Tales of a Vintage Millennial, Part I: Are We All Really So Different?
Christina Ramlet Christensen, Thought Leadership Program Manager, SAP
As a self-proclaimed “vintage millennial,” I often find myself in a state of nebulousness, running through behavioral checklists to determine if I’m native to Gen X or Gen Y. Born on the millennial cusp, but from the era of the green screen and intellectual anonymity, I spent half my life barred from drawing on the world’s knowledge with a simple click of a button—guaranteeing that every idea I put on paper was my own. Fast forward a decade (or two), and I’m still sometimes hesitant to Google my point of view for fear of finding out that maybe I’m not so original after all.
That said, what I heard during a SAPPHIRE NOW 2014 panel, “Capitalize on Millennials and the ‘New Normal,’” made me realize: My attitude is all wrong. Panelist Ben Christensen, intern and entrepreneur, acquainted the audience with the idea of “using the crowd with the cloud.” What cloud computing means to him is that he has the value of two minds, making him more flexible and smarter.
Further illustrating this point, Christensen said, “When working, I want to be able to input thoughts and work with my team; and when not working, I want to have my data and projects work for me, and think about me. I put my notes out there, and when I come back they have found different things and are providing me with insights.”
Moderator, Sven Denecken, vice president cloud strategy solutions at SAP, quickly added amusingly that “when the wireless is not working, Ben feels pain.” Perhaps that is how I felt when the library was closed on Sunday.
Pas de différence?
At times it feels as though my age group endures borderline identity issues because we can relate to being in a world that operated without cloud computing, not receiving data any faster than what a dial-up modem would send. However, we’re not quite aged enough to have ever been solely reliant on a fax machine or interoffice mail to do our job.
During the “Find the Future in the Clouds” presentation at SAPPHIRE NOW, Mike Ettling, global head of cloud and on-premise HR for SAP, spoke about our desire to have the user experience of social interfaces such as Facebook and Twitter emulated in the tools and applications we use at work. Some report that when they get to work they actually feel like they’ve gone backward in technology.
We all made adjustments when entering the workplace. It would be hard to come by anyone who came into their first job knowing how to operate for eight hours inside a cubicle or tend to 200 rapid-fire e-mails daily. Regardless of how far technology has come, at one time or another, we all needed to adapt.
Enough about the millennial divide
In a post-recession marketplace, more people can be fastidiously selective when it comes to their employer. Millennials coming into the workplace are more vocal about what they care about: flexibility, connectivity, balance, purpose, knowledge, development. However, in an ideal world, isn’t that what we all want—and what we all should demand?
“The demands of younger workers are requiring us to review how work is organized and the type of benefits we offer.”
—C-Level Executive, Utility, Kenya
A millennial misconception
Also at SAPPHIRE NOW, I attended the session “Prepare to Meet the Needs of the Workforce 2020,” where presenter Debra D’Agostino, vice president and director of thought leadership at Oxford Economics, revealed preliminary findings of its Workforce 2020 survey.
A key insight from the survey was that millennials’ expectations track closely with those of non-millennials. When asked to rank the importance of benefits and incentives such as up-to-date technologies, education, and access to social media, the responses among generational groups were almost identical.
At the end of the day, young or not so young, what motivates us as employees isn’t substantially different. We all want to meet goals for income, career, and advancement. We all want to expand our network of contacts, learn the overall business, achieve work/life balance, make a positive impact through work, and see corporate values that match our own. But it’s the primetime millennials who are actually changing the workplace dynamics.
So what gives millennials the confidence to stand up for what they want?