Do you have friends at work? How you answer this question may depend on your age. A recent study by LinkedIn, the world’s largest online professional network, shed light on how different generations view relationships in the workplace. “Workplace relationships are ever-changing and an important factor in shaping both office dynamics and individual job development,” says Nicole Williams, LinkedIn career expert – and a Gen-X-er. “This means that creating an office culture that resonates across generations, roles and personalities is a critical factor in building a successful working environment.”
While nearly half of all workers believe friendships with coworkers increase workplace happiness, the value of these friendship means something different if you’re a millennial or a baby boomer. While millennials report overwhelmingly that friendships in the workplace have a significant impact on boosting happiness (57 percent), motivation (50 percent) and productivity (39 percent), baby boomers – those between the ages of 55-65 -- reported these relationships had no effect on their professional performance.
So, what makes having a BFF at work a driving force for workplace satisfaction for millennials, while boomers couldn't care less?
The workplace is a social playground. “When you’re in your 20s, you’re starting out in your career,” says Williams. “Most [millennials] aren’t married, they don’t have kids, they’re young people who are just getting out of college and joining the workplace and they’re hungry for new relationships and new friendships.”
The workplace is viewed as an ideal venue to look for people to have dinner with, to catch a movie with and hang out with. Boomers, on the other hand, create more of a separation between work and personal life. “Boomers traditionally look at their work day as the 9-to-5 job,” says Williams. “They go home to their spouses and children. They have established relationships at home [and aren’t as] interested in building friendships at work,” she says.
Related: 4 Ways to Diffuse a Toxic Workplace
Millennials are fueled by passion. Millennial employees are driven to work by their passions. They believe in what they do and want to work with like-minded individuals. When you’re surrounded by individuals who share a common passion, developing a friendship is a natural next step. Boomers, on the other hand, are less driven by personal passion and are therefore less likely to have much in common with their work colleagues.
Millennials have an interest and desire to work longer hours. It goes without saying that the people you spend eight hours a day or more with can influence how pleasant or unpleasant your day is, but millennials are more likely than boomers to put in longer hours, making relationships with coworkers that much more important. “Millennials are more likely to jump at opportunities to attend after-work events that will allow them to network and develop their career,” says Williams. Spending more hours with clients and colleagues that bleed into typical social hours create a blending of personal and professional worlds. This merging of work and personal life is not only a product of cocktail hour, but is also influenced by social media technology that promotes a lack of boundaries.
Millennials are open to divulging personal information. Millennials are prone to oversharing, something which can be perceived as inappropriate by those in the boomer generation. The LinkedIn study showed more than half of millennials (53 percent) are open to sharing relationship advice with coworkers while just 23 percent of baby boomers feel the same. Not only are millennials open to sharing their personal lives at work, they’re also more open to comparing salaries with co-workers. Nearly half of millennials (49 percent) are likely to discuss salary with coworkers, compared with less than a third of baby boomers (31 percent).
“Millennials are accustomed to sharing almost everything about their lives,” says Williams. The social-media generation who tweet, Facebook and Instagram everything from what they had for breakfast to a news report they find interesting often lack a barrier that separates their professional lives from the personal. “Millennials can be lacking the appropriate skills to create relationships with clients and managers of different generations,” says Williams. Oversharing at work is one area where conflict can arise between the generations.
“Millennials have to be cognizant of the fact that their managers and clients may not be comfortable with that level of personal information,” says Williams. “A general rule is if they’re not asking, they’re not interested.”
Millennials value competitive friendships. Although they value their workplace pals, millennials are also more likely than boomers to dump a friend in order to get ahead. Sixty-eight percent of millennials reported they would sacrifice a friendship with a colleague for a promotion, compared with 62 percent of baby boomers who would never consider doing this. “In order to succeed, millennials have had to be competitive because they’ve been entering a workplace that is so competitive by nature. They’re having to fight for recognition,” says Williams.
She points out these type of friend/competitor relationships have traditionally been common among boomer men in the workplace, but the millennial generation is showing a tendency towards competitiveness in both genders. “Men have traditionally been able to compete with one and other professionally for a contract and then go play golf. (Men and women) in the millennial generation get that they can have friendships and (still) be competitive.”
The challenge for managers is how to balance a workplace that millennials see as a venue to expand their social network and boomers see as a separate from their personal lives. “It’s important [for managers] to recognize the motivations of the two different groups and how these two generations feel rewarded in the workplace,” says Williams.