Less than a generation ago – pre-millennial but well post the baby boomers – schools, colleges and universities taught their students to do their own research, show their workings and be willing and able to explain how they came to their conclusions.
For millennials, the education system has been entirely different. Group-work is encouraged, research is no longer conducted alone in libraries, and debate and discussion form the basis of lessons, lectures and seminars.
Translate this to the work place, and older generations – even those born in the 1970s – can find this way of working incredibly alien. They were taught to think for themselves, find their own facts and stand on their own two feet. They even had to use those two feet to transport themselves to the nearest library to find the facts they needed in dusty old text books, instead of accessing information at the end of a few mouse clicks.
To these older generations, it’s easy to understand why millennials can seem entitled. But they’re not – they’re just different.
Hand a 50-year-old an encyclopaedia and ask them to source the origins of a particular theory, and they’ll take it to their desk with a notepad and pen. Ask a millennial to do the same and they’ll gaze at you in amazement and ask, “Well why don’t you just Google it?” This doesn’t make them entitled. It makes them the product of a new generation – a generation which has developed new ways of thinking and working, with the technology to accompany it.
This so called privileged cohort also tellingly goes by the name of generation rent. The number of millennials still renting at aged 30 is double that of Gen Xers and four times that of baby boomers. A combination of ever rising house prices, carrying the highest student debt in the world, and the millennial proclivity towards job hopping makes homeownership a pipe dream for those without a sizeable parental hand out.
In the workplace, it’s this younger generation that is expected to adapt simply because that’s the way things have always been. Just as the baby boomers were told by their Victorian parents: “Children should be seen and not heard,” millennials are told to put their phones down and log out of Facebook.
But, although there are many issues with the way technology is used and data is collected, progress can’t be halted. We live in a 24/7 switched-on world and telling a 24-year-old they can’t use the latest app to streamline their workload is the equivalent of telling a baby boomer to sit in the corner and face the wall for talking out of turn.
Without a doubt, older people need to be open to suggestions as to how they can adapt and change in the workplace. But younger people will never stop learning from the older generations – they have years of experience and empathy that can’t (or at least not yet) be found in an app or AI.
It’s not just a generation gap issue: positive leadership and an open management style helps the whole team air their views without fear of recrimination. Those views can help the organisation and its people, whatever age, to develop and grow.