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Millennials, Generation Next, Gen Y– whatever you call them, they’re growing up and shaking things up. As Millennials populate the workforce, it seems they bring with them a host of new challenges for their workplace leadership who are scrambling to figure out how to manage and best utilize three different generations of workers–the Boomers, Gen X, and now the Millennials. Collaboration across the generations can be a balancing act, but by leaning into the “uniqueness” of each generation, you can make a Dream Team.

Tackling what exactly those unique qualities are can be a challenge to workplace leadership. It’s difficult to address the generations’ differences without boiling them down to simple stereotypes. You want to approach employees with consideration for their generational perspective, but also with an appreciation for their individuality. Rather than delve into the thick of the discourse trying to characterize each generation with somewhat vague misnomers, we’re going to take a closer look at how generational perspectives on work impact the office.

Leadership

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the differences in what each generation looks for in leadership comes down to minutia. Everyone wants an employer they consider fair, someone who will commend the merit of an idea or of their work, someone who will treat them with respect, and someone they can count on. Let’s break down some of the details:

  • Boomers: Boomers prefer it when their leaders respect the hierarchy of the office. They appreciate a clear adherence to the chain of command. They place great weight on the credibility of their employer–how does their name stack up to others in the business? Perhaps most importantly, they want to be able to trust their employers. Boomers cultivate an extreme loyalty to their workplace, and the trust established between a leader and their employers is essential to nourishing that relationship.
  • Gen X: Like Boomers, Gen X values credibility and hopes to create a trusting relationship with their employer. However, they’re less impressed by titles and paygrade. Gen X is comfortable engaging with authority, and while they want to be held esteem, they don’t believe deference should be granted by position. They prioritize individuals,  respect them for their work and expect the same in return. Gen X loyalty is directed less towards their company and more towards the people in it.
  • Millennials: Millennials continue to build upon the values of Gen X. They want to be esteemed; they want to be listened to. But they recognize that respect has to be earned, and in that way, they harken back to the values of the Boomers. Millennials want mentors out of their leaders. They appreciate structure, guidance, and constructive feedback, but with greater flexibility and a more collaborative environment. And while they want open, synergistic relationships, their loyalty is to the cause.

Workplace Values

When looking at the values of each generation within the workplace, you again find that there is perhaps more similarity across the years than difference. All three generations prioritize fairness, ethical practice, and straightforwardness in their workplace culture, and at least two both consider a professional but collaborative environment and a social aspect as important. When asked their top reasons for happiness in the workplace, all generations cited feeling valued, recognition and appreciation, a supportive environment, and a capable workforce. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to note that while each generation desires the same response–the same “output,” so to speak– they thrive with different “inputs,” different working conditions due to their expectations of the social structure of their workplace.

  • Boomers: Boomers’ loyalty to the company and to the team manifests itself in their ideal workplace. They want a highly focused, collaborative workplace that emphasizes the process of achieving the clearly outlined goals. Personal growth and development are very important. They value efficiency, ambition, and dedication in their work space and their colleagues.
  • Gen X: Gen X presents itself as a stark contrast to the Baby Boomers. Rather than appreciating the process, Gen X is concerned with the end result. They like a flexible and casual work environment that they can easily influence, and they like to have a definitively outlined project, which makes it easier to accommodate the importance they place on work/life balance.
  • Millennials: Millennials again show themselves to be a blend of the two generations prior. While they like a flexible work environment that they can have a degree of influence over and are very goal-oriented, they thrive in collaborative environments. Millennials naturally seek out mentor-figures in the workplace because, like the Boomers, Millennials value personal development and are eager to improve themselves, meaning they work best when presented with a challenge. Their ambition derives from their passion for their work, so it is important to a Millennial that they feel effective and impactful.

Assets

This is where it’s easiest to see the generational gaps. But this is also where it’s easiest to see how to make the generational gap work for you. Often the different strengths across the generations are complementary, and by sussing out the skills required by each team role and considering varying generational strengths, workplace leadership can build a diverse, high-achieving team.

  • Boomers: Obviously, Boomers are going to have the most experience in a given field. By virtue of simply being an active member of the workforce, they have the most exposure to the technical knowledge and skills required for a given profession, but it’s also likely that they’ve put more time into a particular company or position. This makes them dedicated and knowledgeable team members. Another strength that is often overlooked is that Boomers are service-oriented. They’re “People people’” they enjoy in-person communication and engagement, meaning they have the potential to be excellent networkers.
  • Gen X: Gen X is very independent. This might seem like a difficult strength to incorporate in a team setting, but their independence allows them to function effectively without constant oversight. They are also very adaptable, able to follow the consensus of the group. However, that’s not to say they won’t challenge you. Gen X is more than willing to push back against an idea, and it’s because of this that they can push the team further. Their flexibility, creativity, and willingness to challenge their coworkers creates the perfect storm for a forward-thinking team.
  • Millennials: Perhaps Millennials greatest strength is their drive to learn and grow and their appreciation for a challenge. Their desire to improve themselves seamlessly creates a friendly social order where more experienced team members can act as mentors, providing the structure that Boomers crave, and the receptivity to a challenge that Gen X is able to play off of. Contrary to popular belief, Millennials are actually hard workers. Not only do they want to prove themselves, but they are excellent multitaskers, accustomed to juggled a myriad of social, academic, familial, and personal responsibilities. Their optimism and tenacity make them a valuable asset to any team looking to foster innovation and go beyond what is expected.

The Takeaway

Generational differences are often associated with unnecessary problems in the office. And while it’s true that challenges may arise and the different approaches used don’t fit together seamlessly, more often than not, the strengths and expertise of the generations are complementary. A strong team and good leadership recognizes this and adapts to best utilize each individual member; their differences are actually their greatest asset.

 

Don’t Take My Word For It:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2017/01/25/how-to-manage-generational-differences-in-the-workplace/#9ac203d4cc4c

http://guides.wsj.com/management/managing-your-people/how-to-manage-different-generations/

http://rtc.umn.edu/docs/2_18_Gen_diff_workplace.pdf

http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/the-myth-of-generational-differences-in-the-workplace.aspx

http://www.wmfc.org/uploads/GenerationalDifferencesChart.pdf

http://hrcouncil.ca/hr-toolkit/diversity-generational.cfm

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