Generation Y, Millennials, Millies, Mill-Zillas…the list goes on and on. Whatever you call them, the newest addition to the workforce is attracting major attention. For years, Baby Boomers have held the power in the workplace. Since 2011 and through 2029, Boomers are/will be turning age 65.
As Boomers retire, Millennials, the next largest generation group, are filling the workplace. Yes, the face and work ethic of many of your co-workers is likely to change. From project managers to developers to coders to other key roles, younger folks will be filling these roles.
Throughout history, each generation is praised and plagued with different traits that categorize them as a good or bad generation. The three key groups in the workforce now are:
- Baby Boomers: born between 1946-1964
- Generation X: born between 1965-1980
- Millennials: born between 1981-1997
Each generation grew up in drastically different times in our country, affording them differences that ultimately shaped how each generation lives and works today.
The Baby Boomers & Gen X’ers
Boomers’ parents were active in their upbringing. Boomers had the luxury of often coming home to a stay-at-home mother, and the nuclear family was encouraged. Now in the work world, Boomers play by the rules, do not complain, and do whatever it takes to live a comfortable life.
Does this resonate if you are a Boomer or you have a Boomer boss or co-worker? Remember, Boomers were part of the beginning of the commercialized computer age. Think how dramatic technology advances have been since they began in the workforce!
Then, 1965 struck and divorce seemed to flood the nation for the first time. With Gen X in their adolescent prime, this shift in the family dynamic changed not only how this generation views their home life, but also how they work.
Generation X is an independent generation. Gen Xers are coined as the “latch-key” generation, as many grew up in single parent households and came home after school to an empty house. This shift is drastically seen in how Gen Xers present themselves at work.
With their independent nature, Gen Xers work hard, get the job done, and do not make any fuss about it. They are the “keep your head down and get the project done!” co- workers. Ever wonder why the 39-year-old coder, still a relatively young co-worker, seems to be from another planet than the 22-year-old new hire to the firm?
These two powerhouse generations lead us to the ever so popular, Millennial Generation. Millennials witnessed their Baby Boomer and early Gen X moms and dads working hard, regardless of the cost to the family unit.
Millennials saw their parents stay with one company, miss family events, and not enjoy all the opportunities of a full life. Many Boomer parents worked hard to create comfortable lifestyles for their families, hoping to eventually enjoy their success when they had earned enough.
Welcome the Millennials
Their Millennial kids would have preferred a smaller house, fewer vacations, and more “face time” with their parents. Yes, Millennials grew up seeing a strong work ethic, but they were also told, “You can do whatever you put your mind to.” From that mentality comes their new method of working. Millennials would rather have flexible hours and a self-fulfilling job than sit in a cubicle for the next 40 years waiting to become obsolete. However, is this Millennial work vision possible?
If you are in your 20s, you are hoping the answer to this question is a big, barefooted “Yes!” If you’re in your 50s, this is a goal you have secretly cherished while professing the opposite to your employees and kids. If you are in your 30s or 40s, you think this is just the propaganda of the lazy, trying to weasel their way into a shorter workweek.
Perhaps if you’re 60 or above, you think this question is the beginning of the end of the world. But if it’s true – if embracing the Millennials’ work ethic could actually have us working less while achieving more – we could crown Millennials as the real “greatest generation,” leaving many of World War II survivors, Baby Boomer historians and journalists with disturbed looks on their faces.
Let’s be honest: Baby Boomers worked fewer hours and in cushier conditions than did their parents. Boomers are much more educated than their parents, lived at home longer, got married later and wanted to automate so they could get better results with less effort. Have they produced fewer results than previous generations? Do we think of them as entitled and lazy?
Creating Workplace Harmony
Each generation expected long hours and hard work to bring prosperity but then saw those expectations disappointed somehow, leading the next generation to reexamine what success looks like.
Until the 1920s, most Americans had jobs that required 12-hour workdays. They believed that if they worked hard enough, the value of their companies would rise with the power of their efforts – but in the 1930’s the economy crashed.
Hardworking Gen X’ers can be critical of the Millennials’ work ethic. People of every generation have tried to make things easier, still working pretty hard in their own way while facing the judgment of previous generations.
So how can we sustain success in a world that has three generations that seem astronomically different in their approach to work? Focus on the similarities. Yes, we’ve all heard Millennials want flexible hours, need to be affirmed and heard in the workplace, need to feel valued, and want to have a full and meaning life. But on the other hand, who doesn’t want that?
With all of our technological advances, you work in an amazing time. Your creativity and innovations are changing the world. Technology has and will continue to redefine work, leisure, our health, and all aspects of our lives.
To take this huge responsibility to its highest potential and not flounder it, reach across the age gap in your office. Understand your Boomer, Gen Xer, and Millennial co-workers.
Together, each generation’s unique perspective will help you and your organization truly perform at its highest level! If not for the honorable cause of making a difference, at least accept these generational characteristics for your mental sanity, because if you like it or not, Millennials are here to stay!
Garrison Wynn has contributed to Ms. Karam’s research. Wynn is a nationally known speaker and bestselling author who has contributed to the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Forbes Magazine.
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