I just saw an advertisement for a seminar about how to manage Millennials in the workplace and I realized I've finally grown tired of hearing how the Millennials (aka "Generation Y")—those 75 million persons born between 1977 and 1998—are going to transform the workplace!
At one time, I actually believed this large group of individuals, who are highly educated, technologically savvy, openly expressive, and disdainful of established organizations, would make The Difference in the workplace evolving under the impact of the WorkQuake™ of the Knowledge Economy. I now believe their time has quickly passed. It's not that they are going to disappear—after all Millennials will represent a significant part of the workforce for the next 50 years—but rather that they are not going to make a defining difference in the existing workplace culture, as repressive as they may find it, since they are going to be assimilated into that very culture. And that makes me sad—not only for the Millennials but also for the remainder of those in the workforce—Traditionalists, Baby Boomers and Generation Xers—who would have ultimately benefitted from the changes that many thought—including me—would have to be made to accommodate this new breed of American Worker. And the Millennials themselves dreamed of creating the utopian workplace unlike any where their parents had toiled, full of technological marvels and responsive to the expressed needs of the Employees in areas like work-life balance and work supported participation in humanitarian causes.
The opportunity to experience this tsunami of change evaporated in the fall of 2008 when we faced The Reality of the Recession. Suddenly even finding a job, much less transforming an organization, became a more remote possibility for Millennials. Fast forward two years and the employment situation has, unbelievably, worsened. Those Millennials fortunate enough to have found a job are smart enough to realize it's prudent to keep their heads down and not rock a boat that is hardly able to stay afloat in these turbulent and uncertain times. So, the Millennials, and all of the promise of change they carried with them, have effectively been stymied by the following harsh realities:
• The Baby Boomers are not voluntarily leaving the workplace! The Recession has decimated the Boomers' opportunity to retire and left them with no choice but to continue to work for the foreseeable future. And, because Boomers are living during a period when medical science is going to continue to improve their ability to be healthy and work, that "foreseeable future" is a lot longer than anyone could have imagined!
• The Baby Boomers are not going to voluntarily give up their positions of authority! Not only are the Boomers going to remain in the workplace but they are also going to retain their positions of authority. Why give up a managerial position with all its perks?
• If they are forced out of their current employment positions, Baby Boomers will actively compete with the Millennials for other jobs! Witness the ongoing competition between unemployed Boomers and Gen Xers and Millennials for any type of job from part time life guard to menial labor chronicled by the news media. And the Boomers will win this job competition because Employers would prefer to hire the proven responsible person over the unproven and, perceived to be, irresponsible entitled person.
• Finally, the Technological Edge the Millennials touted as the differentiator between them and the other Generations in the workplace is diminishing as the other Generations, faced with no choice, close the technological gap. Boomers may never be able to text as fast as Millennials but they will be able to text fast enough for the workplace! And Boomers have the interpersonal skill set to go with the texting skill set!
Certainly Millennials will have impact on the workplace, but while it will be different than the impact other generations have had it will not be any greater impact. So, stop worrying about how to treat the Millennials and treat them like everyone else in the workplace because that who they have become!
And Millennnials, time to stop dreaming about the utopia workplace that seemed within your grasp and wake up and go to work just like the rest of the Generations, if you are lucky enough to have a job (don't you just hate that phrase?).