Roarking Fork Millennials – Ideas for the Workplace

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The U.S. and many international marketplaces have been dealing with multiple generations in the workforce since the beginning of capitalism. This already challenging dynamic is becoming more complex as the average retirement age skyrockets. Thanks to the financial crash in 2008, many Baby Boomers are forced to work, at least part time, well in to their seventies. According to the Labor Force Demographic Data and the Bureau of Labor, by 2014, nearly one-third of the total U.S. workforce (32%) will be age 50 or older. This will be a significant increase from 27 percent in 2005. With Generation Y or Millennials beginning careers, it means the number of working generations has reached an all time high.

So what is the big deal with 22 year-olds working with 67 year-olds? The issue is summed up by the age-old term – the generation gap. This phrase is used to describe how older and younger generations have different interests and communication styles in one moment (i.e. parents and their children). Traditionally the “gap” resolves itself as the child grows up and becomes very similar to their parents. This paradigm has shifted dramatically in the post-Baby Boomer era. Generational replication is not happening for young adults have different values, ideas, perspectives, work and communications styles than their ancestors – causing a true shift in how generations relate to one another.

At work, generational differences can affect nearly everything, including recruiting and hiring, building teams, dealing with change, motivating, and managing. With such a variety of people with a wide range of ideals, values, and goals – there are bound to be miscommunications and misunderstandings. This causes tension and adversely affects moral, employee interaction and productivity.

The Generations

Understanding who people are and where they come from is paramount to navigating the multi-generational workplace. Obviously you must be careful not to stereotype individuals based on when they were born, but studies show there are commonalities in viewpoints, values and behavior in generations. The nomenclature may vary but below is a generational grouping snapshot:

  • Veterans, World War II, Traditionalists – born 1922-1945, value conformity, discipline, one-on-one communication, the radio shaped their worldview, they “make do or do without” and were able to sacrifice
  • Baby Boomers – born 1946-1964, the largest generation ever, competitive and job focused, all about paying your dues, optimistic, want to change the world, influenced by the advent of television
  • Generation X – born 1965-1980, informal, skeptical and independent (latchkey kids), take care of themselves and results-driven, always asks “why”, influenced by the advent of the computer
  • Generation Y  or Millennials – born 1981-2000 – a social generation on many levels, confident, flexible, love technology, want feedback, serve the community and achieve NOW, communicate via email and connect 24/7, the internet rules all

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Suggestions for the Workplace

Being aware of inter-generational troubles is one thing, but truly addressing and managing them is another. The biggest and first step is to truly accept that all people, especially individuals from different generations, are different than you. It sounds so elementary but we get caught up in our own egocentricity and forget that everyone has a valid and varied perspective on the world and therefore on the way they communicate in and out of the workplace. Below are a few tactics that are based on this foundational idea.

No blanket communication strategies

You simply must adjust the mode and language in which you communicate based on the generation and the individual. Boomers may prefer to communicate by phone or in person. Millennials grew up being in constant communication with peers and coworkers so are accustomed to emailing, texting or sending instant messages. Figure out what works best for the recipient, not your favorite method.

Work environment

Offer different working options like telecommuting and working offsite. Focus on the results employees produce rather than on how they get it done. This will give employees some flexibility on how they want to work and put everybody, regardless of where they spent most of their time working, on the same scale to measure success. Telecommuting can also encourage Boomers nearing retirement to stay on staff longer since the option allows them to ‘gear down’ their workloads.

Dealing with changing work/life balance

It is easy to judge a Millennial for taking the afternoon off on a sunny day to take a bike ride or hit the ski hill for some turns, when your background as a Baby Boomer is all about dedication to a profession and “working to live”. Conversely Generation Xer’s might think Veterans “don’t have a life” and take work a bit too seriously. Once again we have to honor the work ethic and values of everyone. As long as the work gets done, does it matter?

Encouraging mentoring

Mentoring is somewhat a lost art in the modern working world. Supporting mentoring programs and structures in organizations increase cross generational interaction and has a host of positive benefits. Older workers have expertise and wisdom to share while younger employees have a fresh perspective and typically an incredible grasp on technology. Putting together brainstorming sessions from all age levels means more viewpoints and more creativity.  Why not capitalize on the differences rather than be hindered by them.

Sources:

Harvard Business Review

Forbes Magazine

The Center for Association Leadership

AARP Leading in a Multigenerational Workforce

Fairleigh Dickenson University – Generation Research

 

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