Are millennials really that challenging to work with? Battle of the workplace generations

Are millennials really that challenging to work with? Battle of the workplace generations

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For employers, Workplace challenges

Understanding and engaging millennials in the workplace, the way they learn and how to support them. 

Three quarters of the workforce will be made up of millennials by 2025, according to Gallup. If you’re not investing in ways to engage this cohort and their attitudes to and behaviours in work, then let me share with you a trend we’re seeing. 

Yes, it is easy to say for you to ‘don’t treat millennials as one homogeneous group, everyone’s different’. That’s a point we completely understand, but there’s a lot of value in looking at your teams from a generational perspective.

Here’s why.

Look at your workforce, does the following sound familiar? 

Battle of the generations 

In one corner, you’ve got a group of emerging talent who’ve just joined. They’re just finished studying, they’re excited and enthusiastic. They propose ideas with excitement, without boundaries – not realising they’re slightly ruffling some feathers. 

Yes, they’re not quite accustomed to how to act in the workplace – yet. 

There’s Sarah who didn’t realise it incorrect to sign off emails with kisses.
Then there’s Ben who is being VERY vocal about not using Slack.
And Mila who thinks HR is responsible for their career plan.

But they’re enthusiastic; they’re tomorrow’s leaders and awesome workers. 

Then, in the other corner, you’ve got the experienced team members. They’ve been with the organisation for years. They helped build the business, they’ve earned their stripes. 

You’ve got Sam who’s a *little* precious about their work.
Simon who takes a dim view of starters.
And Ashley who’s not taking to the ‘people’ part of being a manager.

The thing is, it’s the latter group of employees that’ll have a BIG impact on the new hire’s experience at the business.

It’s obvious, I know, but let’s wheel out the most obvious factor here: people don’t leave businesses, they leave managers. 

“Why are they challenging me?”
“That’s not how we do things around here”
“They don’t want to know what my ideas are, I’m young”
“If we did it this way it’d be faster”.

Creating a harmonious relationship between these workers can be a little challenging in some industries. Conflict arises because of the different working styles, training and educational backgrounds.  

The younger generation are still early on in their careers, they’re making their mistakes. 

So, whose responsibility is engaging millennials in the workplace?

Of course it is the organisation as a whole, but let’s be honest – it’s often delegated defined as a ‘HR or People’ issue. 

The bigger impact is seen behind the scenes. Whilst the business isn’t addressing this conflict and understanding the different needs of each generation – attrition looks bad, recruitment spend increases, and the employer brand reviews on Glassdoor take a hit. 

Careercake specialises in speaking to those in the first decade of their careers to help them to take on and beat the firsts through video content. We feed this back into teams via videos who then use it to improve their employee experience and development programmes.  

Those new to the workplace are not at fault for this conflict, nor are the experienced workers who’ve spent years building up relationships and the business.

But it’s those organisations who understand why engaging millennials in the workplace is so important who see better engagement, better relationships and better clarity within roles.


Understanding areas of conflict for younger workers: 

  • Ask them what’s actually holding them back?

Pre-COVID, we found that 49% of those between 24-39 years old, suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s what’s stopping them from putting their hand up in meetings; it’s what’s making them on edge at work. 

Now, it’s even higher, with as many as 74% of respondents saying that remote working has heighten this level of insecurity and given their inner critic a megaphone. 

20% of respondents tell us they don’t have a good relationship with their line manager. Again, something that’s been made to feel a little worse because of a case of micromanagement coming in. 

The thing is, with those who are new to the workplace – their time in education didn’t train them to deal with conflict resolution. They may have opted to skip that lesson in careers that taught them about  professional etiquette and how to communicate with their boss. 

Then there’s the ones who really want to take part. According to HR News, 54% of millennials want the opportunity to exercise influence. If you’re not providing an environment where they can feel like their ideas are valued, you could lose them to a competitor. 

  • Share content that helps overcome the first challenges – the things you don’t know you don’t know

Let’s be honest, as an employer you’re expected to provide more support than ever, in areas you may not be trained in or comfortable navigating through.

We spoke to employers who said the younger people coming through their interview process were very vocal about things like mental health, and the support they expected from the employer. (Check out our interview on Wellbeing in the Workplace with Gethin Nadin).

The thing is, it can be difficult to know precisely what areas you need to consider. What we find useful as a starting point is to  map out the employee experience, from recruitment, induction to passing their probationary period. Survey staff about the questions they had, look at exit interviews, look at performance review transcripts – all of which has first hand data you can use. 

Here are some examples of questions asked – where would you put them in the employee lifecycle?

Q: No one ‘looks’ like me; who can I ask to be a mentor?
Q: Why won’t they just let me send an email?
Q: Will they assign me a buddy in my probationary period?
Q: I’m always fighting to get my voice heard, should I stop taking part?

Those businesses who address these questions at key moments, via online learning content that extends far wider than ‘traditional’ learning, saw it impact and improve their employee experience. 

Teams didn’t have to wait as long to get their answer (they were directed to a video instead of waiting for a course to be created) and it matched how they want to consume this type of learning (you’re talking to the Netflix generation now, remember). 




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