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Area employers adapt to a new generation

Ryan Archambeault, digital marketing coordinator at Vibram. Generation Y is seen as mobile, open to change, and placing a high value on work environment.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Ryan Archambeault, digital marketing coordinator at Vibram. Generation Y is seen as mobile, open to change, and placing a high value on work environment.

At 29, Stephond Goler is thriving in his job as a customer service team leader at Concord-based shoe and sole maker Vibram USA, known for its funky, minimalist FiveFingers line of active shoes. But that does not mean he expects to eventually retire from the company with a gold watch.

“My mom has been working at her job for like 23 years,” Goler said.

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“I don’t think about being here in 20 years, because the axis is sort of shifting, with people bouncing around. I see it with my friends, and I figure it’s pretty much the norm,’’ he said. “I don’t think I’m going to own the company one day.”

Tyler Allan, a 23-year-old customer service representative at Vibram, passed up another opportunity — “probably for way more money,” he said — ­because he did not want to spend his days staring at spreadsheets.

“For me, it was a no-brainer,” Allan said on a recent workday, dressed in jeans, a plaid shirt, and sneakers. “I would rather have a job where I like what I do. To think of myself going to work every day in a suit and tie — I don’t think I could do it now.”

Both Goler and Allan exhibit what employers and researchers say are classic traits of the Millennial Generation, or Generation Y, the group born roughly between 1982 and 2002.

In addition to ­being mobile and amenable to change and placing a high value on their work environ­ment, ­Millennials are seen as bringing a sense of entitlement to the workplace, with expectations of quick advancement, frequent feedback, and two-way communication with higher-ups.

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With the generation’s oldest members entering their 30s and becoming a force in the workplace, area employers say they have to find new ways to ­attract and accommodate young workers or risk losing out on top talent.

Older generations sometimes find themselves annoyed with Generation Y’s sense of entitlement, said Rachel ­Reiser, assistant dean at Babson ­College in Wellesley and author of ­“Millennials on Board: The Impact of the Rising Generation on the Workplace.”

But young employees are already making positive contributions to their places of work, Reiser said. “The concern about hubris and entitlement is a valid one, and it’s also one that has become overblown. Millennials are really underappreciated in their interest in making an impact right out of the gate.”

Most research on the generation, she added, has focused on people who are from middle-class backgrounds and are more affluent.

Reiser, 43, said the tendency of the Millennials to expect big things right away is attributable in part to being raised by “snowplow parents,” who have pushed aside obstacles for their children, and by “helicopter parents,” who constantly involve themselves in their children’s lives, even to the point of advocating on their behalf with prospective employers.

Employees at Vibram did pushups together in the office.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Employees at Vibram did pushups together in the office.

But this generation’s great expectations have been tempered by the down economy, she said, and younger workers are improving work environments for all generations with their demands for more feedback, and their facility with technology and social media.

She also pointed out that Millennials have high rates of volunteerism, are more comfortable with workplace diversity than their older counterparts, and want to work for socially responsible companies. “I think the positives far outweigh the negatives,” Reiser said.

In Westborough, Virtusa Corp., an information technology services company, is changing how it operates in order to engage its Millennials, who make up 86 percent of its global workforce.

In order to provide more feedback, Virtusa has developed an online platform that tracks productivity and the quality of work by employees. The company also hands out monthly and quarterly awards, and has created its own ­social network to communicate with employees, rather than sending out one-way missives that are often ignored by younger workers.

Praveen Purushotham, global head of marketing at Virtusa, said that even though young workers are unemployed at nearly double the rate of other age groups, companies cannot simply force ­Millennials into a corporate culture that does not suit them.

Kate Shane Middleton an event marketing associate at Vibram used an exercise ball instead of a chair as she worked at a desk.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Kate Shane Middleton an event marketing associate at Vibram used an exercise ball instead of a chair as she worked at a desk.

“It just wouldn’t work,” said ­Purushotham. “They don’t look at organizations nowadays as providers of a long-term career, but rather as places where they can produce a certain quality of work in return for certain benefits.”

Millennials view employers as “service providers,” not much different from a cellphone carrier, Purushotham said. “You can’t say, ‘This is my service, take it or leave it,’ because they will leave it.”

At Vibram, where employees go for runs on their lunch breaks, sit on exercise balls at their desks, and walk the halls in workout shorts, Millennials have “brought an open, fresh, fun vibe to the company,” operations manager Jim Simpson said.

“They’re quick to adapt,” Simpson said. “They say, ‘This makes sense, let’s do this.’ ” He added that he has had to get used to younger employees “text­ing in sick,” instead of calling when they are going to miss work.

Millennial workers provide “an infusion of new blood,” said Ron O’Brien, director of public relations for Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., a Waltham company that makes scientific instruments.

“I’ve come to associate them with advances in the way that the company is run,” O’Brien said. “These guys are contributing from the moment they start at the company.”

Young workers at Thermo Fisher said they are attracted to a rotation program that continuously provides them with new challenges, a corporate ­social responsibility program that allows them to visit high schools to talk about the importance of math and science, and the company’s mission, which it states is to enable its customers to make the world healthier, cleaner, and safer.

Stephond Goler, a customer service team leader at Vibram, says he never sits at a chair when working.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

Stephond Goler, a customer service team leader at Vibram, says he never sits at a chair when working.

Some Millennials at Thermo Fisher bristled at the notion that they think they are “entitled,” but they did say they are willing to lobby for what they want and to make a change if they are not happy.

“Our parents’ generation, they would just stick it out,” said Dan Hoover, 23. “They wouldn’t shift and go do something completely different that they’re not trained for. Millennials will shift and do something out of the ordinary for them.”

Erica Hirsch, 31, said of the generation’s mind-set: “You’re not satisfied with staying at the same level. You want to get to where you’re headed as soon as you can or at least know you’re on the path there.”

Even though most Millennials have not succeeded as quickly as they had hoped, they have maintained a sense of optimism and are making steady headway, said Reiser, at Babson.

“They’re quickly moving into leadership roles,” she said. “They’ll be making the decisions in pretty short order.”

Calvin Hennick can be reached at calvinhennick@­yahoo.com.

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