Workplace Issues

Millennials’ View of the Workplace Is Fantasy

Company power structures are as hierarchical as ever, young workers' assumptions notwithstanding, a Stanford professor says.
David McCannApril 8, 2014
Millennials’ View of the Workplace Is Fantasy

You have a boss, and at the same time people report to you. In fact, at the company where you work, every employee reports to a single other person.

Actually, that’s the way it works in just about every company, notwithstanding a popular perception that the trend toward flatter organizations equates to a weakening of corporate America’s traditional hierarchical power structure. That popular perception is nonsense, according to Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Diagram of an organization's hierarchy millenialsIndeed, the hierarchical structure has barely changed in hundreds of years and shows no signs of doing so now, Pfeffer says in this article published by the school. That’s because it inevitably creates solid benefits, for both the organization and its individual members.

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That’s not what many Millennials want to hear, of course. Millennials — the generation of current workers born from about 1980 to the mid-1990s — tend to have “this belief that we are all living in some postmodernist, egalitarian, merit-based paradise and that everything is different in companies now,” Pfeffer says in the article. “But in reality, it’s not.” In fact, even companies started by Millennials ultimately wind up with the typical organizational structure around leadership and power, the article notes.

What’s the takeaway here for CFOs? For one, don’t fret much that your young hires will leave in frustration over what they see as an antiquated power structure. They’re likely to leave anyway, just as workers of earlier generations did when they were young. As FranklinCovey’s Haydn Shaw says in this Forbes article, “Instead of asking how to retain Millennials, we should ask: how do we get them engaged and productive so they make a big contribution for as long as they stay?”

Opinion_Bug7Even when they do leave, they’re not likely to land someplace where they’re not also subject to a strict hierarchy. That’s just a small part of the reason why, like the Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers before them, they will one day lose their taste for frenetic job hopping.

Some workplace realities must be lived with. Young people may prefer to work as part of a team, and report as a team to another team rather than a single, fallible boss wielding a discomforting degree of influence on their lives. But it’s not going to happen.