A survey of 1,100 employees from four generations reveals:
- Generation Xers remain outliers whose biggest challenge is working with Millennials.
- Boomer-based workplace culture is dissolving, but not without a fight.
- Millennials and Boomers are surprisingly similar, except around technology.
Pay attention to Generation X.
Let's say that another way. Stop paying so much attention to Millennials, and focus on the keystone of your group, Gen Xers. The original latch-key kids, this generation grew up independent. If you have a no-nonsense lone wolf who just gets stuff done, she's likely an X. And somewhat isolated. Research shows an uneasy fit between self-reliant Gen Xers and relational Booms and Millennials. Why is X on the outs? Communication style is part of it. As a rule, Gen Xers don't waste time making nice.
Here's your move: Xers have digital chops and decades of experience. Make sure you know what Xers want from their careers. Make sure they get to grow. In addition, make sure Xers are part of regular, structured give and take. Daily check-ins, for example, or regular brainstorming can pull in otherwise isolated Xers.
Get out ahead of work ethic conflicts.
Work ethic is the hot button term that gets thrown around when one generation doesn't understand how another generation works. The real issue is nearly always hours. The question is "Who owns my time?" The traditional answer is that the company sets the hours, period. A realistic answer is "At the very least, I expect to have input about my schedule."
Here's your move: Make job descriptions work hard. Build in details about where and when the work gets done. Each generation makes decidedly different assumptions about hours, so don't take anything for granted.
Tame the tech disconnect.
One surprise in our research is how closely Millennials and Boomers align. Boomers chose Millennial-centric responses 31 percent of the time. Millennials choose Boomer-centric responses 30 percent of the time. That's significant overlap. Clearly, Millennials and Boomers aim to cooperate. The problem is that they don't always communicate. The breakdown is most often digital. Take the word "talk" for example. For Boomers, the word means hearing your voice. But for Millennials, texting is "talking." If a chasm opens, Boomers' work becomes irrelevant because they don't do tech, and Millennials fall out of the loop because they don't do face time.
Here's your move: Boomers grew up analog, and young generations grew up digital. They need different kinds of tech training. Experiential works for digital generations, but Boomers need linear, contextual training. Hold Boomers accountable for tech skills, and hold Millennials accountable for getting over phone phobia and learning to work face to face.
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