Today’s organizations are in the unique position of having employees who span four generations. Each with its own perspectives, qualities, and traits. Each shaped by the historical and cultural events of their generation. They are:
Silent Generation: The smallest workforce subset, age 70+, were born before 1946. Their lives were shaped by the Great Depression, the New Deal, and World War II.
Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964 with ages 51-69, Boomers may be the most famous generation in American history. Boomers value formality and are motivated by their work, rather than praise or rewards.
Generation X: Between the ages of 35-50 and with birth dates ranging from the early 1960s to the early 1980s, Gen Xers, as they are “affectionately” called, began their careers anticipating they would work for several employers, but always in the same field.
Millennials: Born between the early 1980s and 2000, they are sometimes called the Net Generation because they’ve never known a world without the Internet. Because this group of 18-34-year-olds grew up in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, they are used to receiving information quickly, perceive social media as a means of connecting and communicating, and aren’t afraid to leave a job that doesn’t mesh with their personal values.
Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center writes, “Demographically, politically, economically, socially, and technologically, the generations are more different from each other than any time in living memory.”
This generational showdown is reflected in the changing dynamics of the workplace as well. By 2020, Millennials will comprise approximately 46% of the U.S. workforce, according to a University of North Carolina study. And by that time, Millennials will be filling leadership gaps at many organizations, as members of the Silent Generation and Boomers retire, and Gen X moves into upper management.
(269) Magazine caught up with some area Millennials as well as two Gen X managers to learn whether preconceptions—and possibly misconceptions—about Millennials ring true in Southwest Michigan.
Myth: Millennials are digital addicts who want to do—and share—everything online, without regard for personal or professional boundaries.
Fact: Twenty-seven percent of Millennials never use their personal social media accounts for business purposes.
Mary Schabes, Organization Development and Learning Specialist at Bronson Healthcare Group, age 30, says, “If it takes more than a few minutes to write it or text it, I pick up the phone and call. I love taking face-to-face, so nothing is open to misinterpretation.” Samantha Miller, a 24-year-old intern at Oak Point Financial Group agrees, with one exception. “I prefer phone calls. My supervisor and I can’t text each other. We immediately misinterpret something … especially with our age difference.”
On the other hand, Parikshit Atre, Customer Quality–Team Leader at Stryker Medical, age 31, prefers email. “Because Stryker is a large organization, I send a lot of emails. My tone is always respectful if I’m writing to an individual I don’t know. If it is somebody that I know, then it’s usually getting to know their [communication] style is first. That usually helps to get to a more collaborative communication style faster.”
Myth: Millennials feel entitled.
Fact: Millennials grew up in a time of grade inflation, sports where everybody wins, and everything is a negotiation. They’re not entitled; they just don’t know any other way.
Millennials don’t start projects until they understand why it’s relevant to a bigger picture. They want to understand the impact of their work.
Schabes says, “Give me something that’s meaningful, tell me how I’m impacting a greater good, tell me why what I do is important, and then I’ll do whatever it takes to get it done as long as I know it’s meaningful. And give me timely and real feedback. Make sure I can measure how I am doing. I want to know if I’m meeting the expectation, or is there a need to adjust something to improve.”
Arte adds, “A few years ago, when workers were given an assignment, they figured out how to do it. Why they needed to do it wasn’t always communicated. Millennials prefer that their supervisors start with the why. Then they can ask, ‘Is there a better way to do this? A smarter way?’ Perhaps that’s why we come across as arrogant. We want to know that what we’re doing matters.”
Myth: Millennials are referred to as lazy, addicted to social media, and irresponsible.
Fact: A September 2015 study by the Pew Research Center reveals that Millennials are the least likely generation to describe themselves as “hardworking.”
Lauren Stiller Rikleen, author of, “You Raised Us – Now Work With Us” notes that Boomers raised Millennial children to be self-confident, ambitious and assertive; yet when Millennials bring those characteristics into the workplace, management sees only the flip side: overconfidence, entitlement, and narcissism. Rikleen suggests an attitude adjustment for both generations. Millennials need to be able to take constructive criticism, and supervisors need to give feedback regularly, not just at the once-a-year performance review.
Dustin Lucas, Hiring Supervisor at United Parcel Service and a member of Gen X agrees. “I believe leadership styles need to change and adapt but also, more communication, coaching, and mentoring will bring understanding to the Millennial generation on why things are in place the way they are, why time commitment for staffing is important, and why their contributions are important for things to run smoothly.
Another Gen X supervisor, Saundra Ivy, a Financial Advisor at Oak Point Financial Group agrees. “Millennials want everything right now. Everything’s instant. They’re growing up in the technology era where text messages are common – they like that instant gratification and want everything right now. They just assume that everything’s going to come to them, just like a text message.” They must see that they have to pay their dues.
At just age 28, Jeremiah Smith has learned how to play both sides of the field as CEO of Allegiant Laundry Services. “I think leaders have to evolve. (As a manager and a Millennial), I had to learn to be articulate and straight-forward because I am being judged by my age. So, I put myself into different leadership programs, and now I’m able to lead my employees who are older than me, yet they still respect me on the same level.”
In order to narrow the gap, some companies are employing reverse mentoring, in which younger staffers teach those several rungs ahead of them on the career ladder as a way to bridge the generation gap and create a two-way exchange of knowledge, says Wendy Marcinkus Murphy, an associate professor of management at Babsom College in Wellesley, MA.
Junior staffers have a chance to showcase their leadership skills and get career-boosting access to senior managers. Older employees pick up new skills, hear a fresh perspective from the front line and can demonstrate that they are not so set in their ways that they can’t embrace new ideas. “The ability to learn is probably the most critical skill that you can have in today’s workplace,” Murphy says.
Open two-way communication among generations is the key to the future success of organizations. No matter how you shake it, Millennials represent the future of business. All generations need to get ready.