Generational theories are commonplace in today’s working world, as workplaces fast approach the tipping point of the divide between Millennials (or Generation Y – commonly agreed to be ages 20-29) and Baby Boomers (ages 55-64). This divide affects the workplace in terms of competition for internal promotions as well as the candidate market for vacancies. To understand the potential for conflict, consider that this tipping point means two members from the same family are potentially able to apply and compete for the same job. Father and son; mother and daughter, the comparative ages spell out family-style clashing dynamics developing in workplaces.
But who has it worse; which generation has the biggest struggle? In other words, who do employers place more value in? It’s a tie, with multi-levelled arguments for both sides.
To understand generational differences, it must be understood how each generation is said to prefer to work. For example, Gen Y will turn to ‘the cloud’ and social media to share ideas and attend virtual meeting whereas Boomers prefer to arrange scheduled meetings in board rooms. Millennials want more flexibility and “me” time in the workplace, a casual dress code, plus consistent feedback and career guidance from managers. Boomers see more hierarchical work structures with reduced flexibility and an emphasis on experience alluding to increased authority over others.
Salary is of lesser importance to Millennials, with the preference to do jobs they enjoy at the sacrifice of a higher wage. Gen Y wants transparency, to be in the loop when it comes to a company’s goals and to see their innovative ideas contributing to achieving those goals.
But do the stereotypes precede the reality? Generational theories can be seen to pigeon hole, and by no means is it impossible to see a Boomer with an outlook very similar to a Millennial. Whether inaccurate or not, accommodating for this shift in employees’ priorities is a necessary move to prepare yourself for the future and increase retention levels.
From an employer’s perspective, is it fair to believe that loss of work or rejection is tougher on older workers, worse for their general health and well-being and will result in it being much tougher to re-enter the workforce once excluded for a certain amount of time? Is there reluctance from employers to invest time and money training older workers, as younger workers simply have more time to offer the business (to recoup the investment) before retirement? Or is it also justified to believe that Boomers offer more in terms of loyalty, as recent reports suggest that today’s students will have 10-14 jobs before their 38th birthday.
Could it not be argued that it is the “stage of life” that is accountable for these differences? Will the Gen Y workforce’s priorities shift away from taking every opportunity once they begin to approach middle age? Most likely not, the main basis for generational theory is the cultural experiences the generation witnesses as their life progresses. No doubt the Boomer experience differs considerably from Gen Y thus far, hence the stark contrasts.
To address the generational divide in the workplace, the key point for employers to understand is that Millennial employees will never become Boomers and that they do not work in the same way. The difference in wants, in needs and in motivational factors will remain with this generation until they retire.
With this in mind, the best step is to evaluate your workplace structures and initiatives and adjust them in ways that are designed to address their needs. This means acknowledging that Millennials are driven by emotional processes, giving meaning to a role, purpose and opportunities for training and self-development, as well as the potential for flexibility will make work more appealing for this nearly dominant generation. There is no money driver here; the incentives that you need to realign should be driven towards increasing engagement levels as well as flexibility and a healthy work/life balance.
Mark is the General Manager of Power2Motivate APAC, delivering world class employee recognition and B2B loyalty programs to a wide range of clients.
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