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Forget The Gap- Mind The Crater! Millennial's in the Work Place

Updated: Feb 1, 2022

We’ve been exploring how experiences, social factors and learning has influenced the attitudes of the 5 generations currently at play in the workplace.

Just as a refresher, and in case you hadn’t read the first 2 articles, here is a quick diagram of when the different generations entered the workplace.

This is important because, as you can see below, each generation has lived through different phases in our global history which affects their view of the world and particularly their view on thing like work ethic, the organisational vs employee relationship and their attitudes towards authority and organisational loyalty.

While we hate to generalise, for the purposes of looking for common ground in the generation space in our previous article, we’d put together some overarching ideas about each generation. There will, of course, ALWAYS be the exception to the rule though.

As a quick summary:


  • The Silent Generation

  • Hard work and experience based promotion

  • Loyal Employees

  • Technologically inept.

Baby Boomers:

  • Workaholics

  • Well educated

  • Use work as an expression of self-actualisation

  • Believe in long hours of hard work for promotion

  • Extreme Technological Immigrants

Generation X:

  • Smallest generation in terms of numbers due to the baby “bust”

  • Very well educated

  • Disdain for authority and traditional working hours – work-life balance is important

  • Extremely independent, resourceful and self-sufficient.

  • Partial technology immigrants.

For more detailed information on each of the above three generations read our previous article The Stories That Shape The Generations.

In the next two articles, we’re going to take a look at the two youngest, and possibly most diverse generations to be entering the workforce being the Millenial Generation and the iGen generation.

As these two groups are so different and their entrance into the workplace is creating no small amount of havoc to traditional systems, we’re going to examine some of the factors that are most important to understanding how and why these generations have adopted the behaviour and attitudes that are causing the divide in organisations today.

The Millennial Generation

Some of the critical factors that have shaped the Millennial generation are centered around an elementary human function.


And in particular the social internet.

As the first generation of technology natives (people who have grown up with technology around them.) Millenial's communicate very differently to Traditionalists & Baby Boomers where the former expects fluid, cell phone based, socially driven messaging, communications and problem-solving at all times – day or night- the latter prefer face to face meetings and voice-based telephonic communication – which requires presence in an office.

The social internet has empowered Millennial's to solve problems in ways that was never possible before. Gone are the days when something as small as “knowledge” could you stop you from solving a problem. Millennial's use the internet to find solutions to a wide range of problems from medical self-diagnosis to customising digital cameras to their specific needs.

A spin-off of the social internet is the rate of diversity Millennials are comfortable with. In a Millennial world being different is not only ok, it’s expected with diversity in taste in music, food, relationships, and most importantly for the workplace – opinion.

As a result, and combined with some of the social factors below, Millennial's are more likely to express their opinion on work-related topics and won’t understand offence that this might cause among their Traditionalist and Baby Boomer colleagues as they expect their differences to be celebrated not institutionalised.

In line with the comfort levels on diversity, Millennial's have also grown up in a society that placed greater value and importance on children than ever before. In juxtaposition to the Traditionalists where children were seen and not heard, Millennial's have had a “voice” since before they could speak.

As the Generation X parents addressed the parenting “wrongs” of their Baby Boomer two-working-parent households, Millennial children were often surrounded by doting parents trying to be everywhere for everything.

The term “helicopter parenting” where parents are always hovering around their children has been coined in the Millennial children phase.

This has resulted in Millennial children being far more comfortable with people in authority as they have watched their parents challenge authority figures concerning them. – Think about the mother that challenges the sports coach when her child isn’t picked for the team.

Translated into the workplace, and Millennial's don’t necessarily have the same authority figure social skills that the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers and even some Generation X colleagues might have.

We spoke earlier about Millennial's expressing their opinion very easily and how that can cause offence, add to that very high levels of comfort with people in authority and you have a group of relatively “young” people who will happily approach the CEO in the passage to “chat” about some or other concern instead of going through the procedure of booking an appointment.

Another significant social factor that has shaped Millennial's attitudes, particularly in the workplace is the economic abundance in which they were raised. For the most part, prior to 2008, the global markets were booming which resulted in an environment where money, and possessions were freely available.

This has shaped Millennial's expectations of salary and reward in the workplace, where higher pay, a better quality of benefit and a tremendous work-life balance is an expectation, not a privilege.


In South Africa, Millennial's are an interesting mix as some of them spent their childhood in Apartheid, but they entered the workplace post-1994 when Apartheid and sanctions were a distant memory.

As South Africa entered the global market, many organisations thrived, and the new political regime in the country created the freedom for people, who had previously been oppressed, to move into the wealthy middle-class earning bracket.

This sudden increase in market size both locally and abroad set many families up for increased income, resulting in similar circumstances in which Millennial's the world over developed. As a result, South African Millennial's have a similar mindset to Millennial's in other countries who were raised in a boom economy.

It’s undeniable that the shift in generational ideas takes a massive jump with the Millennial generation.

In our next article on the Generation Z generation, we’ll be exploring what employers need to start preparing for as the next generation of employees enters the workforce.

While each new generation demands change, understanding why they are different is the first key to finding a middle ground in which we can all work together.


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