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The Future of Work

The Overlooked Factor To Job Satisfaction For Millennials That Doesn't Matter To Baby Boomers

Friends in the office makes millennials more productive, but boomers are more likely to separate their professional and personal lives

[Image: Flickr user Christos Loufopoulos]

It goes without saying that the people you spend eight or more hours a day with can make or break your work experience. Having a colleague who’s there to celebrate your wins and lend an ear for your grievances? That makes a huge impact on the happiness meter, especially for millennials.

LinkedIn recently discovered how important those work BFFs are in its latest Relationships @Work study. In partnership with CensusWide, the survey polled more than 11,500 full-time professionals between the ages of 18-65 in 14 countries including the United States, Sweden, India, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Spain, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Italy, Indonesia, Brazil and the U.K.

The study found that millennials (ages 18-24) rely on work buddies to boost their spirits and output.

  • 57% said friendships make them feel happy
  • 50% said friendships were motivating
  • 39% said friendships made them more productive

They don’t call it a generation gap for nothing. Almost half the workers surveyed between the ages of 55-65 reported that friends at work had nothing to do with their performance on the job.

Part of this may come from the easy intimacy most millennials have with their colleagues.

  • The majority (53%) of millennials are more open to sharing relationship advice with coworkers in the office, compared to less than one fourth (23%) of boomers.
  • One in three (28%) millennials have texted a manager out of work hours for a non-work related issue, compared to only 10% of boomers.

"Young generations generally tend to share more personal details due to the fact that they simply don’t have as much personal information or life experience to share in that stage of life," LinkedIn’s career expert Nicole Williams tells Fast Company.

If you're wondering how gen X falls into all this, it's somewhere in between. "We looked at various age groups and found the most significant differences were among in the young millennial and later-in-life baby boomers," says Williams.

Williams believes this merging between work and personal life is also product of a heavy cocktail mixed with equal parts technology, reality TV, and social media. Organizational psychologist Billie Blair, of organizational change company Change Strategists, Inc. agrees. "From our experience with millennials in the corporations of our clients, it's a function of the ‘Facebook generation’ where everything gets shared, whether it's wise to or not," says Blair.

Williams does think that the number of hours they work—more than generations past—helps them build more meaningful relationships.

"Boomers, who traditionally look at their work day as the "9 to 5 job," are more inclined to separate their professional lives from their personal lives," she says. Many of them go home to their spouses and children after the work day, Williams observes. "They already have established relationships at home, they’re not as interested in building friendships at work," she adds.

Traditional Subjects No Longer Taboo

Nearly half of all millennials (49%) are more likely to discuss salary with coworkers at work, compared to less than one third of baby boomers (31%).

"There is less of a divide than previous generations in discussing salary—it doesn’t have the same level of stigma as it did 10 years ago," says Williams who is a gen Xer. "Historically speaking, the ranges of starting salary used to be much higher than they are nowadays," she explains.

Williams notes that tools such as LinkedIn provide more visibility for sharing information and encourage people to talk about issues such as salary. "Millennials today are being paid significantly less upon entering the work force. They ask the salary question among their peers as a frame of reference," Williams says.

Of course, sharing sensitive information can come back to bite you, says Williams, so it’s better to err on the side of caution. "I recommend picking up on social cues from your co-workers to determine what’s appropriate to discuss in the workplace," she says. To be safe, Williams advises offering broad-stroke answers while staying within boundaries of what’s acceptable.

Divulging personal details isn’t necessarily making millennials more competitive. Only 18% of all workers polled reported that work friends made them more eager to get ahead, with millennials weighing in at just over a quarter (27%).

There is one point where the generation gap widened significantly:

Sixty-eight percent of millennials would sacrifice a friendship with a colleague for a promotion; 62% of baby boomers would never consider it.

Millennials fair-weather friendship is probably just fine, though. "Time will be the great instructor," Blair contends.

"Friends at work sometimes turn out to be long-lasting, but this is more rare than usual as all are competing in the work setting," she explains. "Lasting friendships usually get formed with those outside of work."

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