“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.”
Though you might believe this statement is true today, it dates back to the ancient Greek poet Hesiod (700 BCE).
Fast forward to our present day where we have a unique anomaly occurring — four distinct generations working together in corporate America:
• Veterans — There are 52 million people in this classification born between 1922 and 1943.
• Baby Boomers — 77 million Americans are in this class born between 1943 and 1960.
• Generation X — A very cool label applied to approximately 46 million people born between 1960 and 1980.
• Millennials — Also known as “Generation Y,” “Nexters,” “Generation Next,” “Echo Boomers,” “iGeneration,” and “Net Generation” — whew! There are 72 million people born between 1980 and 2000 that make up this group.
Some organizations are fighting this generational diversity, while others embrace the changes and challenges these four generations bring to the table. The latter organizations will clearly come out winners in the long run, while traditional organizations that attempt to homogenize their workforce will find that top performers will exit quickly to greener pastures.
Of the four groups, Millennials are having the most significant impact on today’s workplace. Depending on who you talk with, Millennials are either the greatest generation to join the workforce or the worst.
Many of my fellow Baby Boomers seem to resent or are frustrated with Millennial employees. Their perspective is entirely understandable as we were brought up so differently than the Millennial generation.
Ironically, we are the generation that raised the Millennials.
Millennials want and expect so much more out of work than their fellow Baby Boomer employees, including:
• Working at a job that has purpose
• Believing that they are making a difference at work and in the community
• Expectation that their employer supports flexibility and work life balance
• Loving their job.
There are certainly more, but the differences are striking and can cause friction between generations at work.
As a Baby Boomer I was brought up to work hard, ask few questions, respect my elders, and have unquestioned loyalty to my employer. No one ever suggested to me that work should be fun, purposeful, or any of the other expectations Millennials have of their respective workplaces.
Fortunately, as my parents would attest, I always marched to a different drummer and questioned everything throughout my career.
It paid off as I moved from job to job until I found companies and work environments that truly valued employees. Mindlessly working for a paycheck never made sense to me. As I look back, I was a modern-day Millennial trapped in a Baby Boomer’s body, in a business environment that did not take kindly to employees that did not fall in line.
You might hear comments about Millennials that they are lazy, demanding, impatient, disrespectful of authority and irresponsible at work. Millennial bashing seems to be in vogue. It’s a shame because the generalizations and stereotyping do nothing to improve the relationships between different generations at work.
Forward-thinking workplaces are addressing generational differences through training and open forums. These efforts often yield a new appreciation of each generation and how to work better to support individual, team and organizational goals and objectives.
In addition, companies are also taking action by making impressive changes to employment policies, performance management programs, recognition programs and benefits. Their focus is not about pleasing any particular generation but enhancing the work environment to improve the probability of attracting and keeping top performers across all generations.
In essence, what these companies have found is that the different generations have more in common than stereotypical differences would suggest, especially with top performing employees. And, these companies have also discovered that an employee-first work environment has done wonders for employee satisfaction, employee retention, innovation and the bottom line.
Perhaps my generation’s approach to working made sense many, many years ago, but not today. The world has changed dramatically and the complexity upon which corporate leaders are challenged is significant. The old ways just don’t work in an environment that mandates that companies be nimble, innovative and adapt quickly.
The timing could not be better for Millennials to be part of the workforce as their makeup is a natural fit for a business world that requires constant evaluation of processes, procedures, products and services. Their ideas about jobs and workplaces are indeed different and also refreshing.
In a business environment where we still have companies with archaic policies like probationary periods and old style bereavement leaves, coupled with outdated parental leave programs, inflexible work schedules and performance management, maybe it’s time we give the next generation a chance. They may just be right.
Writer George Orwell may have said it best, “Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”
There is hope for the future and the upcoming generations have a wonderful opportunity to improve on today’s workplace conditions. If you are reading this column and represent Generation X or the Millennials, please don’t duplicate mistakes made by your predecessors. You can do better…much better. If you want, you can become the “greatest generation” in the history of corporate America. And that’s not something to kid around about.
By Pat Perry, The News-Herald