A Millennial Walks into a Baby Boomer’s Office

A couple of months ago, I attended an executive breakfast organized by CSCMP’s New England Roundtable where we discussed an emerging challenge for supply chain and logistics executives: managing Millennials in the workplace.

Why is this a challenge? Because when a Millennial walks into a Baby Boomer’s office, it’s like a fish entering a beehive: neither of them feel comfortable with each other or know what to do exactly.

Stereotypes. There are plenty of them about Millennials, which are leveraged for comedic effect in this “Millennials in the Workplace Training Video” making the rounds on social media.

Back to the breakfast conversation, it was led by Cindy Westervelt, Vice President, HR North America at Staples. The rest of the audience was mostly a beehive of male Baby Boomers, a couple of Generation Xers (including me), and one Millennial fish (a female young professional from Staples) who represented her generation and side of the story very eloquently.

Cindy shared some interesting data and insights from an employee survey conducted by Staples, along with research findings from third-party sources like Mercer. Here are my main takeaways from the discussion:

  • Millennials desire constant stimulation, challenge, and feedback.
  • Training and development is the #1 benefit Millennials want from employers; #2 is flexible work hours.
  • Turnover for Millennials is more than double the rate for other employees.
  • Millennials crave leadership and how to be a leader.
  • Millennials do not like hierarchical “trickle down” communication.

As Cindy noted, it’s easy to misinterpret Millennials. For example, their desire for constant feedback does not mean they want constant praise (as joked about in the video above). Millennials also want constructive feedback about where they’re falling short of expectations. They just want the feedback loop to occur more quickly and frequently than managers are accustomed to. A Millennial walks into a Baby Boomer’s office not once, but multiple times per day, and it’s driving managers nuts — at least that’s the impression I got from the group discussion.

This is not the first time there’s been a generational clash in the workplace, and it won’t be the last. Millennials will eventually age and get set in their ways too, and they will inevitably get frustrated with the young professionals they have to manage.

In the meantime, however, everyone needs to work more effectively together. And it all begins with clear and honest communication — and a willingness by everyone, across all generations, to change and compromise.

Everyone at the breakfast recognized another truth about Millennials: they are incredibly connected, creative, and passionate. And those are the strengths and skills that companies must leverage to achieve ongoing success.

Finally, I’m pleased to announce that in 2014, Talking Logistics will be launching a new series profiling supply chain and logistics young professionals. It’s an opportunity for us to showcase the great work these future leaders are doing today, and to hear their stories and perspectives directly about the challenges and opportunities we face in the industry. Stay tuned.