A young subordinate went over my head to complain after we disagreed on a work issue. This is the second time she’s tattled on me despite my telling her to deal with me directly. Is this a millennial thing?
—Carol M., Ottawa
Sort of. Loyalty isn’t a given for Generation Y, or “millennials”—those born between 1981 and 2000. It has to be earned. This is a generation raised from birth to ask questions and challenge those in charge (as any teacher who awarded them a “C” can attest), and these folks don’t hesitate to snitch on errant companies through social media. If your righteous subordinate isn’t getting satisfactory answers from you, she might well see “tattling” as the next step. You need to connect with her before she makes a clever video with her co-workers that goes viral.
I consulted my favourite millennial, Lauren Friese, founder of talentegg.ca, a career website for students and recent grads, for her take. While she disagreed tattling is “a millennial thing,” she warns not to expect millennials to accept that you’re right just because you’re the boss.
“Trust for millennials has shifted from figures of authority to peers,” says Friese. “For example, today’s average millennial trusts a restaurant recommendation from their Facebook network more than one published in Toronto Life. The same is true in the workplace—millennials are loyal to their peers, not their authority figures.”
Friese suggests building trust by involving your subordinate in other decisions that affect her, by being more transparent about why things are done a certain way (or why your way has historically been more successful), or by giving her responsibility for part of the project and allowing her to give her opinions within that sphere.
I’d also lighten up and not take this personally. Start the love-in over lunch or at least a coffee. As that wise old geezer Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, says, it’s so much more rewarding to build up rapport than to find yourself in a constant battle.
Now that Justin Trudeau is head of the Liberal Party, two colleagues never miss an opportunity to talk him up while ranting about Harper. I’m for free speech but find that it’s poisoning the workplace. Any advice on dealing with this?
—Jake T., Toronto
Tell this pair their efforts to indoctrinate you are futile, despite Justin’s clearly superior hair and boxing ability. While political beliefs aren’t written in stone, our brain structure is a factor. A U.K. study in 2011, led by Ryota Kanai at University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, found significant anatomical differences in the brains of people who identified themselves as either politically liberal or conservative. Apparently, researchers could predict their subjects’ political views, with 75% accuracy, just by looking at MRI brain scans. But if the Justin fans continue trying to convert you, you may need to do more than just walk away. Some American companies’ ethics policies have banned discussion of political issues in the workplace, but perhaps you can suggest something less draconian. Just say “Let’s agree to disagree” and change the subject to a graphic description of the ulcer you’re developing from all this turmoil. They’ll get it.