Generational Conflict: Millennials in the Workforce

Conflict in the workplace has been an issue long before professionals started suiting-up and sitting down at a desk. Though individuals have learned to work through certain issues, generational friction can still be an issue. With the newest generation, the Millennials, taking over the office, there’s bound to be some growing frustration due to misunderstanding.

Characteristics of Millennials
Known also as Gen Y, this group was born during the 80s and early 90s, and subsequently has never experienced a world without computer technologies. Because of this, most Millennials don’t face much of a learning curve in regards to computer skills, software use, or social media application compared to their Gen X, Boomer, and Traditionalist counter parts. The generalization of this generation shows they are a highly motivated, creative, and quick-thinking group who, though younger and inexperienced, want to have the respect of co-workers by inclusion in meaningful projects and rewards.

In the Workplace
This growing group of twenty and thirty-somethings has developed skills highly conducive to a well-balanced business environment. Over the past twenty years, educators have stressed the importance of group participation though collective projects and assignments. This development has offered highly sought-after personal attributes in which Millennials excel. The best way to help this generation succeed is by laying out clear-cut goals and objectives. Millennials are very loyal, but need to have a reason to be so. If a worker doesn’t understand the ultimate purpose of a project or assignment, then he or she will have a hard time buying into the system. This generation also has a desire to be transparent. Being open and honest about issues is the key to fulfilling their untapped potential.

Seemingly, the generation that is having the most conflict with Millennials is the Baby Boomers. This development is most likely due to the disconnect between each generations’ work process. Understanding how these two generations differ is the beginning of mediating any sort of conflict that may arise. One of the biggest complaints other generations have with Millennials is that they seem to disregard respect for tenure. This trait is misunderstood. They base their leadership respect on competence, while focusing on results and knowledge base. Out of all generations, the Millennials are closest with their parents, which translates into having a large respect for their elders – which they also expect in return. Another disconnect between Millennials and other generations is expectations.  Millennials want to hit the ground running and be trusted with important tasks and projects. Though still, they want to have the autonomy to work diligently and excel in each assignment. Boomers typically ease into tasks and have years of experience to verify their place in the office.

Understanding differences is the first step. But, to actually make lasting changes in overall office morale and interaction requires all involved to buy into the importance of it. Healthy working environments lend themselves to higher productivity and timelier project turnover. For Millennials, try to work out conflict together. This group wants to be a part of the solution process, brainstorming through different plans of attack. If there are certain problems you have with another co-worker, address the issue and ask what you might be able to do to better understand where the other is coming from. For older generations, the Millennials’ tech savvy, go-getter personalities may be hard to get used to, but this generation is expected to be an exceptionally high-performing workforce.

By 2015, half of the workplace will be Millenials, and by 2025, that amount will rise to 75%. These professionals are here to stay. Differences in work styles are constant, so the best way to deal with the changes is to embrace the strengths and try to better understand the weaknesses. It may be surprising to find out that many of those so-called “weaknesses” are actually strengths needed to take businesses to the next level.

9 Responses to Generational Conflict: Millennials in the Workforce

  1. Brian July 3, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    There was an interesting article on Mashable that I thought complimented this very well.

    • Refresh Leadership July 3, 2012 at 11:57 am #

      Great article! Thanks for sharing!

    • Tanya September 25, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

      The Mashable infographic you suggested was super helpful. Thanks, Brian.

  2. Phill July 4, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    Fascinating article. I have just finished writing a book focusing on Millennials which identifies many of these traits. Oddly, this group of young people respect institutions more than their Boomer counterparts. I have concluded though that that this respect does not necessarily transmit to government or churches. Some have rejected their parents indulgent belief structures and do not want to repeat the addictions and entitlements so rampant in older generations. I do offer a bit of disgreement with your article though. Highly performing Millenials did not necessarily buy into the group project emphasis focused upon in educational circles over the past decades. The reason for this is many of their contempories were not as motivated and basically took advantage of those that would perform. Millennial tolerance for those that choose an easy road will be very limited. That can result in either conflict or inspiration. Let us hope and pray for inspiration. I believe Millennials are our best hope to restore this nation and I wish them Godspeed.

    • Refresh Leadership July 5, 2012 at 7:17 am #

      Great insight! I think we’ve only just begun to see how Millennials will stake their claim in the workplace hierarchy. It will be a very interesting dynamic to watch over the next few years as the Millennials start moving into more senior-level leadership roles.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Georgia Moulton July 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    After years of reading this Generational Research, that almost seeks to engender conflict, I wonder how carefully the researchers have tried to distinguish between the real differences between generations vs. the differences that we all experinece between various phases in our lives.

    To claify, I am a Boomer. I was also a 20-something once and I remember entering the workplace with just as much enthusiasm for meaningful project work, and desire for respect as this group has. I was just as ideological as they are, if not more so. I was just as eager to learn as they are, which helped me become computer literate as quickly as my employer brought them into the workplace. It amazes me that we fall for these stories about all the differences, without more critical analysis. If we simply remember how it felt to be young and emphasize with the Gen Ys, how much easier it will be for all of us to work productively together. After all, they need our mentoring if they are going to take up from where we leave off.


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