A chalk-and-cheese climate of difference between millennial staff and their older colleagues is spawning inter-generational conflict at work, according to a new whitepaper from recruitment firm Robert Walters. 
In a press release accompanying the document, the firm cites several gulfs between the generations – a prime example being that employers and staff from Generation X and the Boomer bracket consider millennials to be far more pampered than was ever the case for them at the start of their careers.
Indeed, while only 15% of employers believe that personalised training programmes are necessary, more than a third of millennials rank the availability of such schemes as one of the most important factors in determining whether or not they will stay on in their current roles. According to the whitepaper, 53% of millennials have been disappointed to notice a lack of properly implemented personal development or training programmes upon starting new jobs.
Other friction points include:
- 91% of millennials say that they want to receive formal performance feedback at least every six months – with 60% stating that they would prefer to receive it as often as every one to three months. These demands are reportedly leaving senior management teams exasperated.
- While a third of millennials consider meeting their colleagues in a social setting important, only 15% of Gen-Xers and less than 1% of Boomers feel the same.
- 54% of millennials state that having the opportunity to ‘exercise influence’ at work is key to keeping them engaged and loyal to their current employers. This is not going down well with older employees who have been working for longer to secure positions of influence.
- More than half of millennials reported that noticing poor company cultures in the early stages of new jobs was a major source of disappointment, with 90% claiming that they research cultures ahead of taking on new opportunities.
For Chris Hickey, CEO of Robert Walters UK, the figures highlight one of our biggest, current leadership challenges. “According to our survey,” he says, “almost 60% of workers have experienced intergenerational conflict in the workplace. As millennials make up a growing part of the workforce, finding a way for members of different generations to work together effectively is an increasingly high priority.”
He adds: “Making sure that managers understand what motivates workers from different generations, how they like to communicate, and identifying common sources of conflict is essential to creating a strong team of varied generations and diversity of opinions.”
However, for The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper, there is another way to interpret the figures. She says: “It should come as no surprise that newer entrants to the workforce should have different expectations to their older colleagues – particularly given the backdrop of shortening tenures that workers are experiencing within organisations.
“Under those circumstances, it is only natural that millennials would want to have personal development and training programmes set up for them. Apart from the CV-building appeal of such schemes, there is a recognition among millennials that you have to keep training just to keep up… that you must add new skills on a regular basis simply to withstand the impact of frequent job changes. That is not the business environment that Baby Boomers experienced, or are accustomed to.”
Turning to millennials’ need for feedback, Cooper notes: “In general, people like feedback – and asking for it ties into the whole development ethos I’ve just mentioned: ‘I want to get better at my job – tell me how I’m doing so I can improve.’ If you’d rather not have feedback because you happen to be anxious about what you might hear, that’s absolutely fine. Your reluctance is not a flashpoint for conflict, so much as an expression of common insecurity.”
On the issue of socialising, Cooper points out: “By the time people get into their forties and fifties, they’ve established their friendship groups, had children and are playing ever greater roles in the lives of their extended families – exploring all those links and associations they have formed through marriages and partnerships. Plus, they are likely to have caring responsibilities for older relatives. All of those factors make it less likely that they would want to stay on after work in local pubs or bars with their colleagues: they would view time spent socially as time wasted on being within their own, social environments.
“By contrast, young people who don’t have caring responsibilities, and are eager to form enduring social groups, would look to their work colleagues to provide that sense of community.”
In Cooper’s assessment, all of these points tie into the notion that age, by itself, doesn’t determine how people should be treated or motivated. “Age is not the single most significant factor in people’s lives,” she notes. “It doesn’t transcend other demographic factors such as social class, ethnicity or educational attainment. What really comes through from the report is that people require different things to help them feel valued at different stages of their careers – and any leaders or managers who don’t acknowledge that or respond to it are putting themselves at a significant disadvantage. In the end, I don’t think that this is about conflict, so much as difference.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on developing talent
For more on millennials in the workplace, download the Institute’s 2017 report Workforce 2020: Managing Millennials