July 16, 2024
Millennials are stereotyped as difficult to work with, but it’s boomers who need to adapt in the office

There are surely few people who would deny that millennials are typecast. The generation – generally classed today as those aged 25 to 39 – is branded woke and disengaged, with individuals said to be as quick to take offence as they are to change jobs.

The stereotype is the gift that keeps on giving for cultural commentators who fume about the habits of “snowflakes” and their weird and wilful ways. If it’s not Kirstie Allsopp criticising them for not sacrificing Netflix, coffees and gym memberships to save a home deposit, it’s Jeremy Kyle saying that twenty- and thirty-somethings need to get off their “backsides” and stop being lazy. Oh, and Sharon Osbourne has a hot take on their failings in the workplace: “I find that they don’t take direction very well, and at the slightest thing, they whine! The work ethic has gone because everybody wants it easy.”

It was the accountant Jay Patel, 26, who drew the ire of Kyle and Osbourne. Patel was sacked from his job in 2020 with his boss telling him he was “too demanding… like his generation of millennials”. Jay had begun work at London insurance firm Lucy A Raymond & Sons, but the Covid lockdown meant he quickly had to work from home, where he struggled, he claims, to get support.

During his dismissal meeting, his boss told him he “expected things to be handed to him on a plate” – something he took objection to given his struggles with dyslexia. Last month, he won a claim for disability discrimination, while losing his claim for age discrimination.

So are millennials as slack as they’re painted?

“There is some truth in millennials being demanding,” says Janine Blacksley, director at the recruitment consultancy Robert Walters. “But let’s not forget, some of the oldest millennials first entered the workforce around the 2008 financial crash and pretty much accepted any job going.

“Now both the market and these individuals have grown in confidence and they have rightfully improved the terms of their employment.”

Millennials now represent close to 50 per cent of the working population so their shared voice is collectively loud. In recent years there has been a growth in flexible working, enhanced maternity and paternity leave, sabbaticals, and mental health provision. The effects of the pandemic have also enhanced these demands, leading to a boom in perks such as subsidised IVF.

Yet there is still a disconnect between what the different generations want from employers.

A recent survey by Robert Walters, for instance, showed that while millennials value more flexitime and remote working, Generation Z – the youngest in the workforce – want an office culture with strong social values and mental-health provision.

Those over 40, however, remain highly self-sufficient, resourceful and adaptable, and feel the younger cohorts should “focus first on the job in hand”. It is this get-on-with-it attitude from older workers and managers, however, that may be the real cause of office friction and resentment towards millennials.

More on Millennials

Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester, says: “The problem is not with millennial employees but with older-generation employers. Millennials are prepared to work hard. They simply want a good quality of life, aren’t content with command-and-control workplaces, and want reasonable flexibility. They also want to feel valued, trusted and respected and will leave their job if they don’t feel it.”

Sir Cary also explains why millennials are so demanding of their workplace rights. “The later-born millennials were teens when the 2008 financial crash happened. They saw their risk-averse parents working long hours in bad organisations to pay the mortgage.

“And when push came to shove, businesses just dropped these people: 30 to 40 per cent lost their jobs in the recession,” he says. “Millennials don’t put up with that – and of course don’t have mortgages to pay anyway. Millennials are also better educated and skilled than previous generations, so they are less fearful of walking out and getting a new job.”

This view is echoed by Caitlin Fisher, author of The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation, a book that seeks to debunk oversimplified claims about an entire generation.

“Millennials and Gen Z are, in a sense, more demanding than previous generations but this is a good thing,” she says. “We need a shift towards agency, work-life balance and respect in the workplace. Employees are a necessary and important part of profit and growth and the worse a business takes care of its employees, the worse its turnover.”

She adds that older critics of millennials should be reminded of how society has changed. She points out that house prices are now out of reach for most millennials, and many are saddled with huge student loans while wages have stagnated.

“For me, the problem isn’t millennials but capitalism – the system that prioritises profit over people. It is inherently exploitative. Millennials are really loud about trying to make the workplace better, and I think that scares older generations who were taught to put their head down,” she says.

“But ultimately, the divide isn’t that big. All people just want to be safe, and be able to provide for themselves. I think millennials have a lot to teach and older generations should learn from them.”