It certainly is an interesting time to be a professional, especially if you work in the technical arena. Now, more than ever, companies are putting more and more stock into discussions about “culture,” and “cultural fit” is of paramount importance to seemingly everyone. (My HR friends tell me it is ALL anyone cares about.)
The problem, of course, is that culture doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody (except maybe in the vague, general sense of “a nice place to work where all are valued”). And it is especially convoluted when it comes to the mixing of generations in the workplace.
In today’s world of work, with Baby Boomers working longer and with more and more Millennials entering the marketplace, the concept of culture and work environment is taking on a whole new meaning.
And the Millennials appear to be winning.
Companies are now putting huge amounts of resources into massive recruitment campaigns that cater to the work culture Millennials say they crave. Here are some of the things these young workers are looking for:
- A “flat” work environment. Studies show that because they all received trophies in their childhood sports leagues just for showing up and because their parents let them have a say in making family decisions, the idea of a strict hierarchy in the workplace is not appealing. They expect a seat at the table…just because they are there, not because they have earned it.
- Immediate attention. With the world at their fingertips, literally, Millennials are used to getting an immediate response. So they want feedback, positive feedback, and they want it now.
- To work when they feel like it. Generally speaking, they want to make their own hours and to work from their own space. They are asking for more “me” time.
- To get promoted faster. Although they respond in polls that titles and money “don’t matter” to them, they do seem to want promotions…and they don’t want to wait for them.
To read the latest in HR news, you would think these concepts are revolutionary and “new.” (When I started my first professional job, I thought I had a lot to say and I thought I should be promoted every few months too. So I’m not sure what is new about that exactly.) Of course, these same HR pundits also say that these Millennials have poor skills and don’t seem to be prepared for the professional work environment.
So where does this leave the Baby Boomers?
Well, if you’re like one of my recent clients, in a tough spot. After attending a workshop hosted by her employer’s HR department that was supposed to be a discussion on how the different generations need to respect one another, she walked away with a clear directive: Get on board the Millennial train. Millennials were told to try and be patient with these “poor” Boomers who didn’t grow up with text messaging and computers and who are more resistant to change, while Boomers were told not to “fear” the ultra-creative, innovative, fast-paced genius of their Millennial counterparts…even if they do lack basic professional skills and etiquette. But one thing was clear: It was out with the old and in with the “new”.
And hey, what about us Gen-Xers?
Apparently us Gen-Xers caught in the middle, well, we’re just confused…especially now that so many of us are stuck on corporate structuring panels implementing these Millennial cultural must-haves. What else can we do? Either we try and stretch out our cool, hip youth or we grow conservative and more traditional…either way we seem to lose.
(As a 40-something client told me recently, “I just want the company to be solvent and to offer me upward mobility and a certain sense of stability because, well, I have a house to pay for and kids to support and little hope of a pension. I don’t have retirement just a few short years away, and I stopped living with my parents a long time ago…so….yes culture matters but these other things matter more.”)
Maybe the part I find most interesting in the whole discussion is that no where does anyone seem to be talking about what’s best for business. I know, I know…companies are bad, greedy, etc. But, hey, like my client said, they do need to be solvent, right? I see lots of justifications for the Millennial culture about how companies will be more innovative if they succumb to it, but that’s more of a side note than a real cause-and-effect argument based on longevity and history or any real facts.
So, yes, culture is important.
But what that culture should be like and how it should operate is not a done deal…or is it? Now that so many companies are defining their work cultures in such a public way, through social media campaigns and online videos, are they really willing to sink or swim with them? Or will they just ride whatever tide comes along next?
Either way, Baby Boomers will find themselves marching to the Millennial beat….at least for the short term. And Gen-Xers, well, apparently we are just all out of tune.