Bridging the Office Generation Gap

Generation WE: Managing and Marketing to Millenials.

I recently had the opportunity to give a talk on Millenials, the vast generation of people currently in their 20’s or early 30’s. As a member of the so-called “Generation X”, I know it can be intimidating to engage such an intensely social group of people. Our icon was the anti-social, disaffected Kurt Cobain. Theirs? Mark Zuckerberg. Quite a cultural divide. But here are four main points to help you better manage and market to these aspiring employees, consumers, and citizens:

1. Be Optimistic

37% of 18- to 29-year- olds are unemployed or out of the workforce. YET:

9 in 10 Millenials say that they currently have enough money or that they will eventually meet their long-term financial goals.

There’s a lot of skepticism and disenchantment with governments and corporations, but remember, this is an inherently optimistic group. It’s a mistake to think the recession has turned them into pessimists. They’re looking for experiences that will enrich their life, not just their pocketbook.

2. Be Entrepreneurial

Millennials are 120% more likely to start businesses without previous workplace experience.

They are incredibly entrepreneurial. Within organizations, they are looking for opportunities to own their own projects, own their own career path. They don’t want to be a cog in someone else’s system.

3. Be Flexible

More than 80% of Millennials sleep with their cell phones.

The line between work time and social time has blurred. Millenials can’t be expected to defer their social lives between the hours of 9 to 5. They demand flexibility to manage their personal lives from the office, but in return, they realize they will be required to check-in and be responsive between the hours of 5 to 9. Instead of measuring results with a snapshot hour to hour, step back and look day to day, week to week.

4. Have a Cause

75% of millennials say they are more likely to pay attention to a message if it is deeply committed to a cause.

Consider arranging events, opportunities, and partnerships that let your employees feel like they are making a difference. Make sure your company’s mission statement is clear. There’s no need to be inauthentic or Pollyanna about it—it can be honest, even selfish—“we’re going to increase profits 25% this year”—but show how the team at large is going to make that happen. Have a cause.

For those of us engaged in public works projects—building roads and bridges and high speed rail, this should be easy and obvious: we’re literally building the future that this generation will inherit.

There’s a funny article I found from the columnist Bob Greene when the Walkman first came out in the early 80’s—around the time many in this new generation were born. He’s appalled by the site of someone wearing a Walkman during the Ohio State Fair and says, “the Walkman is replacing certain drugs as a mind and mood altering device.” And “when teenagers reach the point when they feel they must shut out the sounds of the Ohio State Fair, society is surely to collapse.”

Well, I was that teenager in the early 80’s walking around the fairgrounds. And society didn’t collapse. This new generation of Millennials will also come to age and take over. Let’s strive to understand where they’re coming from and help them along the way.

–Tracy Morse





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