Category Archives: Workplace

The Job of the Workplace to Fulfill Every Desire?

How important is workplace atmosphere to a millennial? Apparently it was important enough to at least one of them to blow off one of the premier employers in her desired profession.

Hannah Gordon, a journalism student at St. Bonaventure University, recently shared her thoughts about a visit to the New York Times in a letter to The Times is considered by many journalists to be the pinnacle of the profession, a place to which the most ambitious reporters and editors aspire.

Gordon, however, saw it differently, noting her disappointment at finding a “near-silent newsroom” instead of “the bustling, comradery-filled (sic) newsroom I imagined.”

“My visit,” she concluded, “made me realize it was sterile journalism.”

Gordon did not give examples of work produced by the Times that she considers sterile, but seemed more concerned with the newsroom environment, saying she knew she “wouldn’t fit in with the culture” in a place where she couldn’t “fully express my creativity and quirkiness.”

She illustrated her point by noting that an internship coordinator at the Times may not have appreciated the “shooting stars and flying bats” on her portfolio.

While Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers will laugh this off as a millennial living down to the stereotype (and wonder what kind of journalism student would show up to the New York Times with stars and bats drawn on her clips), we also must assume that Gordon isn’t alone. Finding a collaborative atmosphere and an outlet for their creative passions is important to millennials – and finding talented millennials is important to employers.

So who should give? Should employers like the Times reconfigure their workplaces to cater to the desires of millennials like Gordon? Or should Gordon realize that not every office is going to feel like the campus newspaper?

There’s no one right answer here, but my hunch is: perhaps a little of both.

As more millennials flood the workforce, many workplaces are moving toward environments that foster the kind of collaborative atmosphere for which Gordon seems to be looking – and one day, even the Times may join them. It makes sense for companies that want to attract and retain the best and brightest to make sure their office environments are going to be seen as an asset.

But millennials like Gordon also need to understand that it isn’t the job of a workplace to fulfill their every desire. It’s to get work done. Very few of us, no matter the generation, are fortunate enough to find a job that feeds all our ambitions and interests. Many of us find other outlets for our creative and quirky sides that aren’t satisfied at work.

Perhaps Gordon will find a job that meets all her expectations. Or maybe she’ll have to temper those expectations to find a job.

Tear Down Those Walls

Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down Those Walls. But Ease In To It, Please.

We’ve written quite a bit in this space recently about adjustments in the workplace to appeal to millennials, who now make up the largest percentage of the workforce.

But lest you think that just dumping the cubicles for couches and standing desks makes for an easy fix, heed the advice of Simon and Garfunkel:

Slow down. You move too fast.

We’ll excuse any millennials who may not have gotten that reference. It was from a tune called the 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) that was recorded a couple decades before you were born.

But the wisdom would be well-heeded managers who are looking to make their workspaces more amenable to an increasingly millennial workforce. Change can be good, but make those changes too rapidly or too universally and you risk alienating any Gen Xers or Baby Boomers on the payroll.

One workplace with which I’m familiar is an interesting case study, transitioning its office practically on a dime from a traditional corporate cubicle farm to an airy millennial haven.

Shortly after a reorganization, which included a large layoff and a new focus for the company, it moved into a new, much smaller space constructed for the millennial ethos. An open floorplan with no cubicles or dividers. Communal workspaces that fostered, even demanded, collaboration. Surfaces that could raised to transition to standing desks. The only closed-door offices were unassigned meeting spaces available to any employees in need of temporary privacy.

Employees were allowed, sometimes even encouraged, to work outside the office – at home, from coffee shops, wherever. Supervisors were promoted and dismissed with surprising speed, and levels of management were stripped away until only the bare minimum remained. Employees were given a high level of autonomy and kept in touch with managers largely via instant messaging platforms.

Many of the Gen X employees who remained with the firm found the changes jarring – too much, too quickly. One told me he found that the company was “trying way too hard to be hip.” Others saw the sheer volume of changes, clearly crafted toward the growing millennial base of the company’s workforce, as a sign that their places within the company were growing more tenuous.

Even some millennials complained about the “directionless” nature of the office, feeling that the relative lack of hands-on management resulted in a ship adrift.

Not all millennials are comfortable in workspace concepts designed to cater to millennials. USA TODAY noted a backlash amongst millennials against the idea of a remote office two years ago. A study cited by the newspaper found that despite their comfort with and affinity for their smartphones and other gadgetry necessary to connect remotely, millennials still craved face-to-face interaction.

And BBC noted last year a growing backlash against the open-office floorplan, interviewing a Microsoft manager who noted that too much togetherness and the lack of noise barriers can sap productivity.

“We never see the doors as barriers to communication,” Pankaj Arora, who heads up Microsoft’s Modern IT Innovation Group, told the BBC, “just as barriers to noise.”

Don’t get us wrong. Knocking down office doors and cubicle walls is often a great idea. But there are drawbacks to the millennial ideal. And creating the ultimate millennial workplace doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to be a place where people – even millennials – are going to want to work.

More than standing desks and open floorplans, a workplace is defined by its people and the standards by which their work is governed. Start by making sure yours are consistent and make sense.

And if you value your older employees, you might ease in the waters of change one step at a time instead of cannonballing straight in.

The Gen X Manager

The Gen X Manager – Need To Know…

You’ve by now read plenty of advice in this space on how to adjust to a millennial workplace. Millennials have surpassed Generation X as the largest generation in the workplace, and changes are being made to accommodate them as Gen X and Baby Boomer managers seek to retain the best and brightest among them.

But even through more than one-third of the workforce is now made up of millennials, according to the Pew Research Center, that still leaves two-thirds that isn’t. While millennials are ambitious and upwardly mobile, many of them are working for Generation X managers.

And so, millennials have had to do some adjusting of their own.

Fortune magazine offered these tips for millennials to understand and work with their Gen X managers:

  • Gen Xers are independent. Don’t be offended by their desire to work alone.
  • Gen Xers are results-oriented and entrepreneurial thinkers and tend to be more hands-off. Don’t be surprised if they don’t tell you every step necessary to get the job done, and expect you to figure out some of it yourself.
  • Gen Xers aren’t terribly quick with praise. This means, however, that when praise does come your way from them, it’s well-earned.
  • Gen Xers are naturally skeptical. Don’t take it personally when they try to find the holes in your big idea.

While acknowledging these are generalizations, writer Mira Zaslove traces them back into the era in which most Gen Xers were raised. They had a lot of freedom to roam – they were the latchkey kids, remember? – and they weren’t tethered to their parents by technology like cell-phone-carrying, GPS-tracked millennials.

They didn’t get a lot of participation trophies as kids, either. While millennials, often encouraged by frequent praise while growing up, might feel free to share their opinions even as a recently hired employee, they should understand that their Gen X managers may feel employees need to pay their dues before expecting their opinions to carry weight.

Yes, the workplace is changing. But that doesn’t mean you should expect your Generation X managers to suddenly tear down the office walls and morph into gushing fountains of millennial praise. They didn’t get a trophy until they won something, and it’s likely that they’ll expect the same of you.

Coach v Mentor

Coach v Mentor? Hard to argue with that…

As a card-carrying member of Generation X who also participated in sports from elementary school on up through high school, I get a very clear picture in my head when someone uses the word “coach.”

There is a whistle, a certain comically ugly style of beltless shorts, a lot of physical exertion and pain, and usually a lot of yelling.

That’s not to say I questioned their methods. All the wind sprints and all the yelling were designed to make me and my teammates better athletes. The fact that most of it failed miserably reflects more on me than on them.

But with that well-defined picture in mind, I found it very interesting to read a recent article at on what millennials are looking for in the workplace.

There were the now commonly known millennial ideals of greater flexibility, collaboration and a thirst for affecting positive change in the world. But there was also the thought that millennials prefer their bosses to be more of a coach and less of a supervisor.

Drop and give me 20, employee!

Perhaps it’d be more accurate to think of the millennials’ ideal boss as a mentor instead of a coach, and writer Mat Luschek actually uses that word later in his piece. They want someone who will “promote a culture of equality and responsibility,” “bring a more positive aspect to the workplace” and create a closer relationship with them, Luschek notes.

Thought of this way, it’s easy to see why a millennial might prefer this type of boss. Who wouldn’t? As a “counterpoint” at the end of Luschek’s piece, Culture Amp’s CEO, Didier Elzinga, contends that many of these concepts traditionally associated with millennials are really cultural workplace shifts desired by and designed for all employees, not just the younger ones.

There’s a valid point here. Pretty much everyone wants flexibility and a healthy work-life balance. Most of us would love to make a difference of some kind in the world. You’d be hard-pressed to find an employee who’d prefer a dictatorial supervisor over a mentor that is looking for positive ways to help them be more productive and successful.

Perhaps the biggest change in today’s workplace is that millennials seem more willing than their Baby Boomer and Gen-X ancestors to change jobs in order to find these ideals. “No longer are people staying at a job for 40 years doing the same tasks day-in and day-out, holding out for that gold watch at their retirement party,” Luschek notes.

While part of the reason for that may be the all-too-common layoffs in an increasingly volatile workplace, the relative lack of hesitation by many millennials to switch jobs is also a significant factor. That’s why many workplaces are finding it prudent to adjust to their millennial employees rather than the other way around.


Give a purpose. Show the purpose. Sell the value.

Many millennials view the workplace differently than their fathers and mothers did. They want their jobs to be fun and fulfilling. They want to work for a company and in a profession that they can believe in.

And, according to a recent Forbes article, many business leaders find their millennial hires don’t want to do sales. Of course, these things may be related.

We can perhaps excuse Baby Boomer and Gen-X managers who think those millennials should perhaps feel fortunate that they have a job at all.

But that’s no way to retain employees. And a report from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School estimates that nearly half the workforce will be comprised of millennials by 2020.

Forbes contributor Bill Conerly believes that the idealism of millennials can be an asset to managers rather than a drawback – even in sales jobs.

Managers shouldn’t be looking for someone who can sell ice to Eskimos, Conerly argues, but enthusiastic salespeople who believe in the product and its benefit to customers. And their sales training should focus on making sure those benefits are evident.

Widgets must serve a purpose in people’s lives or no one would buy them. Same goes for refrigerators, or automobile tires or insurance.

Emphasizing the opportunities within sales to help people and to solve problems can turn a job that millennials might find dreary into something they can sink their teeth into.

It can even be – wait for it – fun.

While millennials get what is in many cases an undeserved bad rap for not wanting to work, managers can energize them by helping them see that their jobs can be fun.

That doesn’t mean hanging streamers in the office, bringing cake and playing Pin the Tail on the Intern. It doesn’t even have to mean creating the kind of uber-trendy open-plan office space, with its standing desks and exposed brick, designed to appeal to a younger workforce.

It means giving them a purpose, and showing them that the purpose is worthwhile. Even if it’s selling widgets.


Restlessness knows no generational bounds.

In the 1996 film Trainspotting, one of the characters deliberately tries to tank a job interview without allowing the interviewers to catch on, in order that he might remain on government assistance. Among his strategies, all of which prove wildly successful, is to describe himself as a perfectionist.

“For me, it’s got to be the best or nothing at all,” he says. “When things get a bit dodgy, I cannot be bothered.”

This quote, minus the ulterior motive and deliberate deception behind it, would seem to be the impression many Baby Boomers have of millennials in the workplace. They have an ideal workplace in mind, and if they don’t get it – if things get “a bit dodgy” – they don’t let the grass grow beneath their feet. They change jobs.

For many Baby Boomers, some of whom may have worked 30 or 40 years for the same company, this seems fickle. Until one recognizes that many other Baby Boomers did it too.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, younger Baby Boomers born in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s held an average of 11.7 jobs between ages 18 to 48. Restlessness, it seems, knows no generational bounds.

All this job-hopping can be a drain for employers, who then have to seek out and train someone else. Retention of skilled employees can be important to the bottom line.

So how to keep those employees happy? Citing a report from Catalyst, a nonprofit that seeks to expand opportunities for women in business, a recent Forbes article noted that and the importance of an inclusive workplace culture.

Many companies have sought to do this by creating open work spaces, banishing cubicles and dividers in favor of communal tables or “hoteling,” where workers don’t have their own assigned space and simply camp out at whatever work station is available.

Such open plans are designed to encourage collaboration and face-to-face communication instead of emails or instant messages, and to eliminate the prairie-dogging of the cubicle farms. But while some employees find the openness creates a more invigorating work environment, others find it distracting and counterproductive. One overly loud talker can turn inclusiveness into annoyance.

Much like business models, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Open work spaces and hoteling may work for some types of companies – likely those that thrive on creativity that can be jump-started through collaboration. For others – let’s say, for example, offices in which employees spend a lot of time on telephones – they may make it more difficult to get anything done.

Listen to your employees. Watch how they work. Inclusiveness doesn’t always mean everyone works at the same table. It just means that employees’ needs are being heard and addressed.


From “Give me a chance” to “You get one chance.”

Last week I received the following email:

         We are a small company with a diverse workforce and recently hired a team (4) of recent college engineering graduates as Sales Engineers. The generational differences are creating challenges that are affecting productivity and morale and we are searching for ways to help all of us to overcome these differences with better understanding and support. 

Workplace challenges amongst the generations continue as they have for the past twenty years. I see no slack in the demand for solutions. And the solutions vary depending on the size and ability of the employer. For example a fellow panelist at an event this past spring listed the things that the Millennials want in their workplace: Mentors, meaningful work, flexible schedules, newest technologies, planned and predictable career paths, predictable bonuses and raises, and the freedom to work on things that interest them. “It’s simple,” he said. “None of this is hard.” Maybe not, but are these reasonable things to offer a new-hire with no track record? And only the largest workplaces with ample HR budgets can afford to offer these things.

The vast majority of workplaces are like the writers of the email above – small companies where workplace disruptions impact lots of people. The audience that day listened like I did with a perplexed look on their face, saying, “Yeah. You’re right. It’s easy to understand. But who is going to implement all this? And change the way we currently do things? And smooth it over with the old-timers who have been loyal and received none of this treatment? And where is the budget going to come from? We’re small and need people who want to fit in, not disrupt.” Easy to understand? Yes. Realistic? I don’t think so.

Today’s workplace has gone from a place where a new hire sought opportunities to prove themselves to a place where new hires say to their employers “Make me happy or else…” From “give me a chance” to “you get one chance.” My assessment may be harsh but my employer clients seem to agree with my description. As a society we have promised today’s youth that someone else will make them happy; that their happiness is not up to them. In their workplace they want to be made happy, not to be happy. So all the things today’s workplace trends highlight – from mentors to workplace buddies to Ping-Pong tables – are to make employees happy, especially the youngest ones. Maturity will ultimately teach them that their happiness is their own job but until this maturity sets in, the job is the employers. It’s evident in the way we raise children today – from rewarding participation vs. results – to the way we talk about the purpose of education – “do well on your tests so that someday you’ll find a good job that makes you happy”. It’s become a part of our culture.

So what do you do?

  • First, there is an undeniable corollary between age and turnover: the younger they are the more likely they are to leave you to find another employer who they hope will make them happy. From now on, hire youth at your own risk. Buyer beware.
  • Next, don’t let “short timer’s disease” deter you when you’re hiring. If you see a number of different jobs and your applicant is nearing their late twenties or early thirties they’re now become a more predictable person and are likely learning that no employer, job, title, or Aeron chair is going to make them happy. They’re at the age to realize that they want a good job and are willing to invest their efforts into making it a good job. They’re also at the age where they realize that happiness is their job, not yours.
  • Next, communicate interpersonally frequently. Set the devices and the emails aside and look your people in the eye and talk. The screens in our life prevent meaningful interpersonal connections. Talk, show interest, and relate – old school stuff.
  • Finally, where you can provide anything off the list from above that the Millennials want, do it. But don’t alienate your loyal workers in the process. Explain that these new workplace offerings are designed to benefit everyone, not just your youngest employees.

Ultimately word will get out that you’re a good, fair employer and they’ll come looking for you with their resumes in their hands.


What’s Motivating Millennials?

Do you know what’s motivating your millennial employees? Research presented earlier this year by venture capitalist Mary Meeker, and shared by the Huffington Post, indicates that many managers don’t.

In studies cited by Meeker, nearly half the managers believe the most important indicator of success for millennials is high pay. All other factors paled in comparison, with none registering higher than 12 percent.

But when millennials were asked how they define success, only 27 percent said money was most important. Most of those surveyed, 30 percent, said meaningful work was their top factor, while 24 percent said it was a sense of accomplishment.

Both of these factors polled at only 11 percent among managers. Slightly higher on the managers’ list was a high level of responsibility (12 percent), but just 3 percent of the millennials surveyed found that most important.

Millennials backed up these opinions by ranking training and development (22 percent) and flexible working hours (19 percent) as the top two benefits they value most from employers. Cash bonuses were third (14 percent).

Why the disconnect?

It’s human nature to relate to others with the same yardstick with which we have measured ourselves. Baby Boomers certainly would have viewed salary as the top indicator of their success in their rise up the company ladder. Most Generation Xers, while focused less on money than their predecessors, still would have viewed money as a primary measuring stick.

Now that those generations are in management, they logically expect their employees to hold similar values.

But much as Gen-Xers differ from their Baby Boomer parents, millennials have different priorities. Quality of life is important to them, and that phrase doesn’t just apply to the size of their bank account.

The desire for flexible work hours shows a commitment to life away from work. The desire for “meaningful work” and a “sense of accomplishment” speak to their social awareness and their desire to be socially responsible citizens – not only in the private lives, but in their professional pursuits as well.

Employers who want to hire the cream of the millennial crop — and keep them on the payroll once they’re hired – should take note. A final batch of statistics cited by Meeker drives home the point. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 35 percent of the nation’s civilian workforce in 2015 is millennials – the highest of any generational group (Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers are both at 31 percent). Baby Boomers had been the largest group up through 2010.

Money still talks, but as the millennial workforce grows, it’s no longer the loudest voice in the room. Employers and managers: Adjust accordingly.


Attracting Millennials: The location factor

According to a recent report by Cushman & Wakefield, attracting Millennials has a something in common with selling real estate: location, location, location. And more precisely, urban locations. As it turns out, Millennials are city dwellers and they are all about convenience, so if you want them to come to you, well, you may need to go to them.

Why the big surge in city living? CW’s report cites surveys, including one that shows 62% of Millennials prefer mixed-use communities. Perhaps more important, Millennials have a tendency toward delayed adolescence (or adultolescence). As I’ve talked about here many times, the Millennials are staying in school longer, getting married later, having children later, etc. They are also renting longer and delaying the taking on of mortgages – either because they are still paying off student loans or they simply aren’t ready to settle down. Either way, these factors are making cities more attractive and attractive for a longer period of time.

In recent years the population growth in cities has outpaced that of suburbs, reversing a trend that had been growing since the 1930s when the automobile made the ‘burbs more accessible. Today, Millennials are driving less than any other generation and no longer see a driver’s license as a ticket to freedom. They are group-oriented as a whole and prefer to live among their peers. While it remains to be seen whether their tone changes as they age, the fact remains that more cities are seeking to create neighborhoods that offer the work-life balance young professionals desire. As a result, more companies are going to need to reconsider suburban campus centers that were so attractive to Boomers years ago. At the very least, larger companies may find it advantageous to set up satellite offices “in town” to accommodate an increasingly city-based workforce.


Entitlement: Perhaps it’s not just for the kids

When considering the different generations in the workforce it is easy to slip into blame and pointing fingers: “Back in my day, we would never talk to our superiors like that” and “They are just so out of touch.” Some folks just like to simply deny the problem off the table: “Oh, the younger generations have always pushed limits, nothing to see here.” It’s not surprising that neither of these approaches helps attract, engage and retain a diverse workforce.

But even as companies are looking at how to focus on the similarities between the generations (rather than complain about the differences) and to construct new policies and approaches that appeal to these similarities, one concept remains largely reserved for the youngest generation. Yes, Millennials are almost exclusively derided for a sense of entitlement. But is that fair?

A recent article in Canada’s Leader-Post delves into some reasons why entitlement may be more of a similarity than many would like to admit. An excerpt:

In her decade of researching the phenomenon of entitlement in the workplace, Carleton University psychology professor Janet Mantler said she’s found evidence to suggest entitlement is going up across the western world, among every age group. It’s just that the people conducting the studies tend to only measure it in youth.

(…)In a world where every kid gets a trophy just for showing up and labour-hungry companies buy warm bodies with hiring bonuses, the result is a kind of false feedback loop that distorts our conception of what we truly deserve. Humans don’t much like to attribute success to luck, Mantler said, so when we reap rewards for literally being in the right place at the right time, we interpret it as confirmation we are innately extraordinary. We don’t think we need to earn rewards – we just expect them.

I’ll just let you ruminate on that one a bit.

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