Bridging the Generation Gap: Millennials are Providing Training Opportunities for EAPs

By Nancy Grunnet, MS, RODP

Training opportunities for EA professionals are growing during the current influx of Millennials into the workplace. However, stereotypes of this generation regarding work, recognition, and rewards can become skewed. Many older employees fear they will not be able to relate to their younger cohorts, which may result in them avoiding or isolating people in this age group. Ironically, relationships and connections are exactly what these young workers are seeking in the workplace! Millennials, also known as Generation Y, desire communication and feedback that is authentic, as opposed to traditional workplace relationships that are typically more distant in nature. As a result, EAP consultants are positioned to provide much-needed skills training in relationship development, communication, and feedback. 

The World of Work Has Changed
Before we can adequately address the needs of younger workers, it’s helpful to take a look at where we’ve been. In the 1950s, employers offered an unspoken, long-term arrangement in which employees who followed the rules and did their jobs were taken care of into their golden years. In the 1950s, the average tenure at an organization was 23 years.

Tenure has drastically decreased. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average amount of time someone spends at a typical job today is only 4.6 years. Millennials do not work under the same safety net of long-term employment as past generations.

Historical Effect on Viewpoints
Because previous generations stayed at their jobs for decades, they developed specific values about work. The Traditionalist generation* viewed work as an obligation. Baby Boomers* saw work as a lifelong quest. Management strategies focused on leading employees for the long haul. Supervisors implemented five- to 10-year management plans. Developing a personal leadership style was rarely considered. Instead, organizations tended to manage based on policy expectations.

Gen Xers* have typically viewed work as largely contractual in nature. Because employees tended to stay for longer periods time and the relationship between work and worker was formal, leadership flaws were often overlooked, ignored, or simply accepted as commonplace.

A Marked Difference in Views
Enter the Millennial generation. Raised to experience and live life in the present, with the world readily available at their fingertips, Millennials view work as a place to make a difference. They see work as a place to achieve – work is a place to challenge and be challenged. Perhaps immature when they first entered the workplace, post-recession data notes that Millennials are self-confident, ambitious, and seeking security within a stable job market. Unfortunately, they still carry the burden of stereotypes like the “trophy generation,” widely believed to be pampered and spoiled with a sense of entitlement. 

Workplaces Need the Help of EAPs
There are a number of ways in which EA professionals can help bridge this generation gap.

* Promote the development of people skills. As EAP consultants, we encounter managers who were promoted because of their skill proficiency. They were good accountants, programmers, or nurses. It’s rare that a manager is promoted because they demonstrated superior people skills. We hear organizations say, “Our people are our greatest assets,” and “We value employee input.” In reality, in many workplaces, employees never receive feedback or they are made to feel like a nuisance when asking questions or seeking input.

* Be aware that failure to recognize diverse viewpoints perpetuates stereotypes. We are privy to comments about Millennials having a sense of entitlement. We’ve heard examples of times when a Millennial complained to Human Resources that someone in higher authority was not available, didn’t give them the training they needed, or in some way was not supportive. The message believed by management: “This has never been a problem before, so therefore the entitled stereotype must be true.”

Millennials question authority, but not because they think they are entitled. Rather, they seek relationships with those in authority who are able to give them support, guidance, and direction in order to accomplish their goals. This desire upsets the status quo of distant, long-term management. As noted earlier, stereotypes have become so skewed that older employees fear not being able to relate to younger workers. Ironically, relationship and connection is exactly what Gen Y is seeking from its leadership. 

* Recognize that essential management skills are within the scope of EAP. The time is ripe for EAP consultants to help address areas like these. Training topics such as communication, relationship development, and feedback are squarely within the skills of EA professionals. These competencies have historically been deemed “soft skills” in line with previous generations’ strategies to manage over the long haul. However, these skills are essential strategies when assisting Millennials in today’s workplace.

* Develop an action plan. As EAP consultants, we can make a difference. Poll workplace managers to gain insight into the struggles they experience when managing Millennials. Use the results to communicate the business necessity for people skills training. Design training modules that link change to the input required to attain a given result.

Training Points That Hit Home
There are a number of key points that trainings on people skills need to include.

* Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Communication must involve an emphasis on listening. Millennials need a sounding board to process their thoughts and observations. Listening in order to understand will result in gained respect. Millennials will interpret a closed door as meaning that leadership does not want to talk to them. Failure to engage in casual conversation means leadership does not like them.  

* Emphasize relationship development. Relationships mean communicating on a regular basis. One-on-ones provide an ideal platform in which to regularly communicate. Whether weekly or monthly, a 15 to 30-minute one-on-one meeting keeps the manager and the Millennial on track, monitoring work-related targets and projects. Millennials appreciate time carved out just for them.

* Utilize personal inventory tools. Millennials want leadership to get to know them as individuals. The DISC personality test and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are tools that will help both the manager and the Millennial learn more about how their individual tendencies impact their work and relationships with co-workers. Millennials want to know more about their business leaders and how best to interact with them. EA professionals need to encourage managers to take the DISC and Myers-Briggs themselves and share the results with their team members.

* Stress Millennials’ need for feedback. Failure to comment on a Millennial’s work means they have no information in which to problem solve or make decisions. A failure to compliment their work means their manager did not think they did the job well. In the eyes of a Millennial, feedback is not necessarily viewed as punitive. Feedback models based on giving critical or punitive information are not helpful. For example, the “sandwich” model, in which a compliment is given before and after critical or punitive feedback, does not offer information to correct or problem solve. Millennials prefer to receive information that functions as “game film.” Feedback models that are based on giving information that describes the effect or impact their behavior had is extremely helpful to employees in this age group.

The time is now. There is a strong business case for EAP consultants to equip workplace managers with the skills needed to provide Millennials with support, guidance, and direction. The skills necessary are skills EAP consultants already know, practice, and teach. We have an opportunity to bridge the gap between generations and usher in practices that will empower Millennials to do what they long to do: make a lasting mark on the world and the workplace.

Nancy Grunnet is the CSRA Regional VP for First Sun EAP. She has nearly 20 years’ experience working with organizations to help employees succeed at every level. Manager/supervisor skill building, coaching, and team development along with generations in the workplace are some of the areas of her expertise. She has served as SC Diversity Council Board Member and SCEAPA Board Member.

Hobart, B., Sendek, H. (2014). Gen Y Now: Millennials and the Evolution of Leadership; Second Edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. San Francisco, CA.

Zemke, R., Raines, C., Filipczak, B. (2013). Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers in the Workplace; Second Edition. American Management Association. New York, NY.

US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014). Median employee tenure. Retrieved Sept. 25, 2014, from


Generation Viewpoints

View of Authority and Rules
Traditional (born 1945 or earlier): They are respectful of authority figures and follow rules without question.

Baby Boomer (born 1946-1964): Boomers are respectful of authority figures and question the system versus calling out individual authority.

Generation X (born 1965-1979): This age group is not impressed with authority and antiquated rules. Wary and distrustful, they openly question rules and authority. 

Generation Y /Millennials (born 1980-present): Rules are things that become outdated, fluid, and change over time (think tech influence). They need information to make their own choices and decisions, and they seek guidance and direction in order to do so. An authority figure is not the same thing as an authentic figure. 

View of Communication and Feedback
Traditional: No news is good news. Communicate privately only when necessary.

Baby Boomer: Communication is needed to keep things fair. Feedback is necessary. Documentation about the feedback keeps the system fair.

Generation X: This age group understands the need for “the system” but is distrustful and therefore dismissive of it. They seek feedback in order to self-correct.

Generation Y: They need information to make decisions and choices. No communication is bad. No feedback is not good either.

- Nancy Grunnet