Hey, Millennials! We Know It’s Not Your Fault!

I’ve been pondering the state of affairs in the workplace and peering into the chasm existing between your Millennial generation and the three generations that came before you. In so many words, why are we older workers struggling to understand you “damn kids”?  By the way, I’m not here to idealize or demonize you; just looking to solicit your help, figuring you probably don’t “get” us either.

Simon Sinek, best-selling author and motivational speaker, provided his perspective on how we got to where we are. He identified four factors influencing your behavior: “parenting, technology, impatience and environment”.1  Here’s my take on those factors and how they’re playing out in today’s workplace.


  1. Parenting

As adults, we had a major hand in influencing your behavior, starting with our parenting techniques.  Remember how happy you were when you got a trophy even though your team came in last place?  Everybody got a prize and ice cream after the final soccer game, so you learned that rewards were for everyone, no matter the level of individual or team performance.

  1. Technology

We are the architects of a high tech world in which you have the universe in the palm of your hand. That mobile device is intoxicating and, in fact, evokes a physiological reaction with the dopamine that your brain emits.  Perhaps an unintended consequence is that we have users (older crowd included) with a bona fide addiction to our phones.

  1. Impatience

The impact of technology goes well beyond the confines of your mobile device and can consume every aspect of your life. Technology drives consumers and consumers drive technology. We end up in an anytime, anywhere world with 24/7 access to people, places and things.  No small wonder we’ve created an “ADHD” society.

  1. Environment

Let’s not gloss over the reality that you inherited a screwed up economy along with a physical environment that could be in danger.  As a member of the older generation, we need to consider the PTSD that came as a result and deal with the fallout.


Clearly, the group dynamics among today’s workforce didn’t happen by chance. As an HR professional and older worker, follow me on a virtual tour of how these factors have shaped the scene across America’s employment landscape.

Reflecting on our parenting style, I now understand why you’d expect a promotion after 6 months on the job; no mystery there. You’re used to winning and don’t think you should wait.  But realize the collision course you’re on with that 50 year old co-worker who says, get in line.  The fact of the matter is that your generation is assuming leadership roles at the rate of 20% 2 as Baby Boomers retire and create a void in the board rooms, so we don’t have time for you to “wait in line”.  However, we should maketime to develop your potential.

When it comes to working together, you may have learned the value of collaboration far better than we did. The “win/lose” paradigm many of us lived by is in obvious conflict, but reverse mentoring is a great place to start coming together.

Reverse mentoring ends the notion that “old white guys” are the keepers of all wisdom and knowledge. Progressive employers promote a sharing of knowledge, emotional intelligence, and technical skills from both ends of the age spectrum.  Programs could include a millennial as instructor to the C Suite, giving lessons on how to optimize the use of social media in corporate branding, Or, it could include an older worker sharing legacy knowledge about the nuances of the industry that can’t be found on a website or in a blog.

What about the constant criticism of always having your face in your phone?  True this.  Your face isoften in your phone, but let’s not rule out it could be for good reason.  You’re efficient at conducting business on your phone and adept at moving from one app to another. Why not call a truce and meet us in the middle? You show us your virtual world and we’ll show you our real world.

Social skills are critical in establishing effective relations at work and in life. We need to share our experiences and help navigate your way to being either a great individual contributor or assist in developing your potential as a future leader.

You may have personally seen the effects of bad decisions made by the banking and investment industries resulting in a financial tailspin for your family. Or, maybe you’ve already assumed the government’s going to abandon you later in life when the well runs dry on social security.  The after-shocks of a world in chaos probably shaped your views of institutions and led to a certain level of cynicism.  That cynicism can be healthy if it leads to better things, as I believe it has.

You’ve lost faith in institutions and expect your employer will provide a moral compass. You’re ready to play a role in social responsibility and look for your employer to share that commitment. The inflection point again for older workers is that we may not appreciate how social responsibility has anything to do with the workplace. We’ve lived in a world where you show up for work, do your job and leave charitable work for after hours.  Not to say that older worker’s don’t have a heart, we’re just not used to expressing it in the same way at work.

Last but not least, the effects of technology cannot be overstated. You’re living in a world of instant gratification. The way you learn isn’t limited to signing up for class and waiting for the semester to start a month from now.  Pick a topic, go to the internet and there is a mountain of content, podcast, webcasts at your fingertips.  You’re reaching milestones at work at lightning speed compared to older workers because you’re fluent in technology while we’re struggling to catch up or just plain throwing in the towel in defeat.

And, as a generation, you’re also trumping us on overall numbers with a college degree.  Older workers from the “School of Hard Knocks” meet young upstarts from college campuses across the country.

Employers are responding to the market with sophisticated on-line campaigns to attract and retain you. Older workers may feel slighted that they’re not being courted in the same way and find it tough to acknowledge a current record low unemployment rate or the real demand for your high tech savvy.

The job market is also responding to the realities of a 24/7 world no longer defined by a 9 to 5 work day. Older workers must appreciate that work-from-home, open-ended vacation and paternity leave are all offerings reflecting today’s job market; not just a nod to “self-indulged, entitled” millennials.


Reasons for the current state of affairs are certainly not limited to these four factors.  The realities of a crushing college debt you may be carrying, disillusionment with political leaders, and opposing views on a company’s short term gains vs. long term sustainability shape your view of the world.

The good news is employers are working on resolving immediate barriers you face. As an example, student debt is at a staggering $1.5 trillion3A few enlightened employers have decided to swap 401(k) matches for student loan assistance benefits.  Let’s continue to be creative in seeking solutions like this.

The point of all this is to acknowledge the hand you’ve been dealt, not give you a free pass, but commit to working with you. Here’s the deal, today you represent 35% of the US workforce and by 2025 you’ll be tipping the scales at 75%.4   Clearly, you’re a force to be reckoned with!

You’re a generation full of optimism, have great technological savvy and are living in a world of unbelievable innovation.  So, keep your eyes squarely on the ever changing job market and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge surrounding you.

The way I see it, we’ll be sharing the planet well beyond sharing the workspace.  My instincts tell me that I, along with my fellow older workers, want to help supply the oxygen.

Source References:

  1. Presented in the In QuestYou Tube video, “On Millennials in the Workplace”
  2. The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey
  3. financial-planning.com/news
  4. pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11
Barbara Schultz
About the author: 

Barbara Schultz is an HR Executive, former VP of HR for Aux Sable Liquid Products, a multinational energy company. Her background includes HR consulting and recruiting and has held leadership roles in: technology services, and business software application firms within entrepreneurial settings.  She serves on the Board of Directors for the Community Career Center in the Chicago area, and provides pro bono coaching to clients.  She is an aspiring writer currently in the process of co-authoring a book focused on easing millennials into adulthood and sharing perspectives on how to manage their careers. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resources from Lewis University, Romeoville, IL .  Follow Barbara on LinkedIn.