Millennials

Millennials Make Themselves Miserable Fretting About Work but Boomer Colleagues Can Teach Them to Chill

Research shows workers who launched careers during the Great Recession are plagued with anxieties much less prevalent among older colleagues.
Millennials Make Themselves Miserable Fretting About Work but Boomer Colleagues Can Teach Them to Chill
Image credit: Tetra Images | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Former Journalist, Current PR Guy (wielding an MBA)
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We often hear in the media about the exploits and dealings of millennial millionaires such as Kevin Systrom (Instagram), Evan Sharp (Pintrest), Jessica Alba (The Honest Company), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)...etc.

This parade of high-profile 20-and-30-something entrepreneurs, coupled with the continuing advance of technology, globalization and collaboration, feeds the assumption that younger people are better prepared to be productive workers in the growing internet-based macro-economy than older employees.

Based on those perceptions alone, many assume that millennials have the “right stuff” to be self-directed contributors or self-employed entrepreneurs from the get-go, but that's simply not true. While there are many challenges that veteran entrepreneurs and seasoned employees face, there are at least three, mostly self-imposed mental barriers unique to millennials that hinder their workplace success and possibly that of older co-workers, too.

Related: 7 Ways to Bridge the Boomer-Millennial Gap

Work performance anxiety.

One of the negative stereotypes that’s frequently associated with Generation Y is that its members tend to be cocky about their on-the-job abilities, especially regarding technology and its application, when dealing with peers. Yet, when you look at the research, that doesn’t appear to be true.

Consulting group Leadership IQ asked 3,000 participants spanning all industries a battery of 100 questions about work. It turns out that millennials are markedly more critical of themselves than older workers regarding their writing abilities, broader communications competencies and skill negotiating compensation. Only 33 percent of the millennials surveyed were confident in the overall quality of their work performance, compared to 44 percent of Gen Xers and 47 percent of baby boomers. This statistic infers a self-limiting inferiority complex among 66 percent of younger workers.

It’s completely reasonable that Gen Y members might project an air of arrogance to compensate for their self-perceived shortcomings. Experienced workers need to recognize that possibility, not take offense to such airs and try to coach and mentor younger workers to grow to their potential.

If you are the older person working with a 20-something, invite them to lunch, coffee or to share a kombucha (I think that’s what they’re drinking now) and let them express their concerns. As trust builds, they’re likely to seek your advice, which will only benefit both of you on the job.

Related: 4 Ways Millennials and Baby Boomers Make the Dream Team

Obsessive thoughts about work.

Millennials, more than other age groups, are predisposed to spending a lot of mental energy thinking about their jobs and work in general. Research by the web site Happify published in Harvard Business Review, found that millennials tend not to include close relationships with family and friends, nor civic duty or religious affiliations, as goals or areas of importance. All of those were areas of focus rated above work by both Generation X and baby boomers surveyed.

The published findings showed that the younger study participants "...are stressed, worried, and are occupied with getting a great job....Looking at both long-term and short-term goals, we see a clear job focus and an attempt to address worry and stress."

While a keen focus on work is often an entrepreneurial strength, it's axiomatic that a disproportional strength can become a severe point of weakness. For example, the best sales people tend not to be the best sales mangers because their strength is maximizing their own sales, not the sales of others. This millennial obsession with work and career seems to be out-of-balance with the other priorities that are necessary for success in life.

One way an older worker might help a younger colleague is by inviting them to experience some of the aspects of your life you might take for granted. Invite your Gen Y team member to the house for family game night, your kid’s spring chorale concert, a family hike or perhaps an invitation to a service at your church, synagogue or mosque. The idea here is to expose millennials to positive relationships or interactions beyond the workplace. You may trigger relational inspirations in them that transcend the cubicle farm.

Related: Is Your Generation the Most Valuable at Work?

Tendency to "vacation shame" co-workers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, since they constantly think about work, many millennials want to be perceived as "work martyrs" who skip vacations and paid work leave. According to a study by Project: Time-Off, 48 percent of younger workers think it's good to be perceived as a workaholic or "work martyr" by their boss and colleagues, compared to just 35 percent of respondents on average who are Gen Xers or boomers.

Perhaps more surprising is the study's finding that millennials are significantly more likely to mock or belittle co-workers for taking vacation than older workers -- 42 percent compared to 24 percent. One possible explanation is that many millennials entered the job force during the Great Recession of 2008 when it was easy to think that taking any time off was akin to putting a pink-slip target on your back.

Regardless of their motivation, millennials who mock or “vacation shame” colleagues are disruptive and divisive. The experienced entrepreneurial mindset recognizes the need for R-and-R to avoid burnout. This research suggests that's a lesson nearly half of millennials have yet to learn.

To educate an inexperienced co-worker regarding the virtues of a relaxing getaway, take them away for a half-day. If you’re not the boss, then conspire with the boss to unexpectedly whisk away the youthful worker for bleacher seats at a daytime baseball game or tickets to a matinee theatre production or highly-anticipated movie. The point being that you have to engage them in downtime to help them learn to disengage from work at appropriate times.

Or make a wager with them that whichever of you has the most unused vacation time at the end of the year has to treat the other person to an expensive dinner. That bit of “vacation competition” can create a freedom flywheel for your fellow employee that will help them mentally, emotionally and physically. It will also ease tension in the workplace.

These points aren't intended to suggest that millennials can't become successful individual contributors or entrepreneurs, because they clearly can as evidenced by the earlier list of entrepreneurial examples. However, there appears to be some clear self development that needs to occur for millennials as they advance in the workplace before they can stretch to self employment in the broader marketplace.

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