Millennials, generations, and how we work

There is still a lot of buzz surrounding the Simon Sinek millennial conversation from a few months back, and most of us can agree with his points. He speaks of four characteristics that cause a disconnect between millennials and the workplace:

  1. Parenting;
  2. Impatience;
  3. Technology; and
  4. Environment.

At ThirdSpace, we have our own viewpoints on this topic from the perspectives of a millennial and a Gen Xer.

The millennial — Zach Blumenfeld, ThirdSpace COO

While I agree with what Mr. Sinek says, his stance can be perceived negatively. Why isn’t this generational change in our culture viewed as a positive? Sure, we can be impatient and our work habits are different than the status quo, but we are taking over the workforce and changing the way we work. Out with the old and in with the new. The world is starting to adapt to our tendencies and we naturally embrace technology while making it central to our lives. Mix the exponential growth of technology and a corporate environment that cares more about numbers than people and you deny a company culture that fosters relationships, growth, learning, innovation, and engaged employees.

A problem with the way we work is that most companies have historically not catered to how millennials were taught to work. Big corporations that I’ve worked with in the past are “old school” and give you a nice desk in a small cube with a (sometimes) new PC. Sitting in a cube for eight hours is not our style. I’m not saying I need a Ping-Pong table and free food — although that is nice. Rather, I want to be a part of something that matters. I agree with Sinek’s four characteristics that cause a disconnect, but I have my own four that cater toward the wants of a millennial:

  1. Company culture and employee engagement;
  2. Deeper purpose;
  3. Career journey; and
  4. Leadership.

The biggest problem in today’s workforce, no matter your age or generation, is company culture and employee engagement. According to Gallup, approximately 70% of employees in today’s workforce are disengaged. Worldwide, actively disengaged employees (24%) outnumber engaged employees (13%) by nearly 2:1. These are alarming statistics and should be the number one topic of strategy discussions. Culture doesn’t happen overnight or because everybody has access to an organic juice bar and we throw a motivational picture on the wall. If you don’t put in the effort, there is no chance for a great culture. We need to be able to bridge our first space (personal life) and second space (work life) together, ultimately making a ThirdSpace (see what I did there?) where we connect work and play. This isn’t a topic that should be masked or sugarcoated. Engagement comes from within. Engagement comes from being a part of the bigger picture.

Without going to your company website, what is your company’s mission statement? You are in the majority if you don’t know. Once you figure out your company’s mission, what does that mean to YOU? Are you on board with the mission? A company’s mission needs to align with its employees. From talking with hundreds of executives and organizations we’ve found that one of the most motivating factors for employees, especially millennials, is being connected to the deeper purpose of the organization. Most are not, and this is a big reason why you see so many employees job hopping every few years.

I’ve worked for a few different corporations — big and small — and there has either been no onboarding or there is a typical onboarding process. You know, come in for a few days of training, let’s check up in 30 days, then 90 days, and then you are good to go until your annual performance review. Onboarding is a journey. You are on an organizational journey to master a craft. You never stop learning and you should never stop onboarding. Knowledge is power and empowering your employees is a win-win for everyone involved.

Too many times I see a “top-down” approach in organizations and an extreme disconnect between leadership and employees. We need to be able to bridge the “top-down” with a “bottom-up” approach, and it starts with leadership allowing this to happen. Think about your favorite boss or manager. What made you like him or her? Most likely he or she helped motivate you, allowed your voice to be heard, and helped lead you on a journey throughout your career instead of micromanaging.

Our world is changing. We need to connect people from all demographics with one another. We need to do a better job of fostering relationships and engaging our teams. Help guide your people and put them on a journey with deeper purpose and meaning. Organizations and management need to lead the way. I challenge you to embrace technology and our ever-changing environments to make work a place where millennials — and all generations — can work together and have fun doing it. Help us make a difference at our organizations and in the world. The future of work is now. The future of work is you.



The Gen Xer — Scott Kohl, ThirdSpace co-founder and CEO

I’m a Gen Xer. I was born in 1973, which means growing up in the 70s and 80s with a heavy Cold War influence — Star Wars, 30-second intros to sitcoms, staying out after dark, Atari, latchkey kids, and MTV when it still had music. Gen X is interesting because we span the boomers and millennials. In many ways we are a hybrid generation with the technical resourcefulness of millennials and the grit of our parents. We are the inflexion point on the technological growth curve and there won’t be another generation like ours. We were analog first and then became digital. Unless you count the Sony Walkman, we grew up without the constant presence of devices. We developed human relationships first and years later tools — like the mix tape during our teen years — came to augment our deeply personal experiences. We also developed a strong independence because of the household need for two working parents and an early awareness of an uncertain future.

Watching Sinek’s video, he highlights a generation of abundance that is missing something fundamental and they are reaching out to grasp it. That desire manifests in millennial expectations in the workplace. Who can blame anyone for wanting social connection and meaning in the workplace? We often spend 10 hours per day working, so how could anyone be expected to deny their inner voice during almost all their waking hours? As a Gen Xer, I’ve been hardened to function in the boomer work environment that was styled from post-WWII command and control schools of management. It was not, and is not, easy to fit their mold. Yet, we’ve all made a go of it. Gen Xers also accept that the pace of change is accelerating. Workers aren’t just stuffing envelopes and bending metal anymore. Working hard and putting in time doesn’t guarantee anything. Gen Xers have lived in that previous mold and fought to change it, but millennials entered the scene with an entirely different set of expectations — almost as if a blissful callowness allowed them to float above the struggle for incremental change. They demanded bold changes in workplace values, rules, and process. That’s often the root cause of frictions.

What’s wrong with the expectations millennials are bringing into the workforce? Nothing; however, they may need more temperance with their zeal because such ideals are ostensibly labeled as an entitlement mentality by the established power base. This alienates millennials from other generations. Furthermore, in our era of accelerating change, technology is easy and natural for millennials. Yet the things they need most are a struggle because these ideals don’t transpire quickly. You can’t “life hack” your way on this path — nor should you. It is a journey or a “mountain climb,” as Sinek states. This journey requires patience, risk, and even hard failure. A sense of purpose, meaningful relationships, and an opportunity to develop your whole being are natural to want because they are deep human expressions, but they take time — in and out of the workplace. Personal and professional development are blended more than ever before, but it is not a bucket list item that you check off, nor a selfie posted to social media once you’ve accomplished it.

Gen Xers are jungle guides. We can build the rope bridge between generations because we have a leg in both. We readily embrace technology, but our enthusiasm is tempered by hard life lessons and real experiences from a more prosaic time. Lastly, we have paid dues long enough such that our credibility and trust has been established with boomers in a manner they respect.

I did claim you can’t life hack this experience, but I do believe technology has the potential to bring us together and provide an aid toward meeting our humanistic needs. Technology should extend our reach, turning us all into hybrids with super powers to make meaningful and positive impact across generations. It can definitely go awry and undermine the original purpose. Yet, thoughtfully designed products can serve as oases for gathering along the life or career journey and addressing some of the issues Sinek spoke about. In the workplace we are seeing evidence that some technologies can empower all generations to bridge relationships, creating a place for everyone to gather, share, and connect. As a former analog and now digital Gen Xer, I hope to see you there — just don’t forget to bring your mix tape.

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.