Download PDF version

It’s a Millennial Thing:
That star Millennial is moving up the ladder so you better learn how to adapt to your new, younger boss’s style

By Steve Gavatorta

(Original source: T+D, Issue March 2012)


One of the common issues I experience when working with clients, who are primarily Baby Boomers or generation X’ers, involves Generation Y entering the workplace. When I meet with them to discuss organizational challenges, it almost always begins with a roll of the eyes regarding their Gen Y colleagues. The usual complaints are about their constant use of technology to communicate, their sense of entitlement, and their work ethic – all of which is enough to drive their bosses and peers crazy. It is apparent that Gen Y’ers in the workforce is a hot-button topic across all industries today.

The relationship between Gen Y’ers and their colleagues could potentially get more stained in the next few years if companies do not manage relationships carefully. Not only have Gen Y’ers entered the workplace in full force; many of them are now being moved into managerial roles over seasoned veterans. You think there was angst before? This dynamic adds significant fuel to the fire.

Gen Y workers’ rise to the top
As Gen Y workers continue to rise in management, many are surpassing experienced personnel from other generations. Now many of those veteran employees are being supervised by people with less work and life experience. This situation has proved difficult for both sides of the workforce—younger managers as well as their older charges.

Because of the Internet, the most transformative development since the automobile, the current generations in the workforce grew up in vastly different times. Their backgrounds, experiences, beliefs, and approaches vary immensely, shaping different work styles that create certain barriers to effective communication. The key for more seasoned folks is to take the initiative and help bridge the various gaps between them and their “greener” managers. The bottom line is that they should take a proactive approach rather than a reactive one.

There are ways to diffuse the backlash from other employees resulting from Gen Y’s approach to work. Sure, there are distinct differences that naturally create issues, but there are ways these valuable employees can be added into the workplace seamlessly. They offer many fresh ideas that can create competitive advantages for the company. Why not leverage these potential “diamonds in the rough” to provide a point of differentiation? Before you can do that, however, it is important to review some facts about, and basic characteristics of, the three generations now working side-by-side in today’s workforce.

A great way to bridge generational gaps is to create a common language to help people connect and communicate with one another, particularly by focusing on their behaviors.

Create a common language. Most relationships, regardless of generation, struggle due to a lack of effective communication. Don’t you think Boomers have trouble communicating with other Boomers at times, too? A great way to bridge generational gaps is to create a common language to help people connect and communicate with one another, particularly by focusing on their behaviors. The key is to understand those behaviors and recognize the various styles both you and others use. This allows you not only to build an understanding of others without prejudging them, but also to create an action plan to better connect and communicate with them as well. Personality preference models such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® assessment can help sustain this connection.

By using such tools as the Myers-Briggs assessment with employees, you can focus on core elements to begin to build that common language.

  • Establish and build trust. Transparency and follow through are critical in relating to the Millennial generation, which may not yet be adept at playing politics and still hold the ideal that their team members are working toward group goals.
  • Take the initiative and show empathy. For the trusting, family-centric Gen Y’ers, making an effort to walk in their shoes shows them that you value them. Quit focusing on what Gen Y is not and start thinking about how to create the right atmosphere, one that capitalizes on their team building, trusting, tech-savvy nature. Then you’ll understand why they do what they do, as well as set an example to be followed.
  • Embrace a coaching and collaborative approach. Despite the perception that Gen Y’ers want to communicate solely via technology, which is in many ways accurate, when interacting in the workplace they very much desire a coaching and collaborative environment. Be willing to allow for a coaching approach that creates dialogues rather than monologues. Gen Y’ers will not respond well to a “my way or the highway” attitude, nor should they.
  • Listen and ask questions. Be quiet and listen so that you can learn more from these out-of-the-box thinkers. In addition, don’t be put off if they ask, “Why?” often. According to Austin, a Gen Y small business owner who leads many seasoned managers in projects, “We ask ‘Why?’ not to be difficult, but because we truly want to know why.” Don’t be offended; it’s actually a good sign that they are engaged.
  • Observe and align your approach. Common sense says that a personal approach will resonate better with both parties and help align the communication in their everyday interactions. For example, if you are an aggressive and fast-paced individual and your Gen Y manager is not, do not overwhelm him with your assertiveness. Be more open to the creative ideas and approaches if your Gen Y manager likes risk and change. Once again, you can be the voice of wisdom and reason. Try to be cognizant of your manager’s work style and adapt accordingly.

A bridged gap. Using the above steps will help bridge potential communication gaps between battle-tested veterans and their newly drafted Gen Y managers. The key is to realize that in many ways Gen Y’ers are indeed different, but they also have many of the desires, motivations, and behaviors as do the rest of us.

Be proactive in removing the stigma attached to being a Gen Y’er and recognize the simple fact that you’re dealing with other human beings who happen to have earned their move up the ladder. You’ll develop the path for better relationships, greater sales, improved leadership, and overall improved results.


Read “It’s a Millennial Thing” as published in T+D Magazine.”

Find out more about Steve Gavatorta.