Along with major events, the developments in technology have impacted us enormously. The influences technological advancements have had on our lives have been huge. Each generation has had a vastly different experience because of the developments in technology that have occurred at certain ages. Technology, perhaps foremost, has impacted the way we communicate so significantly. The way people of each generation communicate has one of the greatest impacts in the workplace. We constantly hear grumblings from Silents, Boomers, and even X-ers towards Millennials and the Homeland Generation because of their ability to “communicate appropriately”. Where older generations will prefer to physically speak to another person, Millennials and the Homeland Generation will send a text, or send an email, or some sort of electronic messaging. It is faster, more efficient and less invasive than demanding someone’s attention at that very moment. The way Millennials and the Homeland Generation communicate has developed from what we were taught in school when we were growing up. We were taught to use technology, and it is what is socially acceptable among our peers. Using technology to communicate is something we have learned, just as much as the way the Silent and G.I. Generations learned to communicate by writing hand written letters and having meetings. What we have to remember, particularly in the workplace, is that each generation has its own way of communicating. Neither is necessarily better than the other. There is a time and a place for verbal, in person communication, and there is a time and a place for electronic communication. We need to teach each other the skill of communication. One thing is for sure about Boomers, X-ers, and Millennials – we are all learners. We all love to learn. But, we are also great teachers.
One thing that we sometimes lack is the patience to understand one another, and to slow down and take the time to remember why it is we communicate a little differently. Understanding this, will help reduce frustration and increase our ability to understand one another.
The importance of strong communication and empathy in the workplace really cannot be understated. We are now living in a time where we have up to four generations in the workplace. Understanding and appreciating how each person functions and communicates can greatly reduce frustration and lead to a much more understanding and successful environment. Understanding this about communication is more important for those in leadership positions, perhaps more than ever before. Having empathy, as a leader, is so vital in today’s work environment. Ask yourself, when you were twenty-something, were you an expert communicator, or an expert in your field? I am one of these twenty-somethings in the workplace that we are speaking of, and I confess, I still have a LOT to learn… and I’ll thank you for being patient and remembering this fact. For all the Millennials out there, when your parents and grandparents ask you how to use a computer, I always keep in mind that these are the people taught you how to use a spoon…
We all have differences and we all have similarities, but one thing that we know for sure – we were all twenty-somethings at one point, and the older generation felt we were all frustrating, immature and lacking basic life skills… this is not something that is new, or particular to a specific generation. A wise woman once said about the generation that succeeded hers –
“Annoying? Yes. Dangerous? No. They were simply our youthful doppelgangers who need our compassion more than anything.” – Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City.
Member Collaboration Manager
In case you missed part one of Generations with a Twist, you can read it here.
Having said all this about generations not being as different and defined in characteristics as people think, it is important to remember that…
generations are heavily influenced by their environment and the events that they have lived through. What goes on around us vastly impacts our perceptions, decisions, understanding, and our culture.
We all have that parent or grandparent who has lived through war and as a result has a heightened sensitivity to not wasting food or who never takes having enough food for granted. For those of us who have lived through economic downturn or times of great economic prosperity – this will influence our behavior and outlook. The Boomer Generation grew up through a time of great economic prosperity, which contributed significantly to the beginning of the “credit obsessed” trend in the U.S. The Boomers became well-known for being highly focused on pursuing material possessions because of the economic prosperity they experienced for much of their lives, at least until 2008.
If we think about other major events in American history – the various wars (WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Gulf, the Middle East, etc.), man landing on the moon, Pearl Harbor, the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Death of JFK, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, etc. – the events that we have lived through have and will continue to impact us all differently, depending on the age that we were when the event occurred. There are people reading this blog post who were young teens when 9/11 occurred, and there are people reading this who were in their 40s. We will have been affected by this event differently because of our age and capacity to comprehend events. The age we are when an event occurs, along with our ability to comprehend such events, shapes our opinions of the world, it shapes our culture, our views on religion, the way we view and understand international affairs and global organizations, our ability to understand alliances, our views on gender equality, etc. Regardless of when we were born, we are all products of our environments and the effects major events have on our lives and on our societies.
In an attempt to consolidate my point above, I am going to tell you the story of where I was when 9/11 occurred. I was actually eleven years old, about three months shy of my twelfth birthday. Being an Australian, I was living in a small seaside town about one and a half hours outside of Melbourne. I remember waking up in the morning (because of the time difference between our two countries, the planes hitting the World Trade Center actually occurred over night for us Down Under) and walking into my Mom’s room to say goodbye before I headed off to school. She was sitting at her computer (something she never did this this early in the morning). She called me over to show me footage of the planes hitting the towers. I didn’t think much of it at the time, I thought it looked like a scene from another action movie about hit the cinemas. I think my response to my Mom went something like this “OK. Thanks for showing me. I’m off to school.” Ten years down the road, I was now at university. Being a student of international relations and politics, all of my university text books were defined in eras. This is pretty normal as international relations and politics are closely tied to history. All of my books referred to the “pre-9/11 era” and the “post-9/11 era”. As a young adult, I was finally able to understand the gravity of what happened that day back in 2001. This event changed the world. It changed the trajectory of international affairs and foreign policy. It changed the lives of everyone, all over the world. But on the day it happened, I was eleven years old and had no idea. But at the same time, how do we expect an eleven year old to understand an event like this when the biggest thing on our minds is “am I going to pass my math test tomorrow?”
To understand one another, it is vitally important to remember age. Our age, more often than not, defines our ability to understand and comprehend things. If we defined generations by the characteristics they display as children, we would all be one giant generation of sociopaths that completely lack the ability to rationalize. Now, I’m not saying we need to go out and start treating the twenty-somethings of the workplace like children, but the next time you find yourself unable to understand someone from another generation, whether older or younger, remind yourself of their age and their experience and how best to communicate.
Check the 16% on Saturday for the final part of this three-part series!
Member Collaboration Manager
The topic of generational differences has been a hot one for quite some time. However, in this three-part series, we will take a slightly different approach to the topic. Understanding generations is now more important than ever as we currently have as many as four generations being represented in the workplace. As we look at this new perspective on the generational divide, we are going to explore the concept that generational differences are not actually as heavily based on the generation you were born in, as has originally been suggested. We are going to argue that each generation actually felt the same way about the generation that followed it, no matter which decade they were born in (or what fashion trends they embraced at the time). Each generation felt that the one that succeeded it was a generation of narcissistic, self-centered, unfocused rebels, irrespective of whether you were born in the early 1900s or if you were born in the 80s or 90s. The fact of the matter is, it’s all about the stage of life we are in. To be successful in the workplace we need to understand particular things about the different generations and learn how to communicate across the generational divide.
Before we begin, I want to add in a little disclaimer. When we talk about generations, we are talking in extreme generalizations. We are going to focus on the overall so-called “trends” of generations. So, please do not freak out or look for the exits if one of the trends that we discuss for your generation does not reflect you.
We have all had moments where we felt that younger generations are borderline sociopath. Common, admit it. The older and thus more mature generations in the workforce will always see the younger employees as immature and inexperienced. But, what do you expect? Of course those twenty-somethings are not going to have 10 years of experience, or any significant exposure to the workplace. We cannot expect the twenty somethings of the workforce to be expert communicators, or to have a strong sense of emotional intelligence, because these are skills that are learned over time.
We always feel that the youngest generation will fail to grow up. They will become the generation that failed to mature, that failed to understand what is important, and who simply do not have the ability to get their priorities straight. We are constantly gasping at the next generation’s sheer audacity and what they can get away with. But guess what? This was your generation once, and it was the generation before yours, as well. No one ever says that the youngest generation of the time will grow up to be put-together, well-rounded, worldly leaders with great communication skills. Think about it. This is what the generation before yours said about you, and I’ll put any money down to say that you have thought the same about the generation following yours.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that have been said about generations:
- “The Now Generation has become the Me Generation,”
- “The Video Generation. There they are, those preening narcissists who have to document every banal moment with their cutting-edge communications technology.”
- “…was a bunch of screw-ups: “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder… They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial… They postpone marriage because they dread divorce.”
- “…self-centered, fickle and impractical.”
- “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders, and love chatter in places of exercise. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
Now, I know what you are all thinking. Surely these must pertain to the Millennial and the Homeland Generation! Believe it or not, none of these quotes were written about the Millennials. In fact, quote number four was what Generation X said about the Boomers. Quote number five is actually from Socrates back in Ancient Greece. Let that sink in for a moment… does it really sound all that different from what we are currently saying about the most recent generations? We are all the same. What it ultimately comes down to is the stage of life we are all in and the priorities that are common to each age group. We often forget that we were there once. It’s easy to look at the younger generation and think, “what were you thinking?” “Why are you wearing that?” But remember, you were this person once!
Check the 16% on Tuesday for part two of this three-part series!
Member Collaboration Manager
Over the past 3 months, I’ve written numerous posts on employee engagement, and like me, you may be wondering: What else is possibly left to discuss? While the answer is “a great deal,” I’d like to wrap up our look into Gallup data on employee engagement with one final viewpoint: Generations.
If you were to visit one of my classrooms where the topics were coaching or managing employee performance over the past few years, you’d have thought the Millennial generation was going to be our undoing. Now, I don’t tolerate bashing of any generation, but we tend to encourage discussion and discovery about the youngest generation in our workplace because they’re the least known and most feared (and there are so many of them!). If you’re reading this Millennials, please hear me! Your slightly older and certainly wiser counterparts don’t necessarily dislike you, but they may fear you a little. Or a lot. And if my observations are correct, some are even envious. But you’re not off the hook! Many of you Millennials have a lot to learn from those of us who have been in the workforce a lot longer than you…and we have a lot to learn from you, too!
Back to the engagement topic, though. Gallup, has defined for us what an actively engaged employee is, “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” Not engaged employees are those who are emotionally checked out. They go through the motions, but their connection to the organization is faint. Actively disengaged employees are more than just “unhappy” at work. These employees undermine the organization and those around them.
The majority of Americans are not engaged (51%) or actively disengaged (17.5%), and thankfully, actively engaged (31.5%) figures remain steadily on the rise in recent years! But I’m interested to see which generation is the least engaged and which is most. Based on what I’ve heard in the classroom and seen play out in organizations I work closely with, it could be reasonably assumed that Millennials are the least engaged of all. They’re the least loyal, the most aloof, the most “just on their phones,” the ones who are “all about me.” According to older Gallup figures from 2013, that assumption is completely untrue.
Traditionalists have the highest engagement – but they make up less than 4% of the workforce today. The Millennials have a spread very similar to the national average, higher on the positive side! It’s the Boomers and Generation Xers who are less engaged. Not only are we less engaged, we’re the MOST actively disengaged. Boomers, you’re the ones we should be concerned about engaging. Maybe you’re the ones we need to harness – better. The key to engaging Boomers and Xers is to align their work and help them feel connected to the organization’s mission and values.
Interestingly, engagement is typically synonymous with retention. But with Millennials, this is less and less true. From a 2013 Gallup report,
“Despite their higher engagement levels, they are particularly prone to job hopping. Millennials are the most likely of all generations to say they will leave their company in the next 12 months if the job market improves. To increase retention among Millennials, [organizations] need to emphasize engagement and provide plenty of opportunities to learn and grow. While nearly half of actively disengaged Millennials want to find new jobs, only 17% of engaged ones do.”
While I think that the numbers are interesting, I honestly don’t think that there’s enough substance in them or what else I’ve found about generational engagement to substantiate a truly different approach to engaging people, regardless of which generation they were born into. In addition to the 4 Essentials of Engagement for Managers, provide folks development opportunities and help them connect to the big picture of your organization. To me, we all need these things, no matter how young or old-ahem-tenured we are.
If you work with people who are much older than you, or much younger, you may have experienced communication problems from time to time. I know I have found myself in this situation before. I like to collaborate and share ideas and sometimes I like coming up with new, more efficient ways of doing things if I feel an improvement is needed. Needless to say, I’ve worked with some people who did not appreciate this approach. New ideas can be perceived as a threat to a person who has done something the same way for a long time and who isn’t particularly amenable to new ways of doing things. It may make them feel as if they are becoming irrelevant because change is happening at a pace they aren’t comfortable with. They may feel that their position is in jeopardy, particularly if the new ideas are coming from a younger co-worker. While the intent may not be to alienate older, seasoned employees, these behaviors can be perceived as alienating if there has been a breakdown in communication and a lack of good leadership.
Last week we talked about managing multiple generations, specifically bridging generational skill gaps. This week, I want to talk about communication between generations. I’ve mainly focused on millennials thus far but, today, I’d like to consider Generation X’s role in the workforce as “forgotten middle child,” how this colors their perceptions of generational differences, and discuss ways we can all become better communicators and better collaborators despite these differences.
My fellow Gen Xers, we are outnumbered. Considerably. We are also worse off than our parents. We have been the victims of a tanked economy, the housing bubble, student loan debt, and the cost of sending our children to college (read this article and then cry really hard). We are just sad. Soon we will probably be working for millennials (if we aren’t already). We are already working with them. As Sharalyn Hartwell explains in the Market Watch article:
“It is ironic Generation X have been upstaged by the younger generation and left on the shelf…They were the original latchkey kids, and already feel like they were forgotten and neglected by their own parents.”
As a Gen Xer, you may have a much longer trek ahead of you to reach retirement, compared to boomers. You may also have a longer climb up the corporate ladder…and millennials are already nipping at your heels.
Why can’t we all just get along?
Boomers and millenials make up a huge chunk of the workforce. Generation X just doesn’t have the numbers on its side. In addition, the relationship between Xers and millennials can be rocky at times. Here’s why, according to a study by Robert Half International:
- Millennials feel differently about paying their dues. In fact, half of those surveyed felt that professionals should have to spend only 1-2 years paying their dues in entry level positions.
- Millennials are known for a musical chairs-like approach to their careers—they switch jobs. A LOT.
For Gen Xers, a generation that has often been obsessed with authenticity and dues-paying, the millennial approach to dues-paying can be frustrating because of the “fake it til you make it” potential there, which can result in a person with limited experience being moved into a position they may not be qualified for. It can also seem tiresome to baby boomers who have been doing their thing for a long time and pride themselves on experience. However, this same study found that many millennials actually expect to pay their dues in other ways—with advanced degrees, mainly.
As for the millennial tendency to job hop, Xers and baby boomers change jobs and careers less frequently than millennials and may consider job hopping a sign of capriciousness and lack of dedication. While job hopping can sometimes put recruiters off, there may be an upshot, according to a Forbes article: “changing jobs and getting a promotion in the process allows Gen Y employees to avoid the ‘dues paying’ that can trap workers in a painfully slow ascent up the corporate ladder.”
#Winning (at succession planning)
I recently read the book The Immense Journey by Loren Eiseley and was struck by this passage:
The door to the past is a strange door. It swings open and things pass through it but they pass in one direction only. No man can return across that threshold, though he can look down still and see the green light waver in the water weeds.
Of course, Eiseley was writing about the process of evolution but it’s an apt lens through which we can view succession planning and managing generations. If you are a good leader, you want your organization to evolve. In order for this to happen, a leader must always take an active role in the push forward. The old ways are constantly warring with the new ways. There is a constant push to innovate, but there may be just as much push-back and resistance to a culture of change. In your organization, what that may look like is the older generation butting heads with the younger generation.
Technology isn’t the only breaking point; sometimes our views on what engagement means, what equality means, and how we make those things happen are approached in different ways. As boomers retire, their years of knowledge and experience go with them. Millennials may try to supplant them before they have “paid their dues” and Gen Xers may find it difficult to work with a generation they perceive as entitled. How do we deal with these issues?
The first step in the process is to stop expecting millennials to be like us. This may be a daunting task for Gen Xers who find the millennial approach to moving up frustrating or disrespectful. You may approach innovation in a different way, or express yourself differently, or place less importance on collaborative efforts, but don’t expect your co-workers, be they younger or older, to take the same approach. We have enough in common that we can work from the commonalities and learn from our differences. We have different expectations, different experiences, and, though we all need those basic motivators that Daniel Pink mentions—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—we may reach these motivational goals in different ways.
It is of the utmost importance to bridge gaps in communication and in understanding through mentoring, training, and collaboration between the generations. The success of your organization depends on it. Convey your mission regularly and consistently and always consider the unique things that each generation can bring to the table: the experience of the boomer, the flexibility and stick–to–itiveness of the Gen Xer, and the adaptability and cultural awareness of the millennial.
Last week we talked about what millennials look for in jobs and what they require for engagement. We looked at some of the ways they are different from Generation X (my generation) and baby boomers, who they will outnumber shortly. Some of you may have read last week’s post and thought, “Oh great. Another blog post about millenials. This topic is soooo tired.”
But, please, allow me to belabor the point a bit longer. This is a topic managers need to pay attention to because they need to be proactive in how they address future changes in their organizations. Boomers and Gen Xers are still trying to acclimate to the influx of millennials in some fields and learning more about how they will handle management roles can help us with succession planning. As boomers retire, millennials will be moving more into supervisory positions but, according to studies, there are some skill gaps that must be addressed before we can expect a successful transition in management.
(You may be asking “But what about Xers? When are THEY going to get those supervisory positions?” We’ll get to the plight of the poor, maligned, and outnumbered Gen Xers another time. For now, let’s consider skill gaps.)
Mind the gaps
According to “Multi-Generational Training in the Public Sector,” a survey by CPS HR Consulting, millennial participants described themselves thusly:
- I value balance and teamwork.
- I am sociable and like collaboration.
- I am resilient to change.
- I value diversity and inclusion.
- I like to be challenged.
- I like flexible working hours.
- I like to learn new things and see a career as a learning environment for self-fulfillment.
- I would rather send an e-mail or text message than pick up the phone.
- I like positive reinforcement and feedback that is direct, respectable, and goal-focused.
The survey revealed that millennials lack skills in the areas of customer service, oral communication, and critical thinking. They also, like their boomer and Xer elders, lack skills in the areas of conflict management, stress management, change management, written communication, and time management. Millennials and Xers both have trouble with supervision and leadership. How do we address these gaps?
Bridging skill gaps
Different generations have different learning styles and process information in different ways. Boomers can help bridge the supervision and leadership skill gaps by conveying their knowledge and offering advice through mentoring and collaboration efforts but other approaches may be needed for the other deficiencies. The CPS survey suggests that in-class and online training may be the key to addressing each generation’s learning needs. :
This can be in-class training or online, or a hybrid of the two. In-class training remains the most effective method across all age groups. Millennials are very comfortable with technology which expands their options when it comes to training delivery: self-paced online training is almost as effective as in-class training for this group, and Millennials also fared better in remote/virtual live training.
The importance of mentoring and coaching between the generations cannot be stressed enough but training should be considered a necessary component of employee development in all organizations. One of the great things about millennials is that they are highly adaptable and, due to their comfort level with technology and openness to coaching and mentoring, there are many options for training them. Gen Xers can also benefit from various forms of training but HR, like marketers and the media, may be less inclined to acknowledge them as a unique subset of the population with their own unique learning needs and skill gaps (we will look into this more in a future post).
When managing multiple generations, understand that you are working with a diverse set of skills and that your employees will be working at different levels of proficiency in certain areas. Also understand that it is possible to improve job skills and facilitate engagement through training, coaching, and mentoring. Most importantly, be aware of the possibilities that collaboration can offer your organization when you have a multi-generational workforce with a diverse set of experiences.
Next week, we will focus our attention on the plight of Generation X, consider issues that can cause communication problems between the generations, and look at ways to deal with these issues.
One of my recent work-related research topics is the recruitment and management of millennials. If you’ve been on the Internet in the past few years, you know there is no shortage of articles and blog posts dedicated to this subject. New ones are churned out hourly. Millennials are a big deal for marketers, recruiters, and managers. They offer so many opportunities for growth and innovation but they are like strange little beings fallen to Earth whose behaviors we must study, so that we can learn to harness their awesome powers of adaptability, social connectivity skills, and knack for figuring out techy things like the iPods and the Tumblr. Or so some of the articles say. Really, millennials aren’t that strange and, in many ways, they aren’t that different from their predecessors—but they do have different expectations for job engagement and job satisfaction that hiring managers should be aware of.
Millennials are often discussed in relation to baby boomers and Generation X. The start and end dates of these categories are a bit fuzzy at times. By some accounts, I’m a millennial, but by most of the others I’ve read, I’m an Xer. I tend to think of myself as an Xer and will, for the sake of this blog, keep myself in that category.
You may wonder, as I often have, why we need these categories. Aren’t we living in a post-category society yet? On the great space-time continuum, aren’t we all just a cluster of specks seeking employment, food, shelter, the usual, in much the same way? However, after spending some time researching this topic, I began to see that there are valid reasons for the amount of time spent analyzing millennial needs and behaviors: Organizations have finally realized that the future is a thing you have to plan for.
The current near-obsessive interest in millennials has everything to do with succession planning. What is succession planning exactly?
Succession planning is a process whereby an organization ensures that employees are recruited and developed to fill each key role within the company. Through your succession planning process, you recruit superior employees, develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities, and prepare them for advancement or promotion into ever more challenging roles.
Actively pursuing succession planning ensures that employees are constantly developed to fill each needed role. As your organization expands, loses key employees, provides promotional opportunities, and increases sales, your succession planning guarantees that you have employees on hand ready and waiting to fill new roles.
It’s sad to think that we will move on, retire, be cryogenically frozen, move to off-world colonies or whatever in the future but it’s inevitable. If we care about the future success of our organizations, we have to instill our mission and values in our future leaders: millennials. (Don’t panic).
Millennials are already well-established in all the fields. Also, there’s A LOT OF THEM. They are working with people who are their parents’ age, or older in some cases. One study I read claimed that 12% of employed personnel are over 60. This number shocked me, or would have, if I hadn’t noticed this happening within my own field years ago.
My field, information science (or library science, depending on which side of that debate you fall on) is full of millennials now. But it’s also full of Xers. And baby boomers. The rash of retirements that was predicted when I first entered the field? Well, those didn’t happen so much. The good news is, we have such a wide variety and wealth of experience spread across the generations in our profession. The bad news is, there is sometimes tension between the older “conservators” and the younger “innovators” and a sometimes daunting technology gap. We need the knowledge the experienced conservators have and the creativity of the young, fresh innovators—and all of us need to be tech savvy. What I mean by tech savvy isn’t a near-genius level understanding of computer science and Jedi-like coding skills but a willingness to learn and adapt to new technologies. Millennials are extremely adaptable and willing to learn new things. Xers and boomers take note: millennials may be able to teach us how to be better at this.
Studies indicate (as does personal experience) that Boomers and Xers are slower, and more reluctant, to change because change can be threatening and learning new ways of doing a thing can be difficult; there can also be a perception that change doesn’t always lead to something better. Millennials are less cautious about embracing change. They are also better than my generation at working in teams, value the collaboration process, and see a career as a learning environment for self-fulfillment. (see the CPS Report, “HR Survey Series: Multi-Generational Training in the Public Sector”). They want to work in organizations that will provide opportunities for them to utilize these skills.
As Heather mentioned in her blog yesterday, we look for certain characteristics in a good boss: “An ideal boss is pleasant, approachable, understanding, caring, serves as an adviser and supporter, is flexible and open-minded, respects, values and appreciates employees, and has good management skills.” Millennials value these characteristics but also seek out opportunities in their jobs to make a difference in the world (as Daniel Pink has told us, this is one of the keys to engagement) and want to work in a diverse environment—their ideal manager will share these values.
An awareness of these differences and expectations is necessary for successful succession planning. In order to achieve a smooth transition to new leadership, it is important to consider not only the new wonderful things millennials bring to the table but also consider possible skill gaps, gaps in communication between generations, and how we can bridge those gaps. These are things we will look at next week.