Integrating a blend of older and younger workers in a workplace presents managers with unique challenges. Differences in values, interests and communication styles are just a few of these challenges. A lot has been written about the generational clash that’s occurring in work places today as the boomers struggle to accept millennial hires. For the first time in history, there are five generations of employees sharing office space: traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X, millennials, and generation Z, so it’s bound to feel crowded.
The dynamics have shifted as many boomers are reluctant to retire and are working longer than ever before. The latest census data from Statistics Canada show more and more Canadians are working past 65 “whether for their health, their finances or just for the fun of it.” This means that there simply hasn’t been as much room for millennial hires, and that the lucky ones who do get hired are unlikely to be making salaries commensurate with their qualifications.
It is unfortunate that millennials have gotten the short-end-of-the-stick so to speak. Adjectives such as “lazy,” “disloyal,” “self-interested,” and “entitled” are used with abandon. The reality is that millennials are the best-educated yet worst paid generation, and they are the ones with something to gripe about.
Derek Thompson, a contributor to The Atlantic, writes in his article “The Unluckiest Generation: What Will Become of Millennials?”, “Finding a good job as a young adult has always been a game of chance. But more and more, the rules have changed: Heads, you lose; tails, you’re disqualified. The unemployment rate for young people scraped 18 percent in 2010, and in the past five years, real wages have fallen for millennials–and only for millennials.”
Millennials are a by-product of an unstable job market where part-time and contract work proliferates. Companies downsized drastically in the second half of the last century and this trend continues today. Only this past October we were reading about Loblaw laying off 500 office workers in an effort to cut costs. Millennials have heard the message loud and clear; job security is no longer the norm.
Gone are the days of defined benefit pensions that workers can count on in retirement. The Sears fiasco illustrates this uncertainty as long-time Sears employees learned that their severance and pension payments are in jeopardy and that it’s very likely they won’t be able to recoup the full amounts owing to them.
In her Toronto Star article “Will the defined benefit plan disappear?” Vanessa Lu writes,
“Things were good in the 1980s and 1990s, but after the 2008 financial crisis, companies were hit with huge deficits thanks to poor stock market returns, and many employers got out of the defined benefit pension business. Some switched to defined contribution plans, where individuals have investment accounts, but the payout at retirement depends on how those investments fare. Other employers simply don’t offer a pension plan at all. Nearly 1.3 million workers in Ontario do not have access to any type of employer-sponsored workplace pension. In Canada’s private sector, only one person in five has a workplace pension.”
It’s clear that times are tough and millennials are feeling the pressure. They have been forced to adapt and have come to see themselves more as freelancers. This doesn’t make them disloyal; it makes them adaptable. Although they value job security, they have low expectations, and who can blame them?
Adding insult to injury is the cost of post secondary education. As millennials well know, a bachelor’s degree is often no longer enough and a master’s degree is no guarantee. This phenomenon is called credential inflation and its costing millennials big time. A recent survey from the Bank of Montreal found that most students expect to graduate with more than $20,000 in debt, and more than a fifth are anticipating debt of more than $40,000.
A 2012 HuffPost article entitled “Generation Y vs. Boomers in Canada: Is it Tougher for Millennials to Get Ahead Today than Past Generations?” summarizes as follows:
“Yet a high school diploma today is hardly a guarantor of success in the workforce, as most are well aware. So Canadian millennials now face a new financial obstacle in life: While their predecessors struggled with the costs of housing and transportation and food, millennials find themselves struggling with the cost of education as well.”
By the time millennials enter the work force it’s likely they have at least one degree and a variety of jobs under their belt that helped pay for that degree. They have also likely worked for free as they completed unpaid internships. Boomers tossing around the word “lazy” should keep these things in mind.
Millennials have a lot of positive traits to bring to the table. They are collaborative by nature and work well with diverse groups of people; they are tech-savvy and multi-task with ease, and they care about the kind of work they do and want work with a purpose. Unfortunately, a large percentage of millennials don’t feel they are being used to their full potential and say there’s a lack of mentorship available to them.
The problem stems from the top and it’s not the boomers or the millennials fault that the system is broken. Issues like ageism, internal competition, and a fragile sense of job security are infecting workplaces. Companies are focused on profit margins, not people. As Dani-ElleDubé writes for Global News, “Companies decided it wasn’t worth investing time and money into recruiting and retaining millennial employees.”
It’s therefore high time the boomers cut the millennials some slack and stop making them the scapegoats.
Shawna Wynne, Author
Shawna is a Humber graduate who has worked as a legal assistant since graduating from the paralegal program in 2013. The part about law she enjoys most is writing, and after careful consideration this past summer she decided to pursue a career in writing, as opposed to becoming a licensed paralegal. When she is writing, she is content and utterly in the moment. She also enjoys reading and reads a bit of everything. She’s read thousands of books throughout her life and always has one (or two) on the go.