Twenty-Something’s at Work: Bridging the Gap

If you are an adult over thirty-five, chances are you have found yourself wondering what is with the newest “crop” of adults who are entering adulthood roles. Everywhere I look, there are news articles about “millennials” struggling in the workplace and the current generation of “narcissistic” twenty-somethings. One perspective on millennials is that they were raised in an era of “everyone gets a trophy,” and as a result they all think they are above average. Another view holds that as digital natives with constant access to video games and text messaging, young adults are awkward, socially anxious, and overwhelmed by the greater world. It appears millennials are viewed as a product of parenting and cultural mistakes over the past twenty years.

One such twenty-something, Tara, has been coming to see me for anxiety since she was a teen. She is a clever, practical young woman who has been working and supporting herself for the last two years. Tara works for a small insurance agency. She started off working in a crowded office. She commuted in to the city every morning, settled in to her uncomfortable office chair, and logged-on to a desktop computer. Five days a week, she served out her nine hour sentence. She entered data into spreadsheets while distracted by office gossip and a constant clash of office personalities around her. Tara felt her work was inefficient. She was unhappy. So, she put in a request to begin working from home.

Initially, her request to work remotely was met with confusion and disdain by fellow professionals. She was seen as spoiled, demanding, and entitled. Senior team members, many in their sixties, equated “working from home” with getting paid for laying on the couch. Tara was confused. Her desire was to become a more effective employee, not to slack-off. But after the work-at-home request was granted and Tara stopped commuting to the office, her colleagues were pleasantly surprised. Tara finished projects in record time, and even took on additional responsibilities.

Tara’s perspective on workplace efficiency and her co-workers’ misinterpretation of her intentions are fairly typical workplace dynamics for millennials. They are often seen as selfish, demanding, or difficult. If you work with twenty-somethings, bear in mind the following:

            - They are young and inexperienced. A social faux pas that drives co-workers and supervisors mad may simply occur because twenty-somethings are still learning. What appears grandiose, narcissistic, and self-important may be a naïve attempt to be assertive or confident.

            - Their parents may have sheltered them. Millennials have been known to take their parents with them to job interviews. I recently read a news story about a company sending out performance “report cards” to parents of workers in their early to mid twenties. One of the most common complaints about the current crop of new adults is their tendency to seek handholding from supervisors. But if close supervision is all they’ve known, of course they need a little reassurance at first. Take the opportunity to become a mentor.

            - Millennials typically care a lot about efficiency and work-life balance, and less about wealth and status. To attract young workers, companies are increasingly offering shorter hours, work-at-home options, and a more comfortable work environment.

            - They want to make a difference, not just collect a paycheck. Young adults are major participants in any opportunity to stay connected to the community- like company wide service projects.

            - As with any demographic group, there is more variation within a group of twenty-somethings than you might think. Resist the urge to stereotype and get to know your young colleagues as individuals.


Dr. Deuter is a psychiatrist who specializes in the care of emerging adults.


Posted on April 7, 2014 .