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Zenefits: When Cool Workplace Culture Runs Amok

Another day, another glowing article about how the Millennial generation is changing the workplace for the better.

Then San Francisco HR software company Zenefits makes the news cycle with its friends with Zenefits situation only to remind us that not all change is good.

Zenefits new CEO is reportedly trying to clean up the company's rambunctious, Millennial workplace culture, which appears to have run more like a Friday night frat house party than a professional work organization.

I'll let you read the story, but you would think an HR-focused firm (!) would know better. Do these things really need to be explained to employees? Apparently so.

Before you think I'm just another Gen Xer foisting my uncool, quaint notions of professionalism on to the next generation, let me say that there are many smart, talented, professional 20-somethings who are doing amazing things every day. There are also workplace procedures and policies that really should cross that bridge to the 21st Century. Generational change can be good.

But what if you're an older employee (read: any employee over age 30) navigating a largely-Millennial workplace culture that's pushing the boundaries of professionalism?

Suddenly, you have a choice to make as a 30-something workplace relic (or worse, a 40-something hanger on): Do you try to fit in by following the Millennial crowd, or do you cling to your old-fashion notions of professionalism and look like an epic fail?

It's a big question now that the Millennials outnumber all other generations at work. Chances are, if you aren't a Millennial, you work with them.

As an employee, you're always wise to enforce personal professional boundaries no matter your age, and here's why: If things ever go south for your employer in the realm of public perception, then you can say with confidence in future job interviews that you remained professional in all your workplace interactions.

Message: I wasn't one of the employees who did those things. Next question?

The Zenefits story is sensational for sure, but it shines a white, hot spotlight on the underbelly of today's "cool" workplaces. Employers will have to question how far they're willing to go to look cool to the Millennial generation, and where to draw the line. What does "professional" mean these days, and who is willing to be the super-lame, boring grown-up in charge?

It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.


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