Cross Generations at the Workplace Series – Point of view 6 – Isabel Brendenahl
Welcome back to our series about cross generations at the workplace. This time, we’re going to hear from Isabel how she experiences her everyday life at work with regards to her motivation, communication habits, the role social media plays, and much more.
As a former student of Political Science, I never thought of working at SAP, but here I am! In short, this is how I got here: During my bachelor’s degree at the University of Mannheim, I started working for BASF as an intern and working student and finally worked in the Global Channel Management after three years. At that time, I was preparing my master thesis at the Heidelberg University. Browsing LinkedIn, I found an open working student position at SAP and a new journey began. Being fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, I got a permanent position in the same team half a year later in April 2017. So far, this reads like I fulfill the stereotypes of my generation, a Millennial who cannot live on one task at a time and drives the career through social media platforms. In my blog, I will prove this wrong.
Myth: Millennials have grown up with the internet and social media platforms…
Born in 1990, I have not grown up with the internet and social media but with a fixed telephone and play dates with friends from kindergarten and school – in person, not virtually. I was probably 10 or 11 years old when I first explored the internet. I remember that our teacher showed us how to use Google. I also remember that the whole class did not really see the use case of it. We thought the knowledge in our printed books was sufficient to learn and were more excited about the upcoming break than about an online search engine. I had no mobile phone, I didn’t use social media platforms and I could not spend a lot of time online as we could not receive telephone calls while using the internet at home. Of course, this changed fast and so did my online behavior.
Today, I enjoy the advantages of internet, social media platforms and even smart connected devices at home – keeping your networks alive, finding and using opportunities, staying updated with the latest shared content and gaining insights that you would never get offline. However, I am very hesitant with sharing content myself. I do not like the idea that it will be out there forever, can possibly be taken out of context or simply does not represent my opinion anymore later in time. In contrast, in the offline world I like to share and present information as I have more control over it. I guess I am far from the stereotypical millennial here. I would even say that the most content that I consume is created by Generation X representatives, so do not underestimate the social media influence of this generation.
Myth: Millennials prefer virtual over face-to-face conversations…
No matter what, I always prefer to talk face-to-face. During my first months at SAP, my style of communication and collaboration was challenged because many colleagues were with their headphones all day, joining meetings virtually even if they took place in the same building. These were experienced and knowledgeable Gen X colleagues who I would have loved to personally talk to (and which I managed to do meanwhile). As Millennials, we need to grow a network as we do not simply have it from the very beginning. That’s why I met a lot of Millennials who were, just like me, happy to meet in person and exchange knowledge.
There is no faster and more efficient way to build trusted networks than to meet colleagues in person.
Having met in person makes follow-up calls or mails so much easier because you know how you would interact with that person naturally. To me, virtual communication is complementary, in a global working environment indispensable and as a Millennial I am used to collaborate in various ways. If you asked me, however, stating that Millennials are preferring virtual conversations contradicts my experiences and would also overestimate the evolutionary pace. We are still social human beings and our communication involves a lot more besides the words you are saying or writing. Nothing will change that so quickly – not even the convenience of Skype.
Myth: Millennials are critical, scrutinize fundamentals and established procedures. They have less hierarchical understanding and are more ingenuous towards authorities…
In the present circumstances, Millennials are still young. From my point of view, thinking outside of the box and finding new ways is the whole point of being young! How should our society make any progress if new generations would not challenge established procedures?
It is also true that as a Millennial I am not willing to follow somebody just because that person has been around longer. Of course, experience is very valuable but so are new approaches. Respect needs to be mutual and leadership needs to be earned. But this is nothing new. We know about the importance of diverse team members with a different way of thinking. It is the driving power for innovation. The corporate world started to reform the concept of authority, leadership and hierarchy even before Millennials showed up. Nevertheless, previous generations act like Millennials asked for this change. We did not, but we thankfully also benefit from it and drive it further.
Myth: Millennials are not used to put things in sequence: first start small, grow experience and reputation and succeed after 15 years of hard work – nothing for Millennials…
I am sure previous generations have been under pressure as well but from my experience, time is moving faster and expectations are constantly rising for Millennials. We are trained to achieve one milestone after another, barely having time to develop ourselves further in between. Not putting things into sequence is probably not what Millennials whished for themselves, it is the time we live in.
From the first days at university, we were told that we have to finish our studies in the regular period but that we would never be hired without practical experience. When applying for internships, we were told that the minimum time frame are six months fulltime and that you could not be hired without prior experience. Yet, when I first applied, I thought internships are all about gaining experience… Moreover, in my field of study internships are often unpaid, so after gaining practical experience and getting your courses done, you still had to do your student job to earn some money after all. Doing your internships exclusively during the semester breaks would surely be a great idea if the universities would not expect you to write your papers during that time. Not to forget, one internship is not enough. Also, gaining some international experience is expected, but better do not waste time by really trying to get to know the culture abroad, remember you have to get your credit points. When Millennials finally graduate then, they are often hired for a fixed-term only. So, from the first day, you have to keep at least one eye open for the next opportunity.
I am happy about the various experiences I was able to make so far and I would not want to change anything. Today at SAP, being permanently employed in a company with an open corporate culture, I am in a position that is not comparable to those many of my millennial friends are in.
What makes me run every day is not the constant change but having the possibility to add value to a project or a team. I want to take part and drive meaningful business outcome forward while developing myself further. Hiding behind my desk, waiting for 15 years until I can finally step up is indeed no option for me. Rather, stagnation is something that would make me search for new opportunities.
I do not see myself and my generation being much different from the previous generations but of course times have changed and this influences our behavior. In general, I don´t spend time thinking about what divides the generations, as this will only build up new unnecessary boundaries. Taking action and tearing down the wall of stereotypes is much more effective. When I asked two of my Gen X colleagues to review this blog, they told me they share similar experiences. From my perspective, this makes a great conclusion.
We are looking forward to your comments.
If you want to follow us, you can find us on
Isabel Brendenahl LinkedIn