In the next 10 years, Millennials will dominate the workforce.
The Great Recession slowed the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, so the shift that was supposed to already have happened will be fully realized by 2025, said Lindsey Pollak, a workplace consultant for The Hartford Financial Services Group.
"That transition, which was supposed to be very collaborative, is going to be very sudden," Pollak said. "It will be too little, too late if companies wait until Millennials are the majority."
The Hartford estimates Millennials will make up 75 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2025. Hartford insurer Aetna sees Millennials as being the majority of the workforce by 2020. Accounting firm PwC sees a much more aggressive transition in its worldwide workforce — 80 percent Millennials by 2016.
"You will definitely see young professionals rise to leadership positions faster, and other generations need to be OK with that," said Julie Meehan, 31, executive director of the business group Hartford Young Professionals & Entrepreneurs.
Of the three generations in the workforce right now, Generation X is caught in the middle. The Baby Boomers were the largest generation in U.S. history with 75 million members, and Millennials have outpaced them at 80 million.
Because Millennials were raised by their parents with plenty of praise and recognition, they have a lot of confidence, which some call a sense of entitlement, Pollak said. As a result, Millennials feel ready to step into leadership roles right away, which creates conflicts with members of Generation X, who have been waiting to take over from the Baby Boomers.
"X'ers sort of feel like it is their turn, and Millennials are stepping right into those roles," Pollak said.
Because today's workforce remains a mix of the three generations — Millennials make up 19 percent of Aetna's employees, for example — companies can't just cater to the collaborative, less structured workplace desires of the younger generation.
"You need a lot of cross-generational collaboration," Pollak said. "You have to be careful not to alienate other generations."
The Hartford has mentoring programs where different generations interact. Older workers help younger employees with professional development, while Millennials help more senor staff understand the wants, needs and desires of the emerging workforce. Millennials are more used to email and texting and need training on phone and face-to-face communications while Baby Boomers and Generation X learn about more effective communication, like making emails shorter.
"Millennials and Gen X'ers have to communicate more respectfully with each other," Meehan said.
That cross-generational understanding will be important as Millennials quickly takeover a much larger percentage of the workforce in the next 10 years, Meehan said.
"We have to stop thinking about seniority in terms of years put in. That is not the deciding factor anymore," Meehan said.