NH News
4:07 pm
Fri November 22, 2013

Can Millennials And Baby Boomers Work Together?

In a troubled economy, New Hampshire’s baby boomers are holding onto their jobs while 20-somethings start their careers. Granite State businesses are looking at how—and whether—to accommodate generational differences among their employees.

Millennials are in their teens to early thirties, and they often get a bad rap for being tough to work with. On YouTube, a fake training video, “Millennials in the Workplace,” has gone viral in recent months.

“A new type of worker has entered the workforce,” says the video’s narrator. “They’re called millennials, and they’re terrible.”

In one of the staged workplace situations, a younger worker delivers paperwork to her manager. “Morgan did exactly what was asked of her,” says the narrator. “Nothing more, nothing less. She expects a raise and promotion.”

According to University of New Hampshire professor of management Paul Harvey, there’s some truth in the stereotypes. He studies entitlement in the workplace, and his research shows there’s a stronger sense of it among younger workers.

“People who have a sense of entitlement by definition have a very inflated view of themselves,” said Harvey. “With those inflated self-perceptions come inflated expectations which they expect you as a manager to fulfill for them.”

And of course that can make younger employees hard to work with. Harvey said entitled employees won’t take negative feedback and tend to blame others for their mistakes.

“I have talked to managers whose solution to dealing with conflict between older and younger employees is to separate them completely,” he said.

These days, more New Hampshire businesses are dealing with different attitudes in intergenerational workplaces. As millennials join the workforce, baby boomers are hanging onto their jobs and delaying retirement. Ten years ago, about 15% of Granite Staters over age 65 were in the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year that was up to 22%.

Hypertherm is a manufacturing company based in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Some of its employees are in their seventies. Others are newly minted college grads who have had to adjust their expectations. 

“Getting out of school it was like, yeah, I feel like I’m gonna get promoted in a year or two and keep moving up,” said 25-year-old Jeff Ortakales.

“When I graduated I thought I was going to end up with some awesome role,” said Kimberly Gage, also 25. “And I do have an awesome role, but I’m at the bottom of the totem pole.”

Also working at Hypertherm is 51-year-old Stacey Chiocchio, a baby boomer.

“There is a bit of people wanting to be at a certain level, have a certain job title, have certain responsibilities,” said Chiocchio. “But they just don’t have it because they haven’t had that time in the seat. My generation knew you bide your time, and you work hard.”

Hypertherm recruiter Sarah Dwyer said generational differences probably come from the way younger workers were raised.

“Everybody’s a winner,” she said. “Everybody is fabulous. We spoil our children.”

Dwyer says this comes through at career fairs and in interviews. “The younger generation focus more on what we can do for them,” she said. “So, ‘What is the pay? What kind of benefits do you offer? How much time do I get off?’ And leading with that. And you will very rarely hear an individual from an older generation even talk about that.”

Dan Schawbel is a millennial himself, and author of the book Promote Yourself. He said there’s too much focus on the negative stereotypes of his generation.

“You know I hear it all the time,” he said. “Entitled, lazy, non-focused, narcissistic. Those are the top four.”

But it’s not all negative, he said. “Millennials want more of a transparent and authentic workplace. They want leaders to really involve them in discussions all the way at the top. They want to do work that’s meaningful and they choose that over higher salaries.”

And they’re better adapted to the modern economy, he said: they embrace flexible workplaces, they’re digital natives, and they’re more entrepreneurial.

“They’re always trying to push the boundaries,” he said. “The problem is that a lot of companies are not as welcoming to that. They’re not as supportive of people who are very entrepreneurial. You know, they want to do things how they’ve always done it.”

As baby boomers retire in the next few years, Schawbel said, workplaces will need to adapt to a younger workforce. For him, that means becoming more flexible and open to innovation from anyone, regardless of age.

“Companies will have to have more of an entrepreneurial culture to survive,” he said.

Just up the street from Hypertherm in Lebanon is Adimab—a biotech company.

At first glance, Adimab looks like it’s doing its best to accommodate millennials. The hours are flexible and employees can spend a fifth of their time on self-initiated projects. And then there’s Adimab’s “unlimited budget for fun.”

“Dinners, hiking trips, we do a deep-sea fishing trip—I have never had to reject one single idea that someone has brought to me,” said Adimab’s chief operating officer Errik Anderson.

Plus, he said, anyone can contribute ideas and start projects—no matter what their age or experience level. But don’t tell Anderson that Adimab is adapting well to younger workers.

“I would reject that,” he said. “And I would reject that you need to be accommodating to a millennial. I think it’s condescending. I think people need to be empowered, not accommodated.”

Adimab’s workplace isn’t designed for young people, he said. It’s meant to allow people of any age to be more innovative and efficient. Even the fun is strategic, he said. Happier workers and better communication make for a more successful business. It isn’t about generations, Anderson said. It’s just the modern way to work.

But if there’s any truth in the cultural perception of millennials, different generations will have to learn to work together. Stacey Chiocchio of Hypertherm says the best way to do that is to focus on how different generations can learn from one another.

“I think really the best workplace is a combination of both, because you have that balance,” she said. “So I would like to think from me they’re learning things that I’ve learned over the years. But they’re certainly keeping me on my toes and making me stay modern.”

That, she says, could make for a wiser workforce.

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