What Actually Is A Millennial?
If you’re wondering whether you’re a Millennial, then it’s probably safe to say you’re not. As by this point in your life, you would already know if you were. Need to double check? Born between 1981 and 1996 or between the ages of 23 and 38 (in 2019)? Then yes, you’re a Millennial.
What Makes Millennials Different?
Everyone seems to have had their fair share of what a Millennial is or isn’t, what trouble they cause and the benefits they may add too. According to William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of the bestselling book, 13th Gen, Millennials are ambitious, optimistic, collaborative and confident at home and at work. They’re also super-stressed and co-dependant on parents. Marguerita Cheng from Forbes online describes them as socially conscious, technology-based, educated and health conscious. Others mention how Millennials are happy to fight authority and expect far more from the workplace than the generations before them.
So with these characteristics in mind, let’s discuss Millennials at work and whether their working life is more stressful than the generations who went before them. And explore how this can affect mental health and cognitive function.
A Brief Overview Of The workplace in 2019
- Technology rules the office
- Open-plan offices are rife
- Flexible working has become more of a thing
- Job hopping is more common
- The 9 to 5 seems to have slipped into the 9 till work is complete…
- Social collaboration is everywhere
- Creativity is encouraged.
With these modern ways of working in mind, how have they and how will they affect Millennials at work?
Hide Away Or Open Up
Let’s kick off with the layout of new office spaces. In the 60s, 70s and 80s the workplace was full of private offices for each worker, where they could smoke, drink, work and be on their own if they needed to focus. Today, if you glance into most offices, you’ll see 100s of bobbing heads, all breathing the same cough splattered air within a very small, compact vicinity. The only rooms are meeting rooms, usually with glass walls to give the impression that the company is open, honest and transparent – literally. A 30-minute blast in one of these meeting rooms (or should we say “pods”) feels like a dip inside a goldfish bowl, but without the water, just Febreeze to dampen the atmosphere and sting the eyes.
These new open offices are meant to encourage openness and creativity, however for those of us who are introverts (can you tell from the tone that this writer might just be), this set-up can be devastating for cognitive health. Many studies have shown that being an introvert in an extrovert-style office can discourage growth and sap energy.
Louis Schmidt, director of the Child Emotion Laboratory at McMaster University in Ontario describes how: “Introverted people aren’t bothered by social situations… They just prefer not to engage.” The Upside Of Being An Introvert (And Why Extroverts Are Overrated) by Bryan Walsh emphasises why open offices push introverts into tough situations: “An open office forces them to engage.
In studies conducted with functional magnetic resonance imagers, Schwartz found that the amygdalae in the brains of those original high-reactive subjects–now adults–tend to light up when they’re shown pictures of unfamiliar faces, while the amygdalae of low-reactive subjects show less activity. That makes sense: the amygdala processes fearful stimuli, among other functions, and the introvert’s first reaction to new people or experiences is usually guarded caution.” An introvert Millennial in an open office = nightmare situation.
Spaces Of Refuge
It’s no wonder that numerous books have been written based on such scientific research, to advise companies on how to create spaces of refuge and retreat for introverts stuck in an open-plan office. And it’s not just the impact on an introvert’s cognitive function that’s an issue, Fast Company’s senior editor Jason Feifer (a self-declared extrovert) highlights how a lack of connection between colleagues can also be a negative side effect of open-office space:
“I started a little Whiskey Friday gathering, where everyone was invited to come drink and chat. It was great; we killed off bottles with respectable speed. But we haven’t done it since I moved: Not everyone here is on the same schedule, and a Whiskey Friday in the middle of the office is just a gigantic interruption.”
His advice? “Take those long tables, the ones currently lined with laptops at startups, and give them to an elementary school so children can eat lunch on them.” And he may have a point.
Research from the University of California, Irvine has found that employees who aren’t in private offices receive 29% more interruptions and those who face interruptions suffer from a 9% higher rate of exhaustion, seriously affecting their brain’s ability to concentrate on any given task. Exhausted employee = minimum output, a fatigued brain and an unhappy workforce.
On the flip side, some disagree and claim that open spaces are a beautiful thing. An article by Anjali Mullany, How to create an open office that is more awesome for both introverts and extroverts, states that it’s “far more intimidating to knock on an office door than to turn to a nearby colleague… Open plan is kind of a good environment for someone who might be less bold.”
However, in his 2014 book, The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, Ron Friedman concludes from his research that: “Cubicles are depressing. Private offices are isolating. Open spaces are distracting.” With some studies proving that upto 40% of someone’s productive time is taken up by shifting between tasks. Yeesh, seems like you just can’t win!
(This writer votes for big private offices for all, with an animal of their choice and unlimited supplies of organic snacks and comedy.)
The urge to progress quickly at work is rife amongst Millennials. This can be great for the employer as Millennials are willing to work hard to hit their personal promotion targets, although this can also be tough because sometimes promotions don’t come so easily.
Kaifi and Kowske et al., describe how Millennials are focused on achieving and a need to do well, very well. In fact, so well that their mission is to hit and surpass their goals and ideals. Due to our education systems, Kowske writes, they have been, “instilled a sense of accountability,” causing them to focus on hitting personal targets. And when the company they work for can’t live up to their ambitions, trouble strikes.
With high expectations to advance quickly, disappointment can be felt by those, potentially leading to stress and anxiety due to the frustrations of feeling trapped and undervalued at work. This may be the reason why employee turnover rates have been reported to be growing, by scientists Kelleher, Westerman & Yamamura. Job hopping was once fiercely frowned upon, but luckily now it’s often seen as an indication of a hungry and high-achieving Millennial.
Hauw and Vos mention that the, “one thing that truly sets this newer generation apart is their preference in meaningful work over well-paid work. While salary is still important in determining success, work that has meaning and enjoyment in what one does rated higher in importance than financial gains (Hauw & Vos, 2010).”
Mismatch Of Expectations
In her thesis, Elizabeth Claps writes about the “mismatch of expectations in the workplace between generations… Millennials as a whole are independent, creative and efficient. They seek fairness, justice and diversity. Their development in a world of individualism and customization, their familiarity with technology, their ability to multitask and their desire for a balanced schedule of work and family all coalesce to create a life that is rewarding. They are looking for this type of flexibility to be institutionalized so that everyone can benefit from a more peaceful work experience.”
The downside of these expectations include matching a traditional manager’s style (who is perhaps used to hierarchy) with the modern built-in mindset of a Millennial (who wants to progress quickly) may prove to be difficult and affect both their stress levels and cognitive function. Especially with the added stress of a Millennial trying to balance the perfect work/life relationship:
Springer says, “Millennials placed the greatest importance on individualistic aspects of a job. They had realistic expectations of their first job and salary but were seeking rapid advancement and the development of new skills, while also ensuring a meaningful and satisfying life outside of work.”
If you’re feeling stressed, run-down, under-appreciated or fed up at work, it’s no wonder. With high expectations, super-tough personal goals and morals which fight the want for monetary reward, you can’t blame your brain for going into overdrive.
Life can be fun if you take a step back and check out where you are at this very moment in time. You’re not doing too badly, right?
One top tip to cope with being a Millennial at work? Sleep, sleep and more sleep. Read all about the optimum 90-minute sleep cycle here to nail your sleeping routine. And download our sleep app Peak Sleep – Sleep Better, which’ll help to keep your sleeping pattern in check and your mind away from all of the busy thoughts you have before bed. Try it and see why so many users love the benefits:
P.S. However “successful” we may be in life, none of us get out alive. Science says.
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Engagement and Retention of the Millennial Generation in the Workplace through Internal Branding, Gaye Özçelik
Understanding the Millennial Generation by Sharon A. DeVaney, PhD
Organizational Behaviour and the Physical Environment, edited by Oluremi B. Ayoko, Neal M Ashkanasy