After looking deeply at the research on generations in the workplace, I have come up with some findings that will help everyone to perform their jobs better. It seems like a new study comes out every day attempting to explain how to approach each generation of workers, what matters to them, etc. This blog is a synopsis of everything I’ve read on the topic. Note: Please read this entire post for context. Thanks!

Generations-at-Work

Boomers

This group of workers has been in the workforce the longest and often holds senior level roles. There is a significant amount of institutional and tribal knowledge locked away in the minds of these workers. It’s up to companies to help find a way to get that knowledge out to the rest of the workforce while they are still around.

Actually, who cares what they said? They’re all going to retire soon anyway. Let’s just wait them out and we won’t have to listen to them anymore.

Gen X

Simultaneously voted most likely to be annoyed at Millennials because they have it so easy and equally annoyed at Boomers because they are still holding the senior leadership slots in a death grip. Gen X is really just full of people that look for ways to use generational research as a lever to get what they want.

Need to mollify them when pursuing a change initiative? Just turn on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or another inane 80’s movie and they will subconsciously zone out.

Millennials

Voted most likely to text during a performance review, chew with their mouths open, kick your puppy, or whatever else we can say about them to make them seem like the most uncivilized humans on the planet.

In fact, why are we even allowing these monsters to stay in the workplace at all? Let’s fire them all and look for a way to survive until a better generation comes along.

Gen Z/Whatever

Let’s just give up before they even get here. Life as we know it in the business world is going to cease to exist. Good luck.

 

Note, this is completely and totally fake. I’m trying to bring some attention to the ridiculous things that people say about generations in the workplace and how divisive they can be. If you agree, share this with a coworker or friend in the industry. Bonus points if you get a photo of their reaction!

My real take on this topic? We can find ways to work with anyone, and their “generation” has less to do with it than their career or life stage. Instead of looking for things that divide us, let’s spend more time looking for common ground!

Liars. Disloyal. Prima donnas.

It’s not star athletes, folks. It’s your very own Millennial generation. So says a set of studies done in recent months surrounding the latest group of employee to hit the workplace.

I’ve debated on writing on this topic for a while, but when the latest came out about a study describing honesty as it pertains to generational boundaries, I had to jump in. I’m usually the very last person to ever talk about specific generational issues, because I really don’t believe most of the hype. However, when you’re asking a group of people to report on themselves, the results are a little more useful than the opinionated blathering of a self-proclaimed expert.

The Gap

In my opinion, the major dividing line between the generational factions up to this point hinges on what I like to call “the gap.” Here’s what I mean:

Are Millennials Team Players?

  • 60% of Millennials thought they would work well with a team
  • But 22% of HR professionals believed Millennials would make good team players

Do Millennials Have Strong Interpersonal Communication Skills?

  • 65% of Millennials responded that they relate well to others
  • 14% of HR Professionals thought that Millennials were strong communicators

Are Millennials Hard Workers?

  • 86% of Millennials identified themselves as hard workers
  • 11% of HR professionals thought Millennials would work hard

Are Millennials Able to Lead?

  • 40% of Millennials identified themselves as leaders
  • Only 9% of HR professionals believed that age group had the ability to lead

Are Millennials Loyal to Employers?

  • 82% of Millennials self-identified as being loyal to an employer
  • A mere 1% of HR professionals believed Millennials to be loyal to an employer

That’s the gap, courtesy of this study.

Now for the killer

Okay, if you only had the last set of data to go on, you can plainly see there’s a disconnect there. Now what if that was compounded by a study where Millenials admitted that they would lie to get out of a tough spot. In my profession, there are “tough” spots on a daily basis. I always assume someone is telling the truth unless they give me reason not to, but even then this type of information is stunning. To be honest, every group surveyed thought it was okay to lie to some extent, but not to the tune of 80% of the population.

A whopping 80 percent of Millennials find it acceptable to lie to avoid embarrassment, compared to 57 percent of Baby Boomers, who believe it’s OK to lie their way out of an awkward scene.

What are your thoughts? Is this limited to a specific generation, or is it more widespread? Is your organization concerned about these types of studies? Why or why not?

I recently had a conversation with a friend about some of our employees. The employees are high school students working as summer interns, and the things they do are pretty wacky by our standards.

  • One spends all her lunch-with-the-boss-as-a-new-hire time texting on her phone. No eye contact. 
  • One wears shorts so short you don’t even know if there’s anything under the blouse.
  • One keeps posting Facebook photos and messages about how great it is to work there, even though they are doing no work due to the Facebook use.

One key thing I had to do quickly was establish something: this isn’t a generational issue. It’s an age/maturity issue. These “kids” have never been taught or told what is acceptable, for the most part, so they are relying on what they know.

I’ll be speaking at HRevolution and possibly some other events this fall, and at least two of them will be focused on how to get past the generation/age thing and look at what really matters in the workplace. I’m looking forward to bringing the conversation to where it needs to be instead of the “You know those crazy Gen Y kids and their lousy work ethic” conversation/commiseration that seems to be all too common.

Any other crazy stories about young/inexperienced employees you’d like to share? Come on, it’s Friday! :-)

Old people are special. They require special treatment. You should treat them differently than the rest of your employees. They need extra care so they don’t leave. If you don’t cater to them, then you are missing out. Let me list all the ways they are different from the “rest of us” and how you should handle them from this point on…

Huh. Weird to see that spelled out, right? The strange thing for me is to consider how it’s perfectly acceptable to look at young employees and talk all about how they need special care, but it’s somehow taboo to do the complete opposite of that. Let’s cut that out, shall we? It’s annoying and serves no purpose.

People talk about the many, many faults of “Gen Y,” but they seem to forget that it’s not a generation, it’s an age group. All 20 year olds are goofs, whether the year is 1953 or 2013. More on that here.

No, seriously…

On to the real topic of today’s discussion, I was listening to a podcast the other day, and a reader had asked a question about managing new employees. The guy was looking to hire some more senior level employees, and he asked for ideas on how he should hire and manage his older staff when he was only 26 years old himself.

I’ve heard many comments on previous occasions from “experts” on how to manage that type of situation, but the comments from the speaker were the best I’ve heard yet.

His solution?

Hire for coachability.

And that’s it.

It’s not about age or experience. It’s about, as I have said numerous times before, making sure the people have the right attitude. The most experienced software engineer in the world is useless to me if nobody can work with him without having a nervous breakdown.

Let’s make a pact

I’m not interested in talking about generations in the workplace. Trying to lump everyone into one group or another is silly in most cases and illegal in some. People are individual, and each of us has our own strengths, weaknesses, needs, desires, etc.

Let’s talk about culture fit. Let’s talk about coachability. Let’s talk about attitude. When we all learn how to properly screen and hire for those attributes, then we can move on to more useless demographic-focused discussions.

Someone recently reached out to me about young professional events for SHRM chapters. A few years back I was tagged to be the Chair for the SHRM HR Young Professional Advisory Council, and I had a great time working with the rest of the YP team trying to find out ways to help chapters engage their young professional members.

By the way, if you are looking for ideas to improve your chapter (whether it’s SHRM, ASTD, etc.), here’s a great resource I pulled together a while back: Rock Your Chapter.

Here are six ideas I’ve picked up that chapter leaders can use to improve their offerings for young professionals.

Ideas for young professional events

  1. First, know what your goal is with these young professional events. Do you want to increase membership for the young professionals? Do you want to increase engagement for existing YPs? Do you want something else? Be clear on that before you start.
  2. Look for non-confrontational events/spaces to start with. Remember, these guys, for the most part, are not veterans with 10 years of experience. They’re brand new HR professionals, and the more laid-back you can make it, the better. Maybe that’s my introverted side speaking up, but it can’t hurt to be very flexible and informal, at least to get started.
  3. Target the members of your local chapter with young professionals working for them. A large number of companies have young professionals in their ranks. You should encourage their managers and leaders to allow the YPs to visit your young professional events in order to make them a more valuable employees.
  4. Offer programming for young professionals. In the research I have conducted over the past few years, it turns out that this group of HR pros wants pretty much the same types of content as someone who has been in the field for 10 years. They just need the basic foundation in each area first to feel competent enough to starting building a career on that knowledge.
  5. Using social media isn’t a necessity, but it won’t hurt, either. I’d recommend a LinkedIn group or a Facebook group. Make it private where members can ask questions in a “safe” zone without fear of looking silly or risking any credibility. If you can get some interaction on these platforms, it can go a long way toward building a sense of community for all participants.
  6. Take a look at the young professional guide. It’s free, and it shows how you can focus on the three key areas that young HR professionals want to know about (based on some research I conducted several years ago). In case you are wondering, those three areas include:
    1. How to establish credibility
    2. How to find meaningful work
    3. How to make a career path

If your chapter does anything in the way of young professional events, I’d love to hear about them. Feel free to drop a comment below.

Thanks to Michael for prompting me to write this. It took me a little time, but I hope it was worthwhile!

This keynote session at ALSHRM led by Meaghan Johnson started out as many of these “generations” speeches do. The speaker asks the audience to start listing things about Gen Y that annoy them and the crowd goes wild ranting about the worst possible example they can think of (completely dismissing the dozens of others in the same demographic without all the flaws). I was sure it was going to be a dud, but then the speaker turned it around on the audience by pointing out that the characteristics were those of a specific age group, not a generation group. Almost everyone acts like a goof when they are 20 years old, whether it’s 1950 or 2011. Don’t blame it on “Gen Y” or something else. :-)

A few other pertinent points

  • Knowledge retention-The knowledge loss of boomers leaving the workforce should be the focus for this generation stuff, not complaining about Gen Y/Gen X/Boomers or how to cope with them at work.
  • Informal knowledge-Boomers know the intricate details of how the business works. They know who to talk to to get a problem solved under the radar. They know who to avoid on Monday mornings before they’ve had their coffee. They know those things that you won’t find in any process manual or employee handbook.
  • Teach ’em tech-Boomers aren’t scared of technology. They want to know how using technology makes work or life easier, not just using technology for its own sake.
  • A touch of nostalgia-Younger generations have something very special to offer the older ones: passion. Remind them why they started working in the job/company/industry in the first place. Renew their spirit. That’s been the success story for my own blog. I started writing to reach out to other people just getting started in their own HR careers, but I was found and followed by people with senior-level experience who enjoyed seeing the profession through my own fresh perspective.

All in all, it was a great session and prompted some interesting thoughts. While I get tired of the same old “generation conversation,” this one gave a few twists that really made it valuable for me.

how to handle a young managerFor most of us, it’s not reality, but having a young supervisor is obviously a phenomenon that is fairly widespread. At first glance, I’m thinking, “Yeah! Go for it young people!” And then I realized I could be one of those who has a younger manager one day; it made me stop and think. It would be a challenge, but it’s something we may all run into at some point in our careers.

Here is the breakdown according to the SHRM website poll for the question What is your age in relation to your supervisor?:

  • I’m Older-26%
  • I’m Younger-56%
  • I’m About the Same-18%

I think the toughest one on there has to be being older than your manager. But on the flip side, it has to be stressful for a manager to step into a role with subordinates that could be twice his/her age. I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t have a wide range of managers, because great managing talent/ability is found in all sorts of individuals, no matter how many years are under their belt. Simply making the observation that this could be a friction point between a good manager and an otherwise good employee if age is lumped in.

Interesting stuff! So, where do you fall on the list? Are you older than your supervisor, younger, or about the same?