I was having a great conversation with a friend where he was sharing his frustration with the Millennials. The dialogue went something like this:

Him: We were brought up to work hard, keep our head down, and our efforts would eventually be recognized. This new generation seems to want an award just for showing up. And, don’t get me started on this work / life balance stuff!

Me: Think about it, though. When we were kids, our parents worked at one company their entire careers. They “retired with the gold watch.” They knew that if they did a good job the company would take care of them. So, this is the perspective we carried into the workplace.

This next generation has witnessed an ever-increasing push for productivity, lay-off’s, the erosion of pension plans and employer-matched retirement funds, and an increasing gap between CEO pay and front-line worker pay. One way to think about this is, it doesn’t matter how hard I work, how good a job I do, or how much I put the company first, I can still lose my job at the whim of the company. And, while the CEO is “getting rich,” I’m struggling to get by.

Him: I’ve never thought about it that way.

Me: Right! So with this context in mind, we can now appreciate a bit more the position being taken that says, “I work to live, not the other way around.” There may be less loyalty to the company than we expect…because they’ve not seen this loyalty reciprocated. There may be less patience in “putting in the time” before seeing the rewards for their efforts, as they don’t buy into the model that recognition should be a function of time, rather, they believe it should be an acknowledgement of effort.

The interesting thing is, each generation looks at the next with a mixed sense of frustration and envy. In his case, he’s frustrated by what he perceives to be a lack of accountability and dedication, and he is envious of their sense of agency and independence. The invitation is to understand what is driving these generational patterns of behavior and to identify ways to appreciate and integrate them into our cultural norms.

We currently have the broadest set of generations in the workplace. I’m curious to hear from each of the generations how you are struggling with, coming to understand, and finding ways to embrace, working with one another.