Millennials comprise the fastest growing segment of the workforce, and will soon overshadow the GenXers and Baby Boomers. In 2015, Millennials surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce—54 million adult Americans who are between 18 and 34. They know only a world filled with digital devices that change rapidly, so this group is well adapted to working in a “smart” world. But they have very different views of work/life balance and expectations for the future, which can sometimes put them at odds with the baby boomers and Generation Xers that are already in their work places.
For companies to thrive and grow with employees who have very different outlooks on life and work, it is important to recognize the strengths and challenges each of them bring to the workplace. It is not possible, any longer, for managers to dismiss these differences with the attitude, “It’s my way or the highway.” So companies are working to understand and adapt in order to create strong teams that continue to meet the economic, environmental and societal challenges of modern day business.
In a workshop at the 2015 Emerson Global Users Exchange, participants worked in groups to discuss the best ways to work in multi-generational teams. The first step was to understand why we are so different, so that we can capitalize on the different strengths each generation brings to the workplace.
When conducting meetings, breaking into teams for projects or even arranging work schedules, recognizing these differences can make the difference between a successful, thriving work environment and one filled with tension and mistrust.
In the aforementioned workshop, one Millennial voiced the opinions of many of her peers, saying they were tired of getting a “bad rap”. “We’re sick of being called lazy, entitled or high maintenance just because we played on teams where everybody got a trophy,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not goal-oriented!” But a few “baby boomers” in the room disagreed, with one saying, “Some of you have to have a pat on the back just for showing up!” Bruce Tulgan, consultant and author of It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss, might agree in part when he points out, “They [millennials] will be the most high maintenance workforce in the history of the world, but they may also be the most high performing,” he said. “Some of the negative stereotypes about this generation – that they’re narcissistic, disloyal or can’t interact face to face – can be turned into positive attributes when properly understood and leveraged.”
There is no question that each generation brings different strengths to a team. By leveraging them, the experience of all the members and the outcome of any project is bound to be better.
Boomers tend to have more experience in whatever field they are in, and are generally used to mentoring. They have a big picture view of things after many years in a job or field, and understand the etiquette of getting things done, expecting that everyone operates under the same rules. On the other hand, Millennials will bring in a different point of view, and new ideas that could make it easier to adapt a project to current technologies. They do tend to work well in teams, although they need a clear path and step by step instructions on how to achieve something. They are willing to accept information from other sources, and they like to know the “why” behind things. Team members from Generation X, though, tend to have a more independent mindset. They are comfortable with leadership roles and working independently. So, if they are asked to do something, they prefer to figure out their own way to do it. They do not like to be micro-managed.
By understanding these different mindsets, the team leader can pair those who would work well together and allow those who are more independent to go off and work on their own. Tapping into the strengths and differences gives members of each generation job satisfaction that helps increase creativity and productivity in any workplace.