‘The problem with Millennials is that…’ is an expression often heard. Let’s face it, it’s not easy to manage a generation that is more in contact with technology than with people. At least that’s a common opinion. There is often talk about the contribution of Millennials to the workplace and the frustrations many members of other generations experience when working with them.
At the same time, many managers are puzzled by how Generation Xers have merged seamlessly into a workforce dominated by Baby Boomers.
How did they do that?
The answer may well prove to be the key to keeping you and your team sane as more generations join the workforce.
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In 2016, the Pew Research Center found that Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation (in the US). While there is some controversy surrounding the definition of Millennials by the year they were born, one factor in what defines a Millennial remains constant. These are the children who were raised in the current technological age. They do not remember a time without Google, mobile phones, or YouTube. They do not recall a time when they had to rely on books, card catalogs, or encyclopedias for information, but instead feel as though their ability to leverage technology for information gives them a competitive advantage over their older peers.
Baby Boomers, who are more likely to be employed by a company long-term often bemoan the Millennial’s lack of employer loyalty, feeling as though their perpetual need for mobility and purpose work to the disadvantage of an employer who invests training time and capital into their experience.
Meet Generation X
Generation X, on the other hand is much more defined by the years in which this population was born. Often considered the generation born from the 1960’s through the late 1970’s, Generation X currently comprises 32 percent of the workforce, only recently surpassed by Millennials, according to Pew Research Center. Generation X came of age along with the advent of the internet, making them old enough to remember life before we carried minicomputers in our pockets. This singular characteristic makes them more relatable to Boomers while being able to speak the language of technology with Millennials.
As the “sandwich generation”, Gen Xers often find themselves as the go-between for their Millennial and Boomer coworkers.
Making up just under 30 percent of the workforce, Baby Boomers are defined as those born after World War II up until 1960. While this sector of the working population are beginning to retire, and are expected to continue to decline in their employment participation, they are working far past traditional retirement years, often in conflict with their Millennial subordinates.
Boomers tend to prefer in person contact and telephone calls rather than electronic means of communication. These are the employees who value loyalty, honesty and work ethic above all else yet they are the group that most often struggles with work/life balance, sometimes neglecting their personal life out of duty to the organisation.
If Millennials are defined by their use and reliance on technology and their perceived lack of loyalty, and Boomers are defined by their reliance on tradition and loyalty, it is easy to see why these two groups often find themselves in conflict with each other.
The key to building a cross-generational team that honors the experience of the Boomer while capitalising on the innovation of the Millennial may well lie in the intentional inclusion of the Generation Xer.
Experienced enough to appreciate tradition while young enough to value the usefulness of technology, the Generation X employee is able to bridge the seemingly cavernous gap between the other two generations.
Regardless of the makeup of the cross-generational team, leaders need to invest time in communicating the company’s vision, purpose and strategies to their employees. Understanding how their work contributes to the “big picture” appeals to the typical Millennial’s need to find meaning and value in their work. Understanding the strategic plan allows the Boomer and Generation Xer to capitalise on their experience to put these strategies into effect. And having a common vision helps all members of the cross-generational team to work together for a shared goal.
But bear in mind that this type of communication is not something that can be done once during an annual performance review. It must be infused into all of the leader’s communications, from informal performance reviews to regular staff meetings to corporate electronic communications.
Constant reinforcement of the shared vision allows the team to reconvene under a common purpose should it be derailed by generational misunderstandings. It also makes room for sanity and growth.