I was at a dinner party a few nights ago where the topic around the table was each person’s generational grouping. There is often a concerted effort to label generations with dates. Then people look at their date of birth to put a particular description or disposition on themselves.

Caution. The natal anniversary of an individual should not be used to describe an individual’s behavior. The generational dates are helpful as long as we remember the point.

The generational differences are more about what drives people and how they communicate. This is the essence of what really defines a generation. Understanding how you communicate and what values drive your behavior—especially in the workplace—is the essence of generational diversity. The focus on the dates should not lead the discussion.

Once it begins to emerge that Baby Boomers, Gen-xers, or Millennials (Gen Y), communicate “this way” and are driven by “these values”, then we begin to see where people generally fit. Interestingly enough, we begin to discover that people with certain styles of communication and certain drivers fit within those descriptive dates. There were socio-political events, styles of entertainment and technology that impacted each generation during their informative years (10-25). The calendar year is a means to an end. The “end” is understanding:

  • How work is done,
  • How we communicate,
  • What values drive us.

Here are 4 things we discover about Millennials?

  1. They work well on teams and in group settings.
  2. They are conservative – not in the political sense – but in their desire for a stable job and stable marriage.
  3. They want to continually be learning – a reflection of what their parents taught them.
  4. They are (unlike the Boomer generation), close to their parents. They are not the boat-rockers with regard to their families like the Boomers. However, they are rocking the boat in the workplace. The difference is that they are living out the values they picked up as a result of their parental upbringing and not in spite of it.

So what do we see? For one thing, if they quit it is often because they are not learning. This can create a panic and a sense of loss of direction. They are very tuned into their personal development. Their parents made sure of that!

Many older Gen-exers (the oldest being 50), were exposed to a kind of abandonment by their feminist Baby Boomer mothers. Unfortunately there was less support for working mothers in those years (childcare and other benefits), like there is today. So the Gen-exers were known as the latchkey kids. Many developed an “I can do it on my own” attitude. “No adult will assist me.” Being a much smaller generational cohort, they were often treated less than respectful. The label “Slackers” was an unproductive word for Generation X. This would tend to make anyone a little cranky and surly.

Enter the Millennials. They have and are arriving on the scene in greater numbers than their predecessor. Cranky? No! They are funny, motivated, eager, and optimistic. They want to be involved in the work process. They are solution oriented. How could you not like them? They are not called slackers. We have labeled them as entitled.

A word about entitlement. Do they have a sense of entitlement? Generally speaking the answer is YES. But there is a caveat. Beware of that label! Think about it. Everyone, to some degree, has a sense of entitlement. Psychologists tell us that often we see and magnify in others what we disdain in ourselves. It’s one thing to be spoiled and unappreciative, but it’s quite another thing to expect something good.

If the work world does not treat them with a sense of well-being they will quit. I find that others get upset with this. After all, they didn’t quit, even when they were NOT treated well. Rather than ask ourselves the question, “Why did I stay?” it is easier for some to label this emerging generation and say “You need to pay your dues like I did. The world is not going to change for you.”

Wait a minute! Weren’t child labor laws based on this sense of entitlement? Are there expectations we should have with regard to our supervisors, managers, and bosses?

It’s that word entitlement, isn’t it? That’s what bugs us. It has become a synonym for spoiled brat. If by entitlement we mean free handouts, then the appropriate response is that you need to work for what you get.

To expect to be treated well is an entitlement that most of us would embrace. In many ways, what this generation wants is mirroring what all of us want deep down inside.

As we make work more meaningful and exciting for Millennials, other generations will profit as well. We all want meaningful and exciting work.

We encourage your thoughts and comments.