Ask SCORE: Working with the Millennial generation

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 18, 2013 

Question: In a previous column you discussed how there are four very different generations in the workforce today. Sounds like the enormous millennial generation is coming up fast. How is this likely to affect my working life?

Answer: Yes, there are some specific things you need to know to understand generational harmony in the workplace. Let's talk about this.

Here's a quick review of the four generations:

The Traditionalists. Born before 1945, these folks are in their late 60s and older. Around 95 percent have retired. Those few who remain in the workforce are very high-status.

The Baby Boomers. Born from 1946 to 1964, this large group has had a major impact on American life and culture. Today, they're around 49 to 67 years old.

Generation X (GenXers). This smaller group of 45 million folks was born from 1965 to around 1980. They're now 33 to 48, in mid-career.

Generation Y (GenYers, or the Millennials). This immense group - 80-plus million in number - is the biggest age group in American history. They are a huge departure from their predecessors. Born from 1980 to 2000, they are now under 33.

Some life-shaping events for these folks include the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the launch of Facebook, enormous technical advances, globalization, the explosion in social media; smartphones and a flood of other tech devices.

Also last month we discussed how the general perception of GenY is that they are self-absorbed slackers, stunted in emotional growth and full of entitlement. Sorry for trashing them, but this perception is supported by numerous studies. A 2012 Clark University (Worcester, Mass.) Poll of Emerging Adults found that more Millennials age 18 to 29 live with their parents than with a spouse.

In 2012, a high school teacher's commencement speech titled "You Are Not Special" drew attention to this perception of entitlement. Check out the 12-minute video on YouTube.

While all of that may be true now, here's the take-away point: The enormous millennial generation will certainly inherit, and hopefully solve, the problems and challenges we face today.

Consider this: Fast-forward mentally to 2040. All of the boomers are gone from the workforce. The relatively few GenXers are now 60 to 75, with descending influence. The 80 million GenYers are in their prime workplace years, 40 to 60, and are ascending in power.

Unlike their predecessor generations, GenYers tend to be collaborators and fluid team players. In the workplace, they:

- Enjoy constant multitasking.

- Want detailed and immediate feedback on job performance.

- Work well in groups.

- Are optimistic: "There must be an app for that."

- Prefer informal attire. Every day should be like casual Friday.

- Expect a more relaxed work-life balance.

Let's look at three clear examples of ways the Millennials depart from their predecessors. These differences will increasingly manifest themselves in workplace relations in future years.

Ethnic diversity. The Millennials are by far the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history. According to recent data from Pew Research Center, this cohort is about 19 percent Hispanic; 14 percent black; 4 percent Asian; 4 percent mixed race or other; and 60 percent white, which is a record low. You need to be sure that your business policies and dealings clearly recognize this diversity.

Body "artwork." Older generations have an entirely different view of, for example, large obvious tattoos. To older folks, these are a form of rebellion. Same with skin piercings and prominent metal wear. But, to many younger GenXers and most Millennials, "tats" and metal are viewed as positive self-expression and as attractive body adornments.

Interpersonal communication. The Millennials thrive on constant and instant communication. In the workplace, this means frequent feedback and direction. Forget about the old "annual performance review" idea. That concept is a joke with Millennials, whose timeline for responses is measured in hours or minutes.

So this is clear: The Millennial takeover of American society, and the business scene, is now underway. We can expect that Whatcom County will continue to be a magnet for young people in the millennial generation. Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College have, between them, over 30,000 enrollees, with a great many in that age cohort.

If you are still not convinced of the magnitude of the impending change, consider this: There are now numerous major human resource and other consulting firms specializing in how to help companies adapt to the upcoming onslaught of the Millennials. One of them has a very good two-minute (sales pitch) video at redtreeleadership.com. Check it out.

Ask SCORE is prepared for The Bellingham Herald's Sunday Business section by Bob Dahms, a business counselor with the Bellingham chapter of SCORE. Submit questions for this column to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com.

To learn more about managing cash flow, and other small business matters, contact SCORE, "Counselors to America's Small Business."

SCORE is a nonprofit nationwide organization with more than 13,000 volunteer business counselors who provide free, confidential business counseling and low-cost training workshops to small business owners. Call the local SCORE chapter at 360-685-4259 to schedule an appointment. For details about the organization, visit SCORE.org.

Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2269.

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