Workplace Wars

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Different Work Styles

In general, everyone wants the same things from work," says Susan H. Ginsberg, EdD, editor and publisher of the New York City-based newsletter Work & Family Life. "Beyond the obvious -- a living wage -- we want to be respected and have something interesting to do and an opportunity to grow. But each generation defines and approaches these goals very differently."

The problem is mostly a matter of style and custom. Take one of the most superficial differences: dress. The older generations can't believe anyone needs to be told to come to work in a suit or skirt; the younger can't believe anyone cares. "I've lost track of the junior attorneys who say, 'Panty hose? I've never worn a pair in my life!'" says Mary Crane. Multiply that disconnect by a factor of 10 when it comes to body piercings and tattoos, which about half of 18- to 25-year-olds have, according to a 2006 Pew Research Center study. "When I started my career, coming to work with a pierced nose would have been unacceptable," says Laura Whitfield, 43, a manager at a Denver area Crate & Barrel store.

"Does anyone really get offended by tattoos or piercings?" asks Sara Goldman, 23, a server in a San Francisco restaurant. "So many people have them where I work, you don't think twice."

Ditto the great flip-flop debate. "I come to work in flip-flops all the time," says Carla Bradman, 27, a Denver paralegal. "I wear them with nice pants and I've never heard anyone complain."

Millennials' casual dress code sometimes mirrors their manners as well, older generations say. Many Boomer bosses think Millennials are overly familiar: They ignore hierarchy, e-mail or approach top executives and address them by their first names. One hiring manager recalls receiving a Facebook "friend request" from a candidate she'd recently interviewed. And a 57-year-old human resource manager at an East Coast commercial bank was floored earlier this year when a newly hired twenty-something entry-level employee told her that she'd just read a newspaper story about overtime pay and realized she deserved it for working through her lunch hour. "And it should be retroactive," the employee added.

"If I'd had a question like that when I was younger, I might have raised it with my boss," she says. "I never would have dreamed of going to the head of HR for the entire company and demanding it."

To younger workers, however, such behavior is merely assertive and a tactic they've cultivated all their lives. "I was taught that if I want something or see something I think is wrong, it's up to me to speak up," says Carla Bradman.

Cultures also collide over such basics as how to work, what hard work means, and what it takes to get ahead. For people in their 40s and 50s, dedication to a job usually means coming in early, staying late, and doing nothing else during work hours. To young workers, who've been multitasking their whole lives -- instant messaging friends, watching TV, and checking MySpace, all while doing homework -- a single focus is a waste of time. A 2006 survey by the recruiting firm Spherion, for instance, found that almost half of all 25- to 29-year-olds listen to an MP3 player while working, with the vast majority saying it improved their job satisfaction and productivity.

Continued on page 3:  The E-Word: Entitlement


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