The Multi-Generational Workplace

by Kevin K. Johnson, Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®

Here’s a different view of productivity in the workplace. In 2013, I hired a sharp new employee, a Millennial, a member of the Gen Y age group, into my small office. That’s when my education began!

First, the generally agreed upon cohort definitions.

Gen Z 2000 – Present
Gen Y 1980 – 2000
Gen X 1965 – 1980
Baby Boomers 1946 – 1964

Employers and established baby boomer employees are experiencing the challenges associated with today’s multi-generational workforce. The backend of the workforce, made up of Baby Boomers, have been steady and reliable. The front-end of the workforce, made up of Millennials’, have fewer of the boomers’ or the Gen X, perspectives on work and productivity. Employers, including me, are having to do reassess ‘established management norms’ in order to gain an understanding of this age cohort.

Business executives in a meeting and making use of a laptopMillennials and baby boomers grew up very differently. They experienced different things and were raised in a different way. So it’s really no surprise that they feel differently about what happens in the workplace.

Dan Schawbel, in a “Time Moneyland” article,  looked into a new study by MTV called “No Collar Workers.” The study looked at Gen Y’s perspectives about the workplace and careers and how their views differ from that of their parents’ generation, the baby boomers.


Here are a few major differences Schawbel identified from the study:

1. Millennials require your immediate attention. To me, this finding is dead on! “Millennials grew up texting and using Facebook and Twitter. They’re grown accustomed to instantaneous connection and nearly immediate responses each time they Tweet or post. In the workplace, they expect the same environment. They want to be able to ask questions and get career advice all the time; in the survey, 80% of Millennials said they want regular feedback from their managers, and 75% yearn for mentors. “Parents were more like mentors to them and now they expect managers to be too,” says MTV’s Shore. For the most part, Millennials aren’t fans of having to wait six months or a year to get a formal review of their work. Boomers, on the other hand, are more likely to prefer a structured system where feedback is given at certain times of the year. Instead of seeking constant feedback, boomers prefer to take the “Give me my objectives and get out of my way” approach.”

2. Millennials work when they want to work. “The 9-to-5 workday is fading as the standard, and the change is at least partially being driven by Millennials. Research shows that 81% of Millennials think they should be allowed to make their own hours at work, compared to only 69% of boomers. Whereas more boomers feel the office environment and the traditional workday is the best way to get the job done, Millennials prefer a flexible approach, including the right to be remote workers who go into the office only sometimes, or perhaps never. They maintain that as long as the work gets done, the amount of time spent in the office shouldn’t matter. In the MTV poll, 70% of Millennials also said that they need “me time” on the job, versus 39% of Baby Boomers.”

3. Millennials want casual Fridays almost every day. “The study found that 79% of Millennials think they should be allowed to wear jeans to work at least sometimes, compared to only 60% of boomers. An overwhelming 93% of Millennials say they want a job where they can be themselves at work, and that includes dressing in a way that makes them comfortable. Boomers, on the other hand, are more prone to believing in the importance of maintaining a standard professional look in the workplace. It seems as if Millennials also prefer casual attire because they don’t separate their personal and professional lives in the same way that baby boomers do.”

4. Millennials aren’t all about the money. “Half of the members of Gen Y surveyed said they would “rather have no job than a job they hate.” Among the top options for job desirability, “loving what I do” outranked salaries and big bonuses. If not money, what do Millennials want most? The vast majority (83%) are “looking for a job where my creativity is valued,” while more than 9 in 10 Millennials are “motivated to work harder when I know where my work is going” and want supervisors, managers, and executives to listen to their ideas. “Millennials walk into the CEO’s office to tell them how to fix things,” says Shore. The MTV study found that 76% of Millennials think their boss could learn a lot from them, compared to only 50% of boomers. Generally speaking, Millennials want to feel as though they’ve been heard, and that their opinions and insights matter.”

5. Millennials really like transparency. “A report by LifeWay Research shows that transparency was one of the four characteristics Millennials wanted in a leader. Think about it: Parents of Millennials talked about everything in front of their children, from finances to sex, so Millennials are comfortable with the same approach from businesses and managers. Millennials want to feel like they are part of a community at work—nearly 9 in 10 want a workplace to be social and fun—and have a genuine desire to listen into organizational strategy sessions. Instead of being a small cog unaware of any larger mission, Millennials like being in the loop regarding their company’s vision, and how it is going to innovate to stay ahead of the curve.”

6. Millennials see the work environment as flat. “Vineet Nayer, the CEO of HCL Technologies says that Millennials “have little interest in hierarchy and are not particularly impressed by the titles and positions within the traditional pyramid structure.” Growing up, Millennials all received trophies in sports leagues regardless if they won or lost, and they probably had parents who would patiently listen to them and take what they had to say into consideration before making family decisions. In the workplace, Millennials see no reason for a strict hierarchy. “They find hierarchies difficult to understand because they didn’t grow up with it,” said Shore. An “ideocracy” should reign in the workplace, most Millennials believe, in which everyone should be heard from and the best ideas win out, regardless of who has been on the job longer, or who has a corner office.”

Right now there are about 80 million Millennials and 75 million baby boomers in the US, according to the article. It also said that by the year 2025, three out of four workers in the world will be members of Generation Y.

Today, more employers are adapting to their Baby Boomer employee’s needs regarding adult caregiving issues. The flexibility required to do so will likely pale in comparison to the workplace model shift brought about by the ‘culture’ of the Millennials. Overall, the boomers have produced at a significantly high level over a sustained period of time; they’ve earned the flexibility. Many employers are finding that Millennials are asking for far more workplace flexibility, and they want it NOW!

By the way, my first Millennial hire did not work out. However, I’ve hired two since then and so far, so good. I guess I learned quickly what to look for in a Millennial candidate, and how to manage them once they are hired!

Thanks to Dan Schawbel for his insights on the subject.


If you find yourself challenged regarding the multi-generational workplace, Mr. Schawbel is certainly a resource. He is the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and management consulting firm. He speaks on the topic of personal branding, social media and Gen Y workforce management for companies such as Google, Time Warner, Symantec, CitiGroup and IBM. Subscribe to his updates at

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