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Is There Really a Problem With How Millennials Behave at Work?


Even if you missed the season premiere of Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago, you probably saw the skit called The Millennials, which took a certain generation to task on their workplace conduct. Casual dress, the hunched posture that comes with near incessant smartphone interaction, and an entitled lack of self awareness that’s become synonymous with the so-called “Me Me Me” generation. But is this merely a caricature of bad stereotype, or is it true that we literally cannot even get workplace etiquette right?


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One of the most-frequently lampooned millennial traits is their tendency to be ultra-casual when speaking. In practice, this recklessness in both syntax and diction, could make us look super unprofesh around the office – or at least kind of rude to the CEO.

But the list goes on: countless articles bemoan the fact that millennials can’t stop looking at their phones, avoid eye contact, are allergic to the word “thank you,” and are constantly looking for a better deal – in both social engagements and salary ranges. And while it may not look the same in every employee, it’s hard to deny that this generation has adopted a new way of holding itself around the office. 

But what if it’s not that these practices are unprofessional, and are rather the mark of a shift in definition? In 1922, Emily Post, the standard bearer of etiquette, suggested, “a lady never takes off her gloves to shake hands, no matter when or where, and never apologizes for not doing so.” Certainly the handshaking working women of today aren’t offending most with their attempts at gloveless human contact. Cultural values have simply evolved.

A Case for Millennials

With 100 years in between, some extreme cultural changes may be easier to swallow, and it’s likely harder to embrace the shifts as they are happening. But consider the fact that this generation is more diverse than any in our nation’s history. According to Pew, millennials are less white, less religious, more active online, and the list goes on. Values are naturally going to shift, and that includes the values we place on certain human interactions.

As the above-linked Washington Post article notes, millennials’ detachment from certain institutions isn’t a bad thing, but that has to also be understood in light of the fact that Millennials are only 19-34 years old. We do not have everything figured out yet. As HBR notes, workplace etiquette is meant to foster considerate, respectful, and honest relationships between co-workers. There’s not just one way to do that.

There can be a fine line between rude and just new, and we’re still working some of that out. Breaking up over text? It’s happened more than once. “Yeah, yeah, yeah”-ing your way through a business meeting while you struggle to craft the perfect tweet? Time to grow up.

Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear from you! Are millennials driving you mad with their constant bastardization of the English language and lack of eye contact? Is this author completely biased in favor of his generation? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter.

Peter Swanson
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Joshua The BarbarianCraigSue SmithClinton Brown Recent comment authors
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Sue Smith
Sue Smith

Cultural values evolving….? creative. Common courtesy, saying thank you. I’m not convinced that they evolve.


Certainly Millennials’ office behavior is different than those of us who are in their 40s and above. We come in at or often before 8 and leave at or often after 5, and are available at our workstations throughout the day. Millennials tend to keep a much less “visible” schedule, at least sometimes even working from home and/or flexing their schedule. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that as many that I’ve worked with still seem to meet or… Read more »

Joshua The Barbarian
Joshua The Barbarian

Most of the problems in the U.S. aren’t from millenials, but from boomers. They whine constantly about social decay, ignorant of the fact that EVERY GENERATION BEFORE THEM has done this. No surprise they eventually they’d set their sights on millenials. Boomers are the ones we can thank for the rising national debt, the government-halting politics of the Teaparty, all the failed policies of presidents Reagan and Bush (including the Iraq war), and most of the racism that’s alive today,… Read more »

Clinton Brown
Clinton Brown

YES, the raising by their parents to make them the center of the universe and it’s everyone else’s fault for their “faults” has just translated into a workforce of Crap. These parents go in on teachers when the kids are in high school and now will be calling their bosses much like they did with the education system. Heaven help us.

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