Business culture like business itself is ever evolving. Over the last several decades societies have moved towards a belief that high academic education is the absolute pathway to success.
Millennials, those born after 1980, are new entrants to the workplace, sharing the workplace with generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, and the boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964. As these three generations work together a new dynamic surfaces. The impact on organizational structure and systems as it relates to underemployed, highly educated millennial entrants is profound. The possibility exists for multi-directional mentorship that is beneficial across generations, closing the existing chasm between the generations due to their divergent levels of education, experience, and conflicting beliefs of business structure and culture. Change is apparent; how will organizations adapt.
Technological advances in the last century saw a population that moved from skill-based labour intensive jobs to more academic pursuits. As the boomer generation encouraged their children to seek out higher education in the halls of universities and colleges, a paradigm shift began to occur toward a mindset that the achievement of post-secondary education came with great rewards. As these twenty-somethings of the millennial generation seek out their life’s work they realize that those dreams of success, and stories of fulfillment were misrepresented. They remain underemployed and resentful of the generation that created the illusion for them. They remain in conflict with those who hold positions of power, and have been labelled, as “entitled”, but they are finding a new way of defining organizations and creating new ways of doing business. New ways that will produce long-term change. This cannot be ignored.
As quoted by CNS News, Generation Opportunity, a millennial think tank from the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, reported that unemployment in the 18 to 29 year age group was at a high of 15.2% last June. The same article, written by Penny Starr, states that 1.936 million young adults have given up looking for work (Starr, 2014). The January 2015 Statistics Canada report shows the unemployment rate among those 15 to 24 was 12.8%. (Statistics Canada, 2015). And in countries like Spain and Britain the numbers are more dismal.
Employment statistics may speak volumes, but don’t tell the whole story. Of those employed, many millennials find themselves in jobs well below their education level and sometimes outside of their field of study. A large percentage of these young adults accept unpaid internships to achieve much needed experience, or work in low paying contractual jobs that offer no benefits and little financial security. Faced with the crisis of personal debt, and global debt inherited from their parent’s generation, creates a chasm of resentment between those entering the workforce and those in leadership.
The boomers who were exposed to a military style organizational corporate hierarchy by their parent’s generation, maintained the structure of multiple levels, specialized departments, and an organized chain of command, as they climbed the corporate ladder of success. United States nominal GDP moved from $166 billion in 1942 to $543 billion in 1960, making those the most prosperous decades of the twentieth century and proving that a hierarchal structure worked. In the Journal of Business and Medicine Catherine Guinta writes, “This generation taught their children, the baby boomers and older generations X’ers that a diligent work ethic and dedication to the corporation would reap monetary benefits. If the workplace was not always a satisfying environment, its workers’ rewards could be found in rising pay scales, growing sophisticated benefit plans, and defined benefit pension plans” (Guinta, 2014)
Unfortunately those dreams of promised monetary benefits did not materialize, and the millennials began to carve out a new way of doing business.
Discarding the structured organizational chart, millennials have developed a new paradigm in organizational management. They work collaboratively in teams and believe that all individuals regardless of pay scale or position have something valuable to contribute. Having grown up in the digital age, millennials are comfortable with rapidly evolving technology and social media and use these means for both business and pleasure in an overlapping format. Sometimes referred to as the “Trophy Generation” for the rewards they received for participation, rather than for winning, this generation rejects politics and competition, giving way to their open, collaborative, brainstorming format for problem solving and innovation, thus creating a great shift in standard organizational practices. (Kaifi, Nafie, Khanfar, & Kaifi, 2014).
Millennials want meaningful work and seek out ways to combine civic responsibility, social causes, and environmental issues with business goals. They are comfortable sharing themselves and combining their personal beliefs with their business ethic. This is the generation that concerns themselves with creating a better world.
Boomers and generation Xer’s who are generally more comfortable with a hierarchal organizational format appear to be adapting to a more collaborative organizational model. Moving away from the silos of disengaged departments where breakdowns in communication were persistent, new organizational structures include mini and larger teams that support each other, enhancing communication, improving productivity, and gross happiness via a sense of personal fulfilment and connectivity. Millennials also avoid “groupthink” by debating and embracing unique perspectives, and enjoy greater flexibility due to their aversion to rigid rules and regulations. (Kaifi et al., 2014)
As they breakdown hierarchal barriers and move out of their physically and mentally constraining cubicles to shared open loft spaces, they are creating both a mental and physical transition that is now becoming more acceptable to their predecessors. As business culture evolves to a more collaborative structure, relationships evolve alongside. These strengthened intergenerational relationships create an ambiance of trust, built on a foundation of multi-directional mentorship.
Millennials have been noted to have a high propensity for innovation and creativity. Professor and business leader Gary Hamel, considered to be one of the world’s most influential thinkers, devised a list of capabilities that contribute to competitive success. His measurement of value creation gave millennials a score of 35% for passion, 25% for creativity and 0% for obedience, with initiative, intellect, and diligence scoring 20%, 15% and 5%, respectively. (Moon, 2014) With the boomers and Xer’s penchant for conformity, and the millennials desire to break out of the box, a symbiotic relationship is created. As these three generations currently in the workforce collaborate, a great exchange occurs. While millennials lead in innovation, gen Xer’s and boomers can offer the discipline and structure required to develop the innovation. This intergenerational complementary relationship structure creates value for all, with the use of each generation’s best talents towards a specified goal.
A Hofmann Management article states that by 2025, 75% of the workforce will be millennials. This brings with it an enormous shift in organizational and management systems and a new way of thinking. The article states that, “These people have a very different set of values from what is all to common in the world of business today…They put purpose before profit. They will build better organisations eventually” (Hoffman, 2014). In discussing Gary Hamel’s thoughts on organizational transformation the same article tells us that, “…success in the future will be based on how fast we can innovate management models” (Hoffman, 2014). Developing new models based on meritocracy and broad participation, where everyone is a manager, is essential.
The fact remains that organizations need to embrace the cultural transformations that are apparent, and find productive ways to work with employees and leaders who will shape the future of business and our economy. The evolution of the workplace is a given, our adaptation to these changes is what is paramount. Moving from a hierarchal structure to a more fully collaborative format, may not be the answer. There may be a middle ground that can be exposed through mentorship opportunities. Finding our way through the neutral zone of transformation and maintaining our competitive advantage on a global scale will pose multiple challenges, but can be achieved with continual dialogue, collaboration and new ways of thinking.
Espinoza, C. (2012). Millennial Integration: Changes Millennials Face in the Workplace and What They Can do About Them. Leadership and Change Program Antioch University, 1-145. Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=antioch1354553875&disposition=inline
Guinta, C. (2014). The Next Great Generation: A Multi-Factor Comparison. Journal of Business and Economics, 76. doi:ISSN 2155-7950,
Hofmann, R. (2014, December 7). How to Make Great Transformations Happen. Retrieved from Hoffman Management: http://hofmann-management.ch/index.php/how-to-make-the-great-transformation-happen/
Intuit Quickbooks. (2013, October 8). How Millennials will Reshape the Canadian Economy. Retrieved from Intuit Quickbooks: http://quickbooks.intuit.ca/r/millennials/millennials-reshape-canadian-economy
Intuit Quickbooks. (2014, April 6). Millennials Meet Your Mentors. Retrieved from Intuit Quickbooks: http://quickbooks.intuit.ca/r/millennials/millennials-meet-your-mentors
Kaifi, B. A., Nafie, W. A., Khanfar, N. M., & Kaifi, M. M. (2014). A Multi-Generational Workforce: Managing and Understand Millennials. International Journal of Business and Management, 7(24), 88-92. doi:10.5539
Lu, V. (2011, October 3). Young Educated and Unemployed. Retrieved from The Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/business/2011/10/03/young_educated_and_unemployed.html
Moon, T. M. (2014). Mentoring the Next Generation for Innovation in Today’s Organizations. Journal of Strategic Leadership, 5(1), 23-35.
Sorensen, C., & Gillis, C. (2016, January 16). The New Underclass. Retrieved from McLeans: http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/the-new-underclass/
Starr, P. (2014, July 3). Millennials Unemployment Report. Retrieved from CNS News: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/penny-starr/millennials-unemployment-report-152-workers-18-29-out-work-more-jobs-needed
Statistics Canada. (2015, January). Labour Force Characteristics by Age and Sex. Retrieved from Government of Canada – Statistics : http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/150206/t150206a001-eng.htm
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