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Millennial Culture Shock

Based on the challenges Millennials face, it is obvious that work isn’t all they thought it would be.


By: Chip Espinoza, Co-author of “Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce”

Author’s Note:
“I recently completed writing my dissertation entitled ‘Challenges Millennials Face in the Workplace and What They Can Do About Them.’ I asked working Millennials what they believed to be the biggest challenge they face in the workplace. Over the next few months I will be sharing much of what I learned in our Red Tree Leadership blog.  It became very clear to me early in the study that Millennials experience culture shock when they transition from college life to work. While in school they eagerly anticipate making the transition into a career but when they finally get there it is not entirely what they expected. Christine Hassler, author of the 20 Something Manefesto, refers to the experience as Expectation Hangover®––a group of undesirable feelings that arise when a desired result is not met. A desired result could be an early promotion, recognition, reward, or all of the above.

Based on the challenges Millennials face, it is obvious that work isn’t all they thought it would be. I believe it is more than a desired result not being met. I think the greatest and yet most basic expectation Millennials have is for the authority figures in their lives to be supporting, affirming, and committed to their success. For many, work is the first environment they encounter in which they do not feel supported, affirmed, or that someone cares about their success. While other generations may have also experienced a form of culture shock upon entering the workforce, I would argue that it is more acute with Millennials because they have grown up in a world committed to their success. In a commencement speech that went viral, David McCullough skillfully and vividly describes such a world:“Contrary to what your U9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.

Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, and your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet.”

The theme of Mr. McCullough’s homily was, You Are Not Special, Because Everyone Is. When I watched the video I was not surprised to see students smile and laugh as he quasi-roasted them. I only wish the camera had been on the parents.

I was not surprised by the graduates’ response because I am sure that Mr. McCullough is considered to be a wonderful teacher, has the students’ best interest in mind, and is perceived to be someone who is for them. Millennials are willing to hear and receive the truth when there is a supportive environment.  When I asked my research sample to respond to the statement, “Millennials are the most sheltered, structured, and rewarded generation to enter the workforce,” the overwhelming majority agreed and they did not perceive it to be a negative thing. They enjoyed growing up in an environment that cheered them on and they miss it but that does not mean that they will not make the transition.  At Red Tree Leadership we can help you train managers that Millennials will respect and learn from–like Mr. McCullough. We can also equip your Millennials with skills to overcome culture shock, effectively integrate into, and thrive in your organization.


 Red Tree Leadership
 Generation Y

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