The "Millennials" Are Coming

Morley Safer On The New Generation Of American Workers

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This story was originally broadcast on Nov. 11, 2007. It was updated on May 23, 2008.

It's graduation time and once again we say "Stand back all bosses!" A new breed of American worker is about to attack everything you hold sacred: from giving orders, to your starched white shirt and tie. They are called, among other things, "millennials." There are about 80 million of them, born between 1980 and 1995, and they're rapidly taking over from the baby boomers who are now pushing 60.

They were raised by doting parents who told them they are special, played in little leagues with no winners or losers, or all winners. They are laden with trophies just for participating and they think your business-as-usual ethic is for the birds. And if you persist in the belief you can, take your job and shove it.

As correspondent Morley Safer first reported last November, corporate America is so unnerved by all this that companies like Merrill Lynch, Ernst & Young, and scores of others are hiring consultants to teach them how to deal with this generation that only takes "yes" for an answer.

The workplace has become a psychological battlefield and the millennials have the upper hand, because they are tech savvy, with every gadget imaginable almost becoming an extension of their bodies. They multitask, talk, walk, listen and type, and text. And their priorities are simple: they come first.

Just ask Marian Salzman, an ad agency executive who has been managing and tracking millennials since they entered the workforce.

"Some of them are the greatest generation. They're more hardworking. They have these tools to get things done," she explains. "They are enormously clever and resourceful. Some of the others are absolutely incorrigible. It's their way or the highway. The rest of us are old, redundant, should be retired. How dare we come in, anyone over 30. Not only can't be trusted, can't be counted upon to be, sort of, coherent."

Salzman says today's manager must be half shrink and half diplomat.

What are some of the do's and don'ts in speaking to the generation of young workers?

"You do have to speak to them a little bit like a therapist on television might speak to a patient," Salzman says, laughing. "You can't be harsh. You cannot tell them you're disappointed in them. You can't really ask them to live and breathe the company. Because they're living and breathing themselves and that keeps them very busy."

Faced with new employees who want to roll into work with their iPods and flip flops around noon, but still be CEO by Friday, companies are realizing that the era of the buttoned down exec happy to have a job is as dead as the three-Martini lunch.

"These young people will tell you what time their yoga class is and the day's work will be organized around the fact that they have this commitment. So you actually envy them. How wonderful it is to be young and have your priorities so clear. Flipside of it is how awful it is to be managing the extension, sort of, of the teenage babysitting pool," Salzman tells Safer.

All of which has led, as you'd expect, to a whole new industry -- or epidemic -- of consultants, experts they allege, in how to motivate, train and, yes, sometimes nanny the extraterrestrials who've taken over the workplace.

Mary Crane, who once whipped up soufflés for the White House, now offers crash courses for millennials in, well, the obvious. "As to the tattoos just make sure they stay covered up within the office, especially if you are going to be meeting clients," she advises her clients.

"It's a perfect storm we have created to put these people in a position where they suddenly have to perform as professionals and haven't been trained," Crane says.

Basic training, like how to eat with a knife and fork, or indeed how to work. Today, fewer and fewer middle class kids hold summer jobs because mowing lawns does not get you into Harvard.

"They have climbed Mount Everest. They've been down to Machu Picchu to help excavate it. But they've never punched a time clock. They have no idea what it's like to actually be in an office at nine o'clock, with people handing them work," Crane says.

She maintains that while this generation has extraordinary technical skills, childhoods filled with trophies and adulation didn't prepare them for the cold realities of work.

"You now have a generation coming into the workplace that has grown up with the expectation that they will automatically win, and they'll always be rewarded, even for just showing up," Crane says.

"To what extent are you having to tell the boomers, the bosses, the 50 to 60 year olds, 'The people who got to change are you guys, not them?'" Safer asks.

"The boomers do need to hear the message, that they're gonna have to start focusing more on coaching rather than bossing. If this generation in particular, you just tell them, 'You got to do this. You got to do this. You got to do this.' They truly will walk. And every major law firm, every major company knows, this is the future," Crane explains.