with Lauren Stiller Rikleen, Expert on Strategic Leadership, Author of You Raised Us – Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success and Building Strong Workplace Teams
Is the workplace really a battle zone between seasoned and experienced baby boomers and the less experienced, but ambitious and self-confident millennials? Lauren Stiller Rikleen has conducted research which exposes the cultural differences largely to blame for the bad rap attributed to both sides and lays it all out in her book, You Raised Us, Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Work Place Teams.
Millennials (those born between roughly 1978 and 2000) were raised in the technology decades and for that reason alone come into the workplace with better tech skills than the majority of boomers. In addition, boomer parents raised this generation to be self-confident as well as having given them travel and educational advantages far exceeding those of previous generations, for the most part.
The stereotypical traits attributed to millennials are a sense of entitlement, lack of loyalty and commitment, as well as a lack of respect for the older worker. The boomers, on the other hand, often view these younger workmates, who appear to be aggressive and disrespectful, as vultures on the limb, waiting to swoop down and take their positions.
Lauren points out that another intervening generation, the gen Xers, pushing to take on senior leadership roles, are more often a greater cause of friction with the older boomer generation who, in fact, are sticking around and holding on to those positions longer than in the past. So while the work ethics and manners may differ between boomers and millennials, it’s actually the gen Xers creating most of the discord.
Lauren writes in her book that because the cultural gap between boomers and millennials is immense, better communication and understanding is the key to a harmonious working environment.
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Steve Pomeranz: The battle between generations rages on in the workplace. Boomers say, “These kids don’t have a clue what hard work is.” Millennials say, “These old fogies think we’re free tech support.” Well, there’s going to be some discussion in between and, if there is a chasm between generations, my next guest can explain it and help us to work it out. She is Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership and author of You Raised Us, Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Work Place Teams. Hey, Lauren, welcome to the show.
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: Thank you so much.
Steve Pomeranz: So we’re talking about the millennial generation, how big is this generation in the US?
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: 86 million.
Steve Pomeranz: 86 million young people.
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: Yeah.
Steve Pomeranz: Now we’re talking about ages approximating what?
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: Well, I used 1978 to 2000 as the birth years, it varies a little bit. Sometimes you’ll see 80 to 2000 or whatever, but I use 78 to 2000, so under 33, under 34ish in the workplace.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, 60% are old enough to be in the workplace, so there’s got to be some issues between the baby boomers who are in these established positions in the workplace and these millennials that are coming in. Is there a chasm between the generations? What’s the truth here?
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: Well, and that’s what I thought to explore. I think that really what you see is the split between how we view millennials and how they really are. But what’s fascinating about this is that I think it’s really more boomers and gen Xers who bring the generational perspective. When they have a problem in the workplace with someone younger, they’ll blame the entire generation. When a millennial in the workplace has a problem with an older worker, they just had a problem with an older worker. They didn’t damn the entire baby boom generation. So it’s a little one-sided in terms of the generational lens it’s brought to bare.
Steve Pomeranz: That’s pretty interesting. When the boomers blame the whole generation, what are they basically complaining about that generation? What is the stereotype?
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: The stereotypes you hear are they’re too entitled, they’re not loyal, they’re not committed, they are too focused on their personal life. This litany of complaints that, really, what’s amazing is that this generation at a very young age has all of these stereotypes appended to them practically before they even begin work.
Steve Pomeranz: I think this is the kind of thing that my parents were saying about me, so I don’t know that the more things change the more they stay the same. But I think there is a sense that the younger generation is entitled because there’s a sense of the soccer mom, the helicopter parent who’s managing every aspect of a child’s life, the fact that there’s more sensitivity to this idea of not allowing your child to fail. Are those aspects showing themselves in the workplace at all?
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: Well, they certainly are, but in a number of different ways. For example, just focusing on entitlement, I think that what’s really happening there is that the boomers see entitlement, what’s really happening is this is the most self-confident generation ever, at a very young age. It makes sense for precisely the reasons you said: They were raised to be self-confident, they were raised to have self-respect. But I think what happens is when you exhibit self-confidence and self-respect at a very young age, it can be off-putting to other generations. And if you’re not aware of how that plays out in the workplace, it can contribute to this stereotypical image. But I really don’t buy into this notion that it is, in actuality, entitlement that we’re seeing.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, I think this idea of confidence is very interesting because I think an older person is going to look at confidence as a good thing but, basically say, “You’ve got no work experience what do you know? I mean I’ve been at this thing for so many years, and I’ve been through the ups and the downs, and I’ve learned the hard lessons, and you’re basically telling me what you think which is fine, but how much stock are you going to actually put into something like that?”
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: Sure, and that’s one of the other things that’s fascinated me in researching for You Raised Us, Now Work With Us which is when you look at some of the life experiences that so many millennials have had, by the time they get into the workplace, they really are more rich and significant in terms of travel and volunteer opportunities and community-based opportunities and technology savviness than really other generations experienced by the time they were 40. We have to give them more credit for, again, connecting out to how they were raised, they were raised as really bright contributing members of society. They do have something to say and something to contribute, and I think part of this problem here is that for boomers, in particular, we measure respect in the workplace through difference. For millennials, they measure respect in the workplace through having a voice. That’s where we bump up where there’s a bit of a clash, and so we have to work through those different perspectives of respect so we can hear what millennials have to say and be able to actually improve the workplace in many cases by their observations.
Steve Pomeranz: That’s very interesting stuff, my guest is Lauren Stiller Rikleen, and she is the author of You Raised Us, Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Work Place Teams. I know that we’re organizing things quite simply here, but you have these different age groups, and you’re trying to build strong teams, so as it seems would always be the case, the first place to look is in communication and understanding about the other side, so to speak. What are some of the steps, if you find yourself in a situation like this, to do in order to build a strong team and a good working environment with all age groups?
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: Well, I think communication is an excellent place to start because there are definite communication gaps and that makes sense as well. When you’ve been raised on technology, when your means of social communication is through texting and social media, being able to communicate exactly the way a senior generation might want you to communicate when you enter the workplace is not necessarily going to be intuitive or second nature. There’s some training and some learning that has to take place as millennials need to adapt to the styles in the workplace, and senior generations need to have some degree of understanding. I mean, another area where we could see improvement is putting aside this notion that millennials are disloyal. In fact, they are very loyal, but they are individually loyal, not institutionally loyal. So where we might say, “Oh, my goodness, we’re working for this particular corporation, isn’t that wonderful, we’re so loyal.” A millennial will have their loyalty focused on the person to whom they report, their supervisor or manager, and if that person is looking out for them in terms of training opportunities, skill building opportunities, ways to improve in their career growth, they will be extremely loyal.
Steve Pomeranz: Good point. You know I have this question for you: The baby boomers were expected to be retiring between age 60 and 65, but many of them are working into their late 60s and 70s, they don’t really want to stop working, and financially some of them can’t afford to stop working. Is this creating a problem for the generation coming up?
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: Well, it’s interesting because I think the problem is really more for the intervening generation—gen x—because they are all at the age right now where they would be expecting to be in much more senior leadership roles and often they are bumping up against boomers who are not moving or feeling to be blocking them. For millennials, I think they’re still in the “I want to learn from you” mode with respect to boomers in the workplace, so I don’t quite see the tension between millennials in boomers so much as between gen Xers and boomers with respect to the boomers longevity at work.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, so that may create more lateral movement as gen Xers see their immediate future blocked, and they may say, “Well, there are positions elsewhere where there are some more openings.” There’s a sense of, since they’re not going to be loyal to the institution, there may be more movement than you’d expect, maybe reinforcing the stereotype.
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: Oh, definitely, yes, absolutely. In fact, I think what you’re seeing in all generations actually right now is more lateral movement than ever, but, with respect to millennials, I saw a fascinating statistic when I was researching them both that 35% of employed millennials have their own independent sources of income. That means they’re leaving the workplace and may be going home to their own technology business or web-based business or doing something else and that may be a statement about the economy, but it also may be a statement about their own career expectations and future in the workplace that they’re in—that maybe they’re just trying to hitch their bets for the future.
Steve Pomeranz: You know, I only have a minute left, Lauren, but I wanted to discuss something in your book that related to a discomfort with ambiguity. This was an idea that hadn’t really been thought about before; it’s a more nuanced idea that millennials really are not used to the ambiguity that an experienced person in life does eventually experience.
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: That’s right, and I think one of the impacts of being raised by parents who have always been there to help solve their problems—teachers, coaches, other adults in their lives who have always been ready to immediately leap in and help millennials solve their problems—is that once you get into the workplace and there is nobody there to immediately help you solve that problem, there becomes a fear of failure. If you’ve never had to really fail before, that first time is pretty scary, so I think you see a lot of fear of risk, fear of failure, and a little discomfort around independent navigation in the workplace because you’ve never really had to independently navigate life before.
Steve Pomeranz: Good point. But you know what, I still think this bridges all generations. Your early years are going to be—no matter really what time period you’re coming up—there’s always fear of failure, and there’s always going to be some doubt and I think this idea that there’s so much confidence, much of it may be real, much of it may just be masking the general insecurity that perhaps so many of us feel at that age. My guest is Lauren Stiller Rikleen, she is the President of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership, a Visiting Scholar at the Boston College Center for Work & Family in the Carroll School of Management, and author of this great new book You Raised Us, Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Work Place Teams. Lauren, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for joining us.
Lauren Stiller Rikleen: Oh, thank you so much for having me.