Are millennials changing the workplace for the better or worse?

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By Sabrina Almeida

Let’s face it, very soon the workplace as we ‘oldies’ know it will not exist. That’s if you are not feeling extinct already!!!

Forget the baby boomers… even generation X workers are having a hard time adapting to the new ‘informal’ scenario. Street lingo aside, the workplace etiquette we have guarded so closely for years has suddenly jumped out the window.

Friends report younger colleagues sitting with their feet on top of desks, lounging in seats during conferences, dressing as casually as possible and not mincing their words even with bosses.Minding your Ps and Qs, speaking respectfully to your colleagues and superiors, sitting appropriately—that’s old school. It may still be nice to have but it’s unimportant.

At the last few social gatherings ‘the changing workplace’ has dominated conversations. Even progressed into heated arguments when human resource professionals are part of the dialogue. The HR argument — “as long as the work gets done” ruffles many. So contrary to expectations, any complaints you may have about workplace decorum is not likely to garner much support from management.

Millennials are taking over the workplace and they have some advice for their disapproving older colleagues — “Get with the program granny… we are likely to become your bosses real soon.” A new reality small and large organizations are facing today. A friend expressed his misgivings about having to learn this hard way. His nightmare—a cheeky (“and ill-mannered”) 30-year-old might get the opportunity to say, “I told you so!”.

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I feel for him and the millions of 50+ age group of workers around the world.  Not only is it hard to accept management is getting younger but even worse, that someone your child’s age will be bossing you around and making the decisions.

Is this a generation gap that we are experiencing, just like our elderly colleagues did before us or a completely new phenomenon? I believe it’s a bit of both.

Replacing older workers with “fresh blood” has always been the trend. When I entered the workforce, employees nearing 40 were starting to get nervous about job stability. It hasn’t changed much except that we are the nervy lot now.

The answer to the second question is also yes, millennials are revolutionizing office culture. They’re informal and don’t like to be scheduled or supervised. They want the freedom and the flexibility to explore their potential. Nine-to-five is not likely to work for them and work-life balance is very important to their productivity and experiential lifestyle. After all, “work can take place anywhere and at anytime.”

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You might find them idealistic, just like we were fresh out of school. But with a huge difference—they need to be passionate about what they do in order to give it their best shot. And social justice matters. Where things came from? How they were made? It’s not about the money… at least not yet!

How do we bridge the gap? Or prevent being pushed out because of our outdated work culture? By not trying to force them into a traditional box, or more likely breaking out of those cubes that define us. Being flexible is key to befriending them, even maintaining the chain of command. So try texting younger team members instead of fretting over the lack of response to your dozen emails . “Whatever gets the job done”, right!

With millennials expected to make up the majority by 2020 and 75% of it by 2025 (just 12 years from now), it’s not them who has to adapt. We do! And as irritating or difficult as it might be—the best place to get a few tips as well as practice your newly-acquired skills might be at home. Your kids would love the opportunity to show you the ropes!!!

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A few points that might ease your transition—the old style of command and control has no place in the millennial workspace. Anyone can be a leader—your age, experience or title means little to them. They are used to having a say in everything, whether it is the family dinner or a new office policy. They’re driven by technology and are always connected to people and the world… you should be too. They’re not scared to change jobs till they find what they want—that’s an inspiration.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is that they want to be happy, productive and get along just as we do.

If you see them as impatient, unprofessional, and lazy, they find you to be unapproachable or old-school.

Dialogue and flexibility or your part can change this. They have nothing to lose… but you do!!!



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