
Or worse, they'll sort of grok they should be putting an actual address there and it'll look like http: // ww.internal web site.com/client/ issue / pending/11 ... and no matter how many times I'll say, "You know you can just copy and paste," they will not make that connection. It simply isn't intuitive.

Another example: As I said before, it is obvious to us that nearly everything can be done over the Internet. I can, for example, launch my voip office phone from my laptop, vpn to our internal network and even remote into my desktop if I need to. Literally everything is there and it can be done in under 10 seconds. For some reason "working away from the office" seems to have been code for a lot of people to check their e-mail a couple times an hour and dick around at home. Again, not everyone, but the younger generation will get it and be productive very quickly and for a lot of people getting beyond the e-mail checking stage is arduous and they assume that you're just going to be less productive.

Sure some of this could be done with training, but I think a lot of it is the acceptance and use of technology for everyday things. If I'm watching television with friends we'll be on our laptops, etc. It is second nature and a lot of problems we troubleshoot intuitively.

I'm still amazed when I hear some VP only has their work laptop as the only computer in their home. They aren't complete luddites, they're certainly not stupid, they just sort of missed the second wave of computing. They're familiar enough to use technology of course, just not embrace it.

So I realize my response was very technology oriented, but I really think this generational shift is less about culture as much as it about the use of technology in our lives. I have a feeling that as the baby boomers retire, the next 20 years might see some profound shifts into how we conduct our daily live. I already have several friends whose teams or departments at work consist primarily of those under 35-30 and they have a much more fluid concept of what is work. Not necessarily of a 9-5, sit at a desk, but meet up once a week to hash things out, otherwise they're fairly autonomous (which is a bit of a ruse, because actually they're connected more than ever).
posted by geoff. at 9:21 AM on April 12, 2010 [7 favorites]

Ack well that was sort of scatter brained, but I think most my points are there. I guess that's because I was a "multi-tasking millennial" (I can work with more than one tab open in my browser).
posted by geoff. at 9:24 AM on April 12, 2010

I know you in real life, we've talked about our jobs, and I came here to reassure you that the special snowflake, "bored" yet non-proactive Millennial is Not You. Seriously.
posted by desuetude at 9:43 AM on April 12, 2010

Right now I'm too pissed off with my "millennial" coworker to respond to this intelligently.

I arrived at work this morning and found a small disaster. I spent about two hours moving things to save them and when my "millennial" coworker showed up at noon, and he was asked to move a small fraction of the amount of things I moved (about an eighth), he complained about how much he was being asked to do.

Don't do this.

Show up to work on time, don't leave early. If you're not coming in to work, call and let your superior know (or email, that works fine too). Do your job. When people ask you to do something, do it. If you want to (surf the web, text, talk on your cell phone) figure out what percent of the time is acceptable in your office environment and then stick to that percentage. If you're not sure, ask. It used to be that we weren't allowed to make personal calls on company time, some people still feel that way. If you're on your cell phone and I come to talk to you, unless the call you're making is a work-related call, get off the phone.

Work doesn't have to be fulfilling. It would be great if we all had jobs we loved doing. Not many of us do. There's a reason you get a paycheck - you probably wouldn't do it for free, would you?

Most people over the age of 30 don't enjoy it when you use cellphone speak or fail to capitalize. It looks sloppy to them and requires effort to read. It isn't professional.

Like I said, I'm not feeling much love right now. This isn't directed at you, but you did ask for millennial-relevant work issues.

The best advice I can give you is to talk to the guys who are in a different generational bracket about this. If you can ask them their pet peeves about the "millennial" generation you can identify the things that you need to work on - or not; they might be completely unreasonable - and then shift the conversation to the things that you struggle with.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:01 AM on April 12, 2010

We get told about Millenials all the time in the library world, how to deliver services to them, how to make sure we understand them, etc. I've found that, for me anyhow, it's much less an age marker than just a ... I don't know, respect marker? That for people who are pre-Millenial they expect that a certain amount of work is doing things you don't want to do and you do them anyhow because overall you like your job, or you like not being hungry and so everyone has to sort of suck it up. Millenials, as I understand it, would prefer to be challenged and engaged and at least question the stupid stuff they have to do at work or at worst call it stupid.

Personally, for me, this is fine and appropriate to a degree but I know that I personally have gotten flak for being too informal, for wanting to have too good a time at work, for basically saying no when someone asked me to do something where it was phrased as a request, i.e. "Hey what do you think about doing XYZ program?" "I don't think it sounds like a good idea and I don't think we should do it" and then I'd wander off and not think of it again and they'd be pissed off because I didn't want to do the thing.

So I think the big deal is respecting that people aren't like you, acknowledging their culture at the same time as you assert your own, trying to meet somewhere in the middle when asked to do "old culture" stuff [really? a two hour meeting instead of circulating a document for comments?] and trying to mentor up [if there are technology barriers that other people in your office could use help on that are second nature to you] and allow yourself to be mentored to about office culture and why things are the way they are in the first place.

And use normal respect markers like writing email in full sentences, using spell check, keeping personal use of internet stuff to a normal level and being willing to put it aside when work stuff comes up. Different offices have diffetent levels of what is professional in the workplace. Aim for sort of the middle instead of defining the outer edge.
posted by jessamyn at 10:13 AM on April 12, 2010

I'm one of the younger Gen-x'ers (or one of the very oldest millenials depending on how you measure this) and I work in business. Really I don't think there are many problems with millenial-aged workers in the office, but I'll offer a few suggestions anyway just because I see some of the ways young people have trouble adjusting to office life.

First make sure you respect social boundaries - guard information about your personal life and after-hours activities - especially those things that might make you look unstable to someone who is older and more conservative (like weekend drinking binges) and don't feel the need to point out flaws in people or processes unless this is something you are asked about. Talk small with people you don't know/trust - talk about sports, weather, current mainstream cinema, travel spots, news, gardening and other non-controversial topics. Keep all drama to a minimum.

I'd also make some effort to try to identify and follow some of the hidden/implied rules that some employers have. Remember that a lot of "private" decisions have a public side. I had one boss who really hated it when men had facial hair or unshined shoes, but it wasn't in the dress code or any other formal rule/procedure/guideline - try to pick up on those things and follow them. Jokes, and sarcasm can be taken the wrong way really easily.

Don't let the web, tech toys, and other social media distract you too much. Remove headphones for conversations. I know of employers where playing a video game at work is a firing offence.

Try not to use "like", "um" or any other verbalized pause when you talk.. if you are searching for words just pause when you are speaking.

The standards in the real world are higher than they are in school. 80% is a good grade in school, but you need a higher level of accuracy in most business and technical tasks. Direct questions require direct answers - don't try to hide a lack of knowledge by answering a direct question by providing with a bunch of related information.
posted by Deep Dish at 10:30 AM on April 12, 2010

Everyone's different. But, recently I've noticed some particular traits that seem common to new graduates that I interview. I had not noticed these traits several years ago or more. And, these traits are particularly annoying. So, here's some advice.

First, pick a career that you care about. It's a career. It's not a job. If you wanted a job you should have applied at a temp agency. As a boss, I expect employees to care about what they're doing for 40+ hours a week. I don't expect your work to be their life, but they should have some implicit interest in it. When asked your thoughts are about your career you should have something interesting to say that's positive. Otherwise, you should change careers, or at least fake it.

Second, schooling and education do not entitle anyone to a special high-paid job from day one. An education is only a ticket to the club. It's a mechanism to weed out those that don't have focus, determination, and drive to finish long-term projects. Unless someone has a Ph. D. in an incredibly cutting-edge field or a particularly rare and highly demanded field of study, their degree doesn't count for much in the hierarchy of things. Most people start out getting paid less than average until they've proven that they're a long term asset. Most people get better over time.

Third, just because someone tracks experts' blogs or read their books doesn't make them an expert. Sure, you have great ideas, and we're happy that you read and keep up with things. But, real expertise requires real experiences. Please do challenge assumptions and conclusions, and give alternative perspectives, but don't argue because so-and-so does it differently. Don't argue because you don't feel listened to. At least frame the discussions well. Also, understand that "the way things are" is result of years of systematic affects that are largely outside our direct control.

Forth, respect those around you, especially your bosses. Even further, put forth a lot of effort to make your bosses look good. Why? Because your bosses had to do it, and they still have do it for their bosses. It sucks; but that's the hierarchy. And, it's the way things work, at least for now. If you don't have respect for your bosses, or aren't motivated to do work that makes them look good, get new bosses. Simple. Then once you're bosses are happy, do everything you can to make your co-workers and peers happy. That makes for a blissful workplace. That kind of workplace makes everyone successful.

Fifth, please, please understand how to solve problems and achieve objectives without Googling the answer first. Google is a great tool, and you should use it. But, you weren't hired to Google answers to everything and claim it as your own thought. When asked about the decisions you made in developing a work product, be ready to answer, be ready to modify the result and fully understand the nuances. Don't give a blank stare when asked to take on a new challenge. Don't assume that things are impossible if they don't appear in Google.

Finally, be engaged and productive. I work in technology, so I don't care as much about when and where people work. But, have things complete when asked, be proactive, come back and ask questions if you don't understand. If you can't complete things on time, let people know as soon as possible. Don't be cocky and arrogant. Don't play video games or facebook while I'm trying to talk to you in meetings. At least look interested.
posted by TheOtherSide at 12:28 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My problems tend to be like jessamyn's.

If there was a Right Answer and a Wrong Answer, why was I given the option? And when I told you I had a thick skin and could take criticism well but had little use for back-patting, why did you wait six months to tell me the work I was doing wasn't what you expected/wanted? And if you gave me sick days as a part of my fringe benefits package, why do you resent me for using them? And can you please just come up with a safeword for when you expect me to put my personal life on hold so I'm not constantly trying to figure out if something is actually important enough to warrant giving away my opera tickets? And if you think our internet use is unnecessarily high, doesn't that just indicate that you should give us more work?

My mother is fond of reminding me that people are always promoted to their first level of incompetence. And I try to remember that when dealing with people - that they might not actually be very good at their job - but I find it exhausting and I really just want to know how to mind my p's and q's sufficiently that this sort of thing doesn't keep sneaking up on me. An older friend once told me, before my first real job, that I should never use my sick days under any circumstances because it's a cardinal sin and it will make employers hate me. And that's exactly the kind of completely counterintuitive advice that I'm looking for, which may or may not be true, but is SO conservative that I can't possibly piss someone off by following the advice.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:41 PM on April 12, 2010

jessamyn: ...if there are technology barriers that other people in your office could use help on that are second nature to you

While I'm not a millennial myself (Gen X all the way), I will tell you that when I've been in employment situations where I am one of the youngest (if not THE youngest), using my tech skills in ways that help everyone really did win me some fans among the more experienced people. Imagine this: I'm working as a stockbroker, one of three women brokers in the whole office, and guys who have been in the business are meandering down to hang out in my office, shoot the shit, then finally get around to their "So, I hear you know about Excel. Can I do [this thing] with it?".

It works nicely in reverse, too -- those are the guys I went to first when I had questions or problems that were more in THEIR area of expertise!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:33 PM on April 12, 2010

I think this is the kind of think you're looking for GP, that I learned the hard way in my first corporate job. People older than us take "work life balance" as a super duper hard won benefit that only the highest up of the muckity mucks get. Whereas people our age kind of expect it. Work is not our life and we never expected it to be, but people in previous generations did. And so that is how the work culture is structured. Work is your life. You're not to have a life outside of work that interferes with work. If something comes up at work that needs your attention, life gets put on hold, not work. That's the general work ethic of previous generations (the expected work ethic anyway, the one that corporations want you to have, because that is the one that makes the most money, theoretically).

So when you take sick days, or vacation days, or leave on time to go to the opera, or take a long lunch to get that mysterious mole checked out, you're showing that you're not prioritizing work over everything else. You're not putting The Man ahead of yourself. Younger generations are all wtf about that mindset and expect a "work life balance."

We also tend to not see the point of busy work and feel that if we're getting the work done, who cares if we're dicking on the internet when done? But companies are all about looking busy, so even if there is no fucking work to do, they want us to look like we're working, even if all we're doing is staring at a Word document that we edited four days ago. Wheras previous generations apparently wasted their time chatting at the water cooler or coffee pot, we just want to Facebook. I don't see what the big fucking difference is...

Other people have pointed out the technological differences as well. I personally have found that older generations DON'T like receiving help or tutoring on how to use excel or the intarwebs. They don't want to admit they don't know. Plus, they have assistants to use those crazy tools for them.

Basically, you have to decide if you want money and a career or a job and a life. I don't think you can have money and a career and a life.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 4:44 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Basically, you have to decide if you want money and a career or a job and a life. I don't think you can have money and a career and a life.

I think this is a false dichotomy. And I think it is hazardous thinking. What if you have a career and no life and never make the money?

There are plenty of mooks who somehow got promoted and have a nice career. There very existence disproves this idea that work is some sort of meritocracy.

Such thinking leads to greekphilosophy's example of the terrible advice to never take sick days. You're sick? Take a sick day. Ignore the gossip.
posted by geoff. at 6:18 PM on April 12, 2010

I'm probably way off base here. But, is it possible that it's not a Millenial thing, but instead is an economy/fight-for-limited-resources thing? Tight job market, everyone at my office (and probably every office) is talking about someone who lost a job, or a company that's not doing well. You're at a non-profit -- bet money is tight there? And here you are -- smart, ambitious, wanting to please, studying for the bar to become all official here. Maybe what's wrong is that they are afraid? That was my thought when I read your follow-up.

(Also, the generational thing... every older generation has their reasons why their generation is best, and others should either get with it or toe the line a little better. The Greatest Generation couldn't understand their wild hippie baby boomer kids. My generation? We were just lazy latchkey kids who were too negative and listened to that ridiculous Nirvana noise.)
posted by Houstonian at 6:45 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

We also tend to not see the point of busy work and feel that if we're getting the work done, who cares if we're dicking on the internet when done?

I totally agree in theory. Certainly i do this to some extent (uh, see posting history on Metafilter.) Except that what this seems to mean in practice for a lot of people is to rush through and get the assignment done as quickly and superficially as possible so they can get back to their important dicking around on the internet (which they deny that they do) and then get defensive when I get cranky about correcting the same mistakes multiple times or, god forbid, expect them to have actually read the document they're revising. How am I supposed to give someone more responsibility when they don't take any responsibility?

Regarding sacrifices and career-as-life thing, I think that the other elephant in the room is that in ye olden days, the Men were In Charge and had Manly Networking (i.e. social) Functions. All that "back in my day we never took off sick and blah blah blah sacrifice" yeah, buddy, and your wife starched your shirts and raised your children and made you dinner. It seems to me that the practice has now swung the other way. The men with the young children at home get easier promotions and aren't expected to stay late because they have a family. Well, I have a family too, and it's none of my boss's fucking business what I mean by that.
posted by desuetude at 7:09 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

I recently went through a mandatory diversity training program at work and there was a (surprisingly good) class on generational differences in the workplace. IIRC milennials were characterized as the following:

- embrace multitasking
- expect immediate feedback
- naturally exploit/use technology
- work to live (as opposed to "live to work")

Your boss probably waited months to give you feedback because that is the timeframe that he/she thinks people are comfortable with. You can try to help your boss understand that you like/welcome constant feedback, but your boss might not be used to giving such frequent feedback or really even see the point.

If it matters, I'm one of the older millenial/youngest Gen X people, so I kind of see both sides of the generation divide. My advice is to strive to understand how people from older generations work and communicate. For example, older people don't necessarily feel comfortable with multitasking, and you can't expect them to; you also can't be so demanding about immediate feedback. Older people may not use email or instant messaging as effectively as you; you might need to take the time to talk to someone face-to-face.

Also, older generations aren't going to see the point of texting/social networking/Facebook, so internet usage may be viewed as a big waste of time, even if you did get all your work done. Appearances are important, whether you think they are or not.

The big thing that will help you (or anyone from any other generation) is realizing that people from different generations work differently and have different values and approaches to work.
posted by kenliu at 8:08 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

And when I told you I had a thick skin and could take criticism well but had little use for back-patting, why did you wait six months to tell me the work I was doing wasn't what you expected/wanted? And if you gave me sick days as a part of my fringe benefits package, why do you resent me for using them?

Welcome to the world of work. This sort of shit has irritated and confounded generations.
posted by scody at 8:09 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

one more thing...those annoyances with your boss? Everyone has those, but the older/more experienced people are just used to it and don't let it get in the way. The millenials just haven't had enough experience yet and therefore take things too personally or think they are uniquely being mistreated somehow.
posted by kenliu at 8:27 PM on April 12, 2010

GenXer here. My attitudes toward work are very similar to Millennials'. I think our culture is evolving toward one in which a work-life balance is part of the work ethic from the start. IMHO, it's healthy and A Good Thing and it's thanks to the Millennials in large part.

I've noticed that retirees who go back to work share this attitude to a degree. They want to hang out with their grandkids. I work with people of all ages and for some reason, my office's culture is skewed to "work hard, but leave on time."

Millennials will one day be the bosses and that's the day when our culture's collective stress level will go down.

I'm all for happy, productive, multi-tasking people who want more out of life than "lots of money" and who don't define themselves by their jobs. And I welcome your high-tech expertise.

If you're concerned that you're slacking too much just remember that when you're at work, you're there to do a job. Focus on that. But don't assume you have to work 24/7 or that others think that you do. Those are unreasonable, dinosaur expectations.
posted by xenophile at 7:47 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the idea that this is just what work is like and we have to put in our time, do the busy work, stop complaining that our job isn't fulfilling, and just get used to it isn't really right. These things are true, of course, but in the eight years since I graduated college and entered the work force, I've consistently had jobs where I didn't have enough work to fill even half of my day, and had no ability to generate my own work. I've also sensed that my bosses had expectations that I wasn't meeting, but that they couldn't explain, and I couldn't gather.

My point is that there's a disconnect somewhere. I don't know if it's the psychology of the Millennial vs. older generations, or if it has to do with changing business practices and structures, or something else entirely. I do know that "do what you love" and "don't be lazy and disrespectful" don't cover it.

Best of luck, and let me know if you figure it out. (oh, and I think desuetude might be onto something.)
posted by monkeygenius at 11:57 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

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