The “Office Millennial”

Millennials are taking over. People born between 1980 and 2000 will make up 50% of the global workforce by 2020, and around 75% of the U.S. workforce by 2030. They differ from previous generations in terms of their comfort level with technology and the extent of its immersion into their lives, and bring different expectations and priorities to their careers, as a result of the era in which they came of age.

Millennials value personal development and work/life balance over cash rewards, and are more comfortable communicating with coworkers over email than in face-to-face meetings. They expect to be promoted faster, switch jobs more often, and want to work abroad or from home more than any generation before. To hold the attention of talented Millennials, companies are increasingly opting for open-office floor plans, flexible schedules and break rooms with high tech gaming systems. When I accepted a position at an office comprised entirely of Gen-X and Gen-Y-ers, none of us was quite sure what to expect.

From day one I had the distinct impression that they were a “cool office, not a regular office” but I was still concerned they would hold stereotypes about me as a Millennial. Would they expect me to be obsessed with texting? Entitled? Lazy? To many seasoned workers, the rise of Millennials in the workforce is seen as a decline in professionalism, work ethic and maturity. While my cohort may still be learning the ins and outs of corporate culture, we bring some valuable skills and insights to the businesses and industries we inhabit.

For example, when our team prepares presentations for clients, one of my duties is to make sure that GroupMe (a group messaging app) has two capital letters and ibotta (a digital coupon app) has none. As the 24-year-old in an office of 30- to 50-year-olds, I’m the de facto expert on all things digital. I keep my team from looking basic by explaining how to properly employ the terms “squad goals” and “on fleek” (and that no one says that unironically anymore).

A month ago, my 30-something coworker asked me to teach her how to use Snapchat, a photo- and video-messaging app that is ubiquitous for my generation but regarded with bewilderment by people just a few years our senior. Our lesson was sparked by a broader conversation about our company’s current social media presence and if there were any emerging platforms we should be utilizing. While we ultimately decided Origin doesn’t need a Snapchat account yet, it is a tool we increasingly encourage our clients to use in order to engage with their Millennial consumers.

What I expected to be a short tutorial turned into an hour-long lesson (with occasional follow-up courses) full of laughter, funny face videos and distraction of others in our shared workspace. Now she won’t stop sending me videos from her couch of tennis balls flying out of her mouth as her husband commentates the Olympics, or voice-altering yellow and black striped messages wishing me a “BEEeee-utiful weekend.” To be fair, she’s in my top friends too.

Then, two weeks ago, at the height of Pokemon Go popularity, I discovered there is a Pokestop just within reach of my desk. For readers who didn’t grow up in the 90s, Pokémon was a popular card and video game from my childhood that has been transformed into a virtual reality app where users can catch “pocket monsters” in their real life surroundings. Within days, that same coworker was looking over my shoulder as I threw Pokeballs (catching devices) at the Doduos (two headed bird monsters) that were invading our office, and asking if I had ever caught “the Pokemon” (aka Pikachu – the iconic yellow and black mouse creature). A short tutorial and a few weeks later, and she’s reached level 17 and is gaining steadily on me.

There are many things my coworkers are teaching me as well. This is my first client-facing and vendor-facing job, so I’ve learned to communicate with people I owe deliverables to, as well as people I need information from. In my role I help delegate and explain tasks to our design team, review their work and manage occasional freelancers. My team has taught me how to break bad news gently to a client and stand my ground with suppliers who aren’t pulling their weight. In brainstorming meetings they encourage me to share my ideas, even if they’re really bad (“French. Toast.” is a solid Champagne campaign headline, right?).

I still have a lot to learn about marketing, our client industries and being an adult. I turn to my coworkers for recipe advice, doctor recommendations, and what I’m supposed to do when I get a Grand Jury summons. This incredibly talented group has decades of experience on how to establish and sell brands, as well as “how to adult,” and they are helping me grow into a more skilled (but still tech-obsessed) young professional. I just hope they still think I’m cool when I turn 25!

About Elaine Parmelee