Culture Shock – Millennials in the Workplace
Updated: Oct 18, 2019
Over a decade ago, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime.
After 12 years of service at the Americas Regional Office of Nikko Hotels overseeing the growth and expansion of the brand and guiding its evolution in distribution, while wearing multiple hats and playing a plethora of roles (as one inevitably does in a small company), I was offered a position at our Paris property. Yes, THAT Paris.
Contrary to what you might think, it was not an easy decision to actually accept immediately. I really gave it a lot of consideration and weighted the pros and cons of personal and business issues before coming to a thoughtful and deliberate decision.
One thing I wasn’t too concerned about was the cultural challenge. My family was French, I was raised in a French home with French food and speaking French (although house French is not the same as business French, but I could adapt). My mom worked for Air France, I had relatives in Paris and elsewhere in France who visited and whom I had often visited. While I was French, I was also American… any 1st generation immigrant will attest, you don’t feel fully from either world. Nevertheless, that part would not be an issue.
Also, after working for Nikko for more than a decade, I understood the corporate culture. I always had Japanese bosses, went to Japan very frequently. I thought it would be a piece of cake.
Then I got there…
I had to really change my thinking about “being French”. I am not. Not in my expectations, my willingness to try new and different ways of doing things, in my empowerment of my team, in my entire way of thinking, I am most certainly NOT French. I had to change, but I am also proud that I was able to bring some American style management and business dynamic to the team as well which has continued to serve them all well in their careers. My experience there also changed me in profound ways that have served me just as well.
After spending my summer working with 20-something interns, I noticed how different they think and work from me. It dawned on me that this was similar to my Paris experience. We baby boomers have different views, expectations and motivation than Millennials.
Who are Millennials
Millennials (or Gen-Y) are those people born between the years 1980 and 2000. These are the kids that grew up with technology. These are the kids that learned to play ball without scoring and got trophies just for playing, without necessarily winning. These are the kids that were raised to believe they can do anything and were given unconditional support and encouragement. These are the kids with helicopter parents who viewed their parents as friends. A very different upbringing than baby boomers.
Because of this upbringing, Millennials bring certain traits that are very different than many of us are used to and can be extremely valuable.
Among these key traits are:
> Team Players – Millennials have grown up in a social environment where teams are important. Working in groups is natural to them, they believe you can accomplish more and better in a team environment.
> A “can-do” attitude – Raised by often doting parents, these kids have been told their entire lives that they can do anything… and they believe it. Give them a challenge and they will rise to the occasion with creativity and results.
> Reinforcement – The flip side of the “can-do” is what some boomers call “needy”. I would rather present this assessment. Many Millennials have been raised with “helicopter parents” (parents observing and participating in every aspect of their lives, social, academic and even professional) all the while getting an “attaboy!” for every accomplishment. They need to be told they’ve done a good job, or be guided and coached in how to do things better or your way. Without the guidance, they are lost, without the reinforcement, they don’t feel accomplished or appreciated.
> Structure – When we boomers were kids, our parents told us “go out and play!” Millennials were the first generation to have practically their entire lives scheduled – tutoring, play dates, soccer/football, ballet, karate were scheduled so that the kids had practically no free time. They need structure in the corporate environment too. Monthly due dates, regular hours, recurring meetings with agendas and minutes, clearly stated goals, assignments and progress measurements.
> Virtualization – Not only are they comfortable in teams, they are comfortable in teams where not everyone is in the same place. Using technology (which they are GREAT at), they work easily in an electronic world and have no issues with identifying and completing goals with global teammates.
> Globalization – Many of this generation are well traveled and have a very open view of the world. They are comfortable in a multi-cultural environment and thrive on learning new approaches. Building cross-cultural teams for global projects feels natural to them.
> Loyalty – It has been said that there is no loyalty in this generation, but that is not necessarily true. Even we boomers have learned that the days of our own “greatest generation” parents are gone, where they spent their entire career at one company. If a company is looking for loyalty from their employees, they must show some loyalty to the employee – this is even more so for Gen-Y. They want to enjoy their work, to feel appreciated, to make friends at the workplace. Provide an environment where these things happen and they will remain loyal. That doesn’t mean they won’t keep their options open – anyone would be foolish not to – but they will weigh that heavily against the option of leaving to the unknown.
This is not an exhaustive list and obviously we should not generalize as with every generation and culture there will be differences and similarities. But one principle lesson here is to keep an open mind about how you can get the best out of your younger employees. They are keen to learn from us how to be a valued member of our teams and to adopt the corporate culture, but we also have a lot to learn from them that may result in everyone performing to an even higher level.
As the Dalai Lama once said: “The mind is like a parachute. It works best when it is open.”
We’d love to hear more about your experiences and observations in working across generations. Please add your comments below.