The More Things Change

The More Things Change

Forty years ago, a generation of Americans said they would never work for “the man.” Their values and culture were so different and their numbers so great that the workplace was going to have to change to accommodate them.

Today, the members of that Baby Boom generation go to work much as their parents did. The long flowing locks and facial hair are gone, and the refusal to conform has been overtaken by mortgage payments and college tuition bills. And the same will be true of Millennials.

How can that be? A cottage industry has grown up providing advice to recruiters and HR professionals on how to handle the highly unusual habits of Millennials. This consulting has undoubtedly helped to keep more than a handful of businesses going in the recession, but other than that, its utility is of questionable value.

As with each of the generations in American culture, Millennials clearly do have their own preferences and values. There’s no proof, however, that those social mores will challenge the norms of workplace behavior. And, in fact, there is now at least one study which suggests exactly the opposite will happen.

A survey released last month by the University of California, Berkley—hardly a bastion of conservative thought—found that over half of the Millennials they questioned had become more concerned about privacy on social media sites than they were five years ago. And guess what—that number is now the same as those who are worried about the issue among their parents’ generation.

Moreover, these findings reveal more than just a concern about privacy. Millennials are showing a new seriousness about their careers. Ironically, the generation that brought you Facebook and MySpace is now having second thoughts about the impact of such sites on their ability to find a job and advance in their field.

Sound familiar? Close your eyes so you can’t see the body art and the words sound eerily similar to those of their parents. So much for being noncomformist.

Certainly, recruiters and HR professionals should be respectful of the differences that do exist among the generations, but a workplace revolution is not in the cards. As it was for Boomers, it will likely be for Millennials: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Thanks for reading,
Peter