Millennials seem to be a trendy topic in corporate life these days.

The definition of Millennial, also referred to as Generation Y, varies from publication to publication, but generally it refers to a group of individuals born between the early 1980s through the 1990s.

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We’ve been told they are the future workforce; reject corporate norms; and are spoiled and therefore have unrealistic first job expectations. However, they are also brilliant techies and a great source of innovation. So what’s the truth?

Here follows a summary of my personal observations, categorized by differences in work approaches between Millennials and non-Millennials, given my direct work experience with these foreign creatures on software projects within our SAP Waterloo AppHaus.

Five things you won’t find a Millennial saying in the workplace:

1.  “I want to be left alone to work in my office cube.” When we interview Millennials to come work with us we show them both traditional office spaces (cubes) within our building and our new work space: a totally open concept, design-thinking enabled software development playground. I have seen eyes widely open and heard expressions of relief spoken, followed by their clearly stated preference for our Waterloo AppHaus. Collaboration and the ultimate ability to learn from work and experienced employees are highly desired from Millennials (often over salary).

2.  “CC me on that e-mail.” My experience with this new workforce is that there really is no understanding of what a stakeholder is, or why you may or may not want to include others (including a hierarchical chain of command list) on communications. This behavior has really caused me to question my managerial spidey senses – is it really that necessary to know everything your team is doing? If you don’t know something critical, how crucial are you really to the project? And if you need to know, can’t you just ask directly?

3.  “We should be careful with how we proceed because this could be political.” It is true from my experience that official (and unofficial) hierarchies are given little thought by Millennials. Given this reality, explaining to a Millennial that a feasible solution may not be optimal because of internal politics is seriously ludicrous to them. I sometimes catch myself smiling after trying to explain a political situation because their response reminds me that they are often right, the explanation is pretty crazy (similar to a good Dilbert comic illustration).

4.  “Great idea, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss details.” First, I often need to check if our Millennials have even checked their corporate e-mail lately because they’re more often than not obsessed with actually working on developing and designing (i.e., doing their work). If they have checked their e-mail, they most likely will ignore the many meetings they have been invited to because they aren’t relevant to their everyday work. For this group, collaboration happens at any time, often at the time the idea is born.

5.  “OK I’ll get right on that (no questions asked).” Given that Millennials seek learning through open collaboration regardless of hierarchy, it follows that they cannot be treated like task workers, as junior roles may have been treated in the past. The Millennials I’ve worked with don’t want to be told how to code or design software, they want to be given the flexibility to create themselves. Allowing for this creativity may be hard for those who feel uncomfortable letting go (including permitting failure and learning from mistakes), but the results are more often worthwhile than not.

So in full disclosure I may empathize more with Millennials — depending on which way the wind blows, I may be categorized as one. However, I can positively state that having this group on our team has resulted in some great software innovations that I have spent some time blogging about already. Our relationship with these Millennials is truly symbiotic; we share our knowledge gained through experience, and in return they really facilitate our intellectual renewal. However, in all humility, it can be hard to empathize with a group who have never heard of Pearl Jam or have seen the movie E.T. (true story).

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  1. Derek Klobucher

    Thank you for sharing your observations, Sarah. It’s good to hear that Millennials are offering everyone else a healthy dose of reality — and that at least some people are listening!

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