Donald Fry -- McDaniel’s Casey: Twenty-somethings bring a different culture to the workplace

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By Donald C. Fry

One of the best ways to get a sense of today’s changing workplace is to understand that American workers have evolved from the “live to work” attitude of the World War II and baby boomer generations to the “work to live” philosophy of today’s twenty-something millennial generation.

That’s a core dynamic that frames the larger issue of how to absorb into our workplaces a new generation of employees whose habits, thoughts, and attitudes toward work and life contrast those of their older managers and colleagues, McDaniel College President Dr. Roger Casey told those who attended his presentation at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s June 28 seminar, “Minding the Millennials: Working with Young Adults.”

Understanding this generation of technologically savvy, I-Pod-plugged, Facebook-driven and somewhat impatient young people in a hurry who were born after 1982 is a key to integrating them into workplaces that for decades have reflected a different culture.

With millennials “everything is abbreviated, everything is shortened. If you really like something, you have to shorten it,” says Casey.

The millennial generation constituted “a radically different student body” that started appearing on college campuses around 2000. Now that this generation has entered the workforce, “either the workforce is going to have to change or young people are going to have to change” in order to achieve a balance between “phenomenally different” generational perceptions of the nature of employment, Casey says.

A workforce survey by Spherion, the national staffing company, identified contrasting attitudes about work between millennials and older generations. For example, more than 70 percent of baby boomers and older generations feel that sticking with an employer helps with career advancement and that frequent job changes will damage your career, but less than 19 percent of millennial generation workers agree with that premise, said Casey.

He detailed “phenomenally different” perceptions between older and younger workers on the topic of what constitutes a good work environment. For example:

• Only 57 percent of older workers prefer that employers constantly weed out non-performers, but 80 percent of millennial generation workers want non-performers weeded out.
• While only 36 percent of older workers prefer lots of ongoing workplace training, 70 percent of millennials want training in the workplace.
• While 93 percent of older-generation workers prefer work that’s clearly defined each day, only 53 percent of millennials prefer it.

Older generations are generally more accepting of being paid for seniority, prefer being left alone to do their jobs rather than attend training seminars, and like the scope of their jobs to be clearly-defined. But millennials are telling us something entirely different.

They’re saying “I shouldn’t be paid on longevity. I need to be paid on what I’m producing.” They’re also saying “every day I want to learn something new … teach me something.” Rather than have a clearly defined work routine, millennials are saying “change it up, make it different, I don’t want any kind of routine,” says Casey.

These kinds of differences raise “the possibility for an enormous amount of tension in the workforce in terms of the way people see their connection to the organization and the way people define what a good organization is,” he says.

However, approximately 95 percent of workers in all generations agree on one key element that makes for a good workplace – employer flexibility that helps the employee meet family obligations. That’s significant common ground among the generations, says Casey.

He notes that recent research among college students reveals that raising a family is now scoring higher among students than being well off financially.

Casey, whose scholarly passion is studying the impact of generational issues and social media, admits that “obviously no one generation is characterized by all the same things” and that he offers “very broad strokes” about the millennial generation.

Nevertheless, here’s Casey’s broad brush: “Millennials are the most protected, the most sheltered, the most secure generation in American history in many ways.”

Why is this? First, millennials have grown up in a culture that teaches, from birth that “everything in this world will kill you.” Terrorists will kill you, abductors will kill you, chickens will kill you, the sun will kill you, shaking hands could kill you, Casey says. They “have grown up in a media world in which the whole goal of the nightly news is to scare the heck out of you.”

This cultural environment has, for this generation, created one of the biggest stereotypes: “helicopter parents,” he says. “Parents that are immensely involved in the lives of their children, of their young people, of their twenty-somethings in a way that previous generations never saw.”

Previous generations, when they went to college, didn’t want anyone to know that they had parents. Contrast that with today’s college campuses where the dean of students has now become the dean of parents, Casey notes.

How does this cultural environment and upbringing impact millennials? For one thing researchers are finding an enormous amount of anxiety among millennials, some of it stemming from a perception that “failure is not something that you’re really allowed to do,” says Casey.

Casey offers a litany of observations about what to expect from millennials in the workplace.

Millennials are anxious, something of a “me” generation, connected, networked, multi-task oriented and diverse. All of these factors, says Casey, shape their workplace personalities and attitudes in a number of ways.

Millennials love family and seek praise, he says. Even little rewards make a difference to them. They seek lots of feedback and are terribly afraid of failure. They seek ownership, and like to be included in decision making. They like things explained to them, not just be told to do something. It helps to personalize things, even to make it a “game.”

The twenty-something generation wants it all sooner rather than later. Millennials project a “when can I be a VP” attitude. They also need to have fun, are extremely digitally savvy and know how to network. They like to like to work in teams, yet need to feel unique, says Casey.

Millennnials like to build on the strengths of their differences, recognize that everyone doesn’t necessarily view the world in the same way, and know that their sense of identity may be different from others, Casey says. They are also driven by a strong desire to do good things for the world.

Here’s a thumbnail summary of a checklist Casey offers for achieving success in workplaces increasingly populated by a new generation of employees:

• Remember that millennials love family.
• Praise, feedback and rewards are key.
• Help them problem-solve and counter their fear of failure.
• Give millennials ownership, build on their sense of cooperativeness, and include them in decisions.
• Take advantage of their penchant for networking and digital technology.
• Put millennials in positions to “do good.”

Anyone who has read “One Minute Manager” or a number of other popular books on managing will recognize basic elements of this checklist.

While the technology and culture of the millennial generation may be different from previous generations, what young workers want isn’t ultimately much different from what everyone else wants, says Casey.

He points to a 2001 report in the Financial Times that quotes a 60-something worker’s assessment of the newest generation entering the workforce: “We wanted what they want. We just felt we couldn’t ask.”

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Maryland’s job growth data delivers a sobering business climate reality check

GBC survey shows overwhelming support for pedestrian bridge across Inner Harbor

Taking Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to the next level

Transportation funding: Maryland takes one step forward, one step back

New state plan for growth offers sound strategies worth adopting

William Donald Schaefer’s transformative impact

Transportation funding: General Assembly ‘kicks the can’ down a pot hole filled road

‘Invest Maryland’ outcome will gauge depth of state commitment to early-stage funding

How does General Assembly measure up to core pillars of job creation?

Maryland’s jobs recovery is under way, but it’s sluggish

Maryland’s bioscience and technology industries are well worth nurturing

Maybe it’s time to change Maryland’s transportation funding model

Addressing the city’s towing kickback scandal head-on

Transportation funding bills get attention in Annapolis, but face major hurdles

Tapping into Maryland’s potential for innovation
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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.

Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.

Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.

Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.

Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.