If there is a generation that can turn the spotlight away from the Baby Boomers, it just might be the Millennials. As the largest generation in history, and one that’s cut its teeth on digital technology, Millennials are perhaps even more the “children of the future” than their Baby Boomer grandparents were—considering the global issues the world now faces. In my last post, I talked about the much misunderstood Generation X. In the final post of this series on the three-generations workforce, I’m going focus on the future—Millennials.

It seems like almost anywhere you turn, people are talking about Millennials. That’s not surprising, because this generation might be the most focused-upon generation ever. Over-protected both physically and emotionally by helicopter parents who excuse away even the smallest failure, yet shaped by the realities of an increasingly complex, often threatening, and in-your-face-twenty- four/seven technology world, Millennials have emerged as globally conscious individuals committed to bettering society and the planet. They’re overarching goal is to make a contribution, and that applies to their careers and their personal lives. Idealistic, yet influenced by parents who’ve made them believe they are special and can be whatever they want to be with little effort, the work environment can be one of the first places where Millennials get a reality check on what it actually takes to succeed.

No room for protocol

In the workplace, tradition and convention has little to no meaning or value for Millennials. Though they are often accused of feeling overly entitled, Millennials simply believe everyone has an equal voice and should be evaluated based on their intrinsic merits—not on “doing their time.” This attitude is often offensive to Boomers in particular, who have earned their way up the corporate ladder, have a more rigid and less inclusive perspective, and believe there is a protocol to be followed. Millennials can incur resentment among Generation Xers as well, who are less concerned about protocol but have worked hard to succeed and are unwilling to easily abandon their recently acquired leadership positions to an inexperienced, unpolished, and immature labor pool.

However, Millennials come to the work environment equipped with some very valuable characteristics in terms of creating a brighter future. As described in a 2013 survey of three generations in the workplace, Millennials are extremely tech savvy, highly inclusive, and the best of all three generations at collaboration, adaptability, and entrepreneurial spirit.

As I mentioned in my earlier post on Baby Boomers, both Millennials and Boomers can benefit from engaging in mutual mentoring relationships in which Millennials help Boomers across the digital divide and Boomers share important, nuanced information around career development, leadership, and social skills—which Millennials often seriously lack but which are still so valuable in the workplace. The results from these mentoring relationships can also help ease tension between Millennials and Gen Xers.

Optimizing the work environment

Ernst and Young LLP’s workforce composition is estimated to be upwards of 60% Millennials. The company has had great success in bridging the generational divide through channels like organisation-wide web casts on generational differences and similarities as well as targeting Millennials in talent management and communication efforts. It goes without saying that regardless of the workplace mix, educating all employees about generational differences and providing opportunities for the generations to interact and communicate in positive and enlightening ways is an important step towards optimizing the work environment.

Optimizing the work environment is also about acquiring valuable talent. As Millennials become an increasing presence in the workforce, the question leaders and HR professionals should be asking themselves is, “Are we providing the right environment to attract and retain these enthusiastic and thoughtful young contributors?” Look for more about this in my next series.

For more information about generational differences in the workplace, please see:

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