The culture war with millennials is overhyped and wrongheaded

This column would have explained to you how best to indoctrinate pesky millennials into the workplace protocol to which you are well accustomed, if it were at all possible. It's not. Get over it.

This column would have explained to you how best to indoctrinate pesky millennials into the workplace protocol to which you are well accustomed, if it were at all possible. It's not. Get over it.

Everyone – even millennials – is well aware of the stereotype: Entry-level staffers today are emboldened and entitled, demand work hours that suit them, and are hypersensitive to criticism. In a vacuum, this might comport to your own thoughts about that generation or what you've read in some trend piece. But once you actually interact with the staff, you'll find millennials don't adhere to any single code of conduct. Just like every other generation that has populated the earth.

Reports on the millennial generation entering the work force have focused on it as a crisis for managers, who envision themselves as head-to-the-ground workers that paid their dues quietly. The culture clash is being billed as a pay-per-view cage match. [Will the workplace serve as a dose of reality for the millennials' self-entitlement? Will managers succumb to the mass of the youth?]

The prototypical millennial as strawman or strawwoman might make for compelling books and pamphlets, but it doesn't help you figure out how to lead your staff.

Culture, as I've discussed in previous columns, is malleable. Those bosses who are adamant about maintaining a rigid culture are not doing so to ensure continuity in an organization. They are doing so because it's a culture that provides them, as individuals, comfort. Millennials provide discomfort through their attitudes about the workplace. They are culture disrupters. Just like every other generation that has populated the earth.

All companies are like high schools for professionals. Cliques exist and colleagues snipe at each other (sometimes to reporters). Yet, so many executives spend much of their time extolling the presumed culture at their workplace. We, as reporters, get to hear about those cultures. And they're very often the same. If I might steal clichés: “We like to work hard and play hard.” “We believe in teamwork.” No self-respecting professional would want to work at a place that espoused different beliefs. All intelligent bosses would, of course, promote their company in that light. But culture is too unwieldy to control.

This takes us back to the millennials – the perceived generational gap and subsequent consternation from management likely has to do with this focus on culture. Instead, companies should communicate much more clearly about what their business, operations, and socially responsible goals are. Then, they should allow all employees to have a hand in shaping how those goals are met – and listen to their concerns. What might seem like griping could be an inexpensive inefficiency detector. No company should harbor an employee that does not buy in completely to a company's goals. And if a few employees listen to headphones while achieving those goals, then consider it a small price to pay for doing what's best for the company.

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