Diagram of an organization's hierarchy

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.

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.

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8 responses to “Millennials’ View of the Workplace Is Fantasy”

  1. ” … “every employee reports to a single other person.”

    Uh, no. I may not work in accounting, but let the head of that department ask me to do something and if I refuse, he goes to my boss. I may not work in HR, but let me delay taking the 34th online video course about sexual harassment and we’ll see what happens I may not report to the IT dept, but let me be a little late bringing my laptop to them for something.

    The reality is that every employee has multiple people he or she reports to, whether they’re listed that way on the simplistic organizational charts doesn’t really matter.

  2. There is the “official” organization chart then there is the “conspiracy of the competent” where workers form their own organizations to accomplish those tasks which should be done.

    If the boss is smart he / she will know the difference in order to attract / retain the best peopel regardless of age, resources, etc.

    The boss might even want to have a hand in aligning these two structures in order to remain a part of the conspiracy.

    • Excellent Bruce, said it like it is. As a millennial, I have watched the same structures go through 2 recessions and not survive. The power structure leaves a blind spot and we all know, check your blind spot when driving or else…

      But the most fascinating part of this power structure that it reduces the good ideas and competitiveness of a company. Hence people should want diversity and that does not mean only colour. It means age too.

      Currently I am watching an old power driven hierarchical structure being literally demolished for a new leaner and agile organisation. ” I have been doing this for 20 years, you don’t know what you are talking about” that mantra is a farce. In many cases its the incompetent and people who are resistance to change that say this.

      This article is a clear response to “I don’t know how to manage people without bullying them”. Its not the millennials that have been out of line, its the power mongers. Research has shown that the Born Free generation have been taught in multiple disciplines and have been in many unforgiving environments which has taught them resilience. They move if they see no improvement, which is exactly what makes them resilient, just think of the book metaphor of “Who moved my cheese”

      The management of the millennials are harder for weak managers. They demand things that are harder to mimic, they pretty much want genuine leadership. Have a read on Saffron Baggerlys article on the Y generation: link below and article that I have pasted below:


      The Trophy Kids have arrived at Work: Don’t assume you know Anything about Them

      To really empathise with Generation Y employees, you have to understand the impact that their unique upbringings have had on shaping their values systems or their understandings of what classifies as “normal”. The generation they belong to (and, by extension, the era in which they were born) is, of course, only one aspect that has shaped their value system. Nevertheless, it is an aspect of pivotal importance; a valuable lens through which to explore how to manage this generation most effectively in the workplace. This is exactly what this article will endeavour to do.
      The big message from this article is that when managing a Millennial or when building a productive, working relationship with them, you must be sure not to make assumptions about this generation. Although this article explores common features of Generation Y’s behaviour, it emphasises that, over and above this, each Millennial remains a unique individual. It is imperative that you get to know these individuals. This is why, in the new world of work, we talk about the need for managers and decision-makers to shift towards mentor-management styles.
      The widespread yet erroneous social meme (the cultural equivalent of a gene) about Generation Ys is that they are poor investments because they are likely to leave your business eventually. This is simply not true. They are not difficult to manage unless you take a heavy stance with them, in which case you will lose all sense of authority. However, is it no more beneficial to suggest that the opposite is true and that you have to throw out all your norms, codes of behaviours, beliefs, structures and policies to accommodate these most recent additions to your workforce.
      What this article seeks to point out is what Generation Y individuals are like, why they are like that and how best you can respond to them based on what you now know about them. You need to learn to look objectively at what the situations and contexts of your workplace need to embrace in order to adopt new policies. By the same token, it is important to learn where to envelope Generation Y within whatever culture currently exists inside your institution. But please bear in mind that, if you expect Millennials to just mould themselves into an existing culture that they perceive to be redundant, you will not retain them productively and it will cost you dearly in more than just financial terms.
      Whatever stance you take and whichever way you wish to go, one thing you simply cannot do is ignore them. Millennials make up the fastest-growing demographic in the global workplace – there are a lot of them, and they make a lot of noise, especially when they are not happy.
      Critical elements of the Generation Y Childhood and how it has shaped their Value System
      Also referred to as the Millennial Generation, the Echo Boomer Generation, the Born Free Generation, the Net Generation, and the Me/We Generation, Generation Y can be described as “alone together”. Choice and change, largely influenced by technology, are what define this generation. Advances in technology have not only been primarily responsible for the exponential rate at which the world and social norms have changed; technology has specifically influenced, more than any other generation, The Millennials.
      The effects of these technological advances can be felt in modern medicine, lifestyles and life expectancy, genetics, robotics, space travel, and beyond; and these are all significant. However, what is most useful to study in the context of managing Generation Y is the impact that communication technology has had in its creation of a different value system and, therefore, Generation Y’s interpretation of “normal”. This encompasses four key aspects:
      • Augmented reality
      • Social media
      • Consumer-generated data
      • Cloud computing
      For one thing, these advances have meant that we now live in an interconnected, globalised world, for the attention of Generation Y, for whom most things were instant in childhood, shifting away from its immediate surroundings and into a much larger and faster reality. Furthermore, Generation Y understands the need for transparency, collaboration and immediacy better than any other generation. Another really significant thing about this generation is that it has a fundamentally different relationship with information than those of previous generations. These are the key factors that affect the way Millennials think, feel and behave. They are also the ultimate factors that will influence the decisions you make in managing Millennials effectively.
      These Echo Boomers also understand (probably better than any other generation, although they might not know how to articulate it clearly) that the rules for success have changed in most industries. They are therefore also known as the “Hacker” Generation, because they want to do things differently, and they do not play by the “old rules” if they do not understand why they should. That explains why they are also called “Generation Why”.
      Generation Y: Full of Contradictions
      Another feature of Millennials is that they seem to be riddled with contradictions:
      • They are brand conscious and yet charitable and environmentally aware
      • They are ambitious and yet demand work-life balance
      • They want money and also self-fulfilment
      • They are fashion conscious and want to express themselves and stay connected; and yet will adapt to the culture of the institution if they understand why they should
      • They appear to be awkward and unconfident in face-to-face engagements, preferring instant messaging and other online tools for communication. Yet they are master networkers and are extremely adept at collaborating with others to “get ahead”
      • They have grown up questioning authority and yet they don’t like face-to-face conflict
      What is important to know about Generation Y?
      Echo Boomers are excellent multi-taskers. They have never lived in a world where they could not study and go jogging at the same time. But this also means that they can battle to stay focused on one thing at a time.
      They are the most child-centric generation since Baden Powel’s era of boy scouting. “Helicopter parents”, whose aim was to raise children differently to how they were raised themselves, have brought them up. For the most part, Millennials have had higher standards of living and higher expectations of life than their grandparents did. It is ironic, then, that they have entered an economically volatile workplace, where there is much disillusionment around the job market and growth paths for their careers.
      They have high expectations of themselves. This is not always immediately apparent because their behaviour is so different from that of other generations. Try not to be confused between difference and rebellion. Most of them were “out-sourced” to specialists at some point in their childhoods – whether it was a full-time au pair for hard working, job-juggling workaholic parents, or simply extra Maths lessons squeezed in between club soccer games and violin practice, no matter their gender. This generation is used to achievement and praise.
      This is why Millennials are actually very goal-orientated. They may need some assistance setting goals (and distinguishing between dreams and goals) but they like and need specific frameworks within which to work.
      How does this impact on the Management of Generation Y?
      One of the biggest challenges that managers of Millennials face is figuring out how to entice Generation Y into seeing that mundane, everyday, repetitive tasks are necessary in making the bigger picture work. What seems obvious to managers about the long-term vision might need to be explained to Generation Ys. Do not leave them out of the picture. What used to be management’s “inside information” might now need to be conveyed to employees at large.
      For more information on the importance and how to provide Generation Y feedback, and what to expect from them in terms of Wellness, balance and being “green”, click here.
      How should Managers view Talent Retention?
      Generation Y Talent retention is a global problem across all industries. It is imperative that you afford your Generation Y employees with opportunities to keep growing and learning (be it in a professional or a personal capacity) as well as to improve their skills. Otherwise, they will feel like they are wasting their time in your workplace.

      “Saffron Baggallay is TomorrowToday’s collaboration expert, specialising in self-awareness, emotional intelligence development, relationship-building and producing engagement from employees within organisations. She is a specialist on how the New World of Work impacts relationship dynamics and how individuals can respond to this. “

  3. Structure has to be there once the organisation gets to a certain size. It only becomes a problem when people thought that they have to adjust to fit the structure instead of the other way around.

    Ultimately if any organisation wants to be high performer, it has to align its own purpose to the passion of its stakeholders, regardless what generations they are. Unless you settle for less and thus 9-5 mentality is already good enough.

  4. I’m one of those Millenials, and my early work experiences had “fluid” managerial structures that made me really appreciate a functional hierarchy. At my first job out of college, I was the sole administrative assistant, and officially reported to six VPs; only one was my official direct supervisor, but they needed to coordinate my responsibilities between themselves. I sensed they were reluctant to make demands for my time, because I rarely had enough work to fill my hours. But since they couldn’t always be bothered to have a group meeting over one AA’s time, a single VP would often come by with a “2-minute” task, which I could accomplish, but which caused them to become irritated at *one another* when they found out about it. At my second job, I was part of a labor pool of lower-level employees who collectively reported to four different VPs, who in theory mutually agreed to split our resources on a bi-weekly basis. In practice, it was more like a cage match to secure the time of the person who worked on their project last week. This, as you might imagine, didn’t work very well, and led to lots of fights and inconsistency in processes, lack of accountability for everyone and *insane* employee turnover. When I got to grad school and took a management course, my early work experiences became excellent examples of what not to do.

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