One in four Americans is a millennial, which puts their numbers at over 83 million. This means that the generation with the most people in the United States, all 83 million of them, are of the age where the time has come for them to work for a living. This in turn means that there are more workers from this generation than any other.
However, this has not been a seamless transition, as most of the workforce that historically would be vacating the positions that the next generation occupies has not done so. Modern times have made it more difficult to save money, and so the previous generation is working longer. This creates a largely unprecedented mix of age groups in the workplace, and with this mix, a new batch of issues for employers to deal with. We’ll examine this situation to find a few methods to help you keep friction between generations from affecting your workplace environment.
How Millennials Have Changed the Workplace
As millennials have aged and entered the workforce, there has been a change in what companies do, as well as how they go about doing it. Millennials have also brought a new philosophy to the workplace in regard to how their job factors into their life. This philosophy has been described as “The Millennial Mindset,” and businesses are beginning to pay attention.
Boiled down, the Millennial Mindset is an approach that prioritizes and focuses upon workplace innovation and flexibility, collaboration and connection, and--above all--transparency. This approach can lead to issues with the generations that came before them, who have conditioned themselves instead to follow routine and just get the job done. This clash is often the foundation of friction in the workplace, as the two approaches seem to be completely incompatible. Furthermore, since millennials have grown up practically immersed in technology, they have a comfort level with it and expect to use it. Comparatively, other generations grew up without the technology that is used today and have had to adapt to it, frequently opting to eschew it if they can.
Millennial workers also like to have flexibility in their work, using their technology to enable them to work remotely, when it fits into their schedules. Despite a tendency to turn off potential mentors, they wish to learn from those that came before them. They also seek autonomy and self-governance where their work is concerned, and are eager to raise through the ranks. If they don’t feel that their work situation is enabling them to contribute or grow, they will not hesitate to seek out employment elsewhere as a means of advancement.
Of course, this isn’t difficult for them to do, as skill with using technology is a highly sought-after attribute.
Is this Really Such a Big Problem?
Of course, tension between generations is not a new phenomenon. The new generation develops its own way of approaching the world, defying the norms of the older generation, only to someday become the older generation and have their approaches abandoned by those who came next--and the cycle repeats. This tendency is largely due to the trend for a younger generation to be more ready to accept change than their elders are--as we can see now, with a business’ reliance on technology serving as a catalyst for tension.
Workers from previous generations are turned off by a millennial’s perceivably self-centered mannerisms, even if these mannerisms come from faith in their work and their abilities. Gen-Xers are able to empathize with a millennial worker a little bit more than a baby boomer would, but also have a much more skeptical view of the world and other people.
You may find that, of all the problems that influence your workforce, misaligned communications are a major player. Human resource consultant firm Robert Half conducted a study that posed the question “In which one of the following areas do you see the greatest differences among your company’s employees who are from different generations?” to management. The responses from the managers speak for themselves:
- “Communication skills” - 30%
- “Adapting to change”- 26%
- “Technical skills” - 23%
- “Cross-departmental collaboration” - 14%
- “None” - 7%
So, if you find that communication (or a lack of) is the primary problem among your employees, you certainly aren’t alone.
In order to keep a cohesive and collaborative office environment, you need to take two considerable actions. First, you need to view your workforce through the one thing they all share in common: the fact that each team member is a person you’ve tasked with working alongside other people to achieve a common goal. Therefore, it is good to plan out a strategy that allows you to keep each member as satisfied and motivated as possible. This can be accomplished with the tools that you have to use, including raises, increased time off, flexible scheduling, and others.
The second step can be divided into four key parts that you need to fulfill. These parts can be described as:
- Establish what generations are represented in your office - This will help you understand their priorities and the tendencies they will likely present. The baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, Generation X between 1965 and 1980, and millennials from that point until the new millennium in 2000.
- Leverage the talents each group has - By using the skills each generation possesses to your advantage, you can reduce the amount of potential conflict. If everyone is able to contribute to the success of the business, positivity is a much more likely outcome.
- Adjust your management style to each generation - Different generations will respond differently to various approaches to management. Making slight adjustments may be necessary in order for your staff to respond positively.
- Ignore generational stereotypes, focus on merits - A lot of the conflict you could potentially see between your employees of differing generations could be the result of presumptions and prejudices (the workaholic baby boomer or the entitled millennial). Try to endorse a focus on the positives that each group brings to the table, rather than amplifying the conflict-causing negatives.
Following these two steps and all their parts will show your staff members that you want to provide each of them with what they are looking for from their workplace. As another effect, you may also be able to identify who is a good candidate for greater responsibilities, and who may be holding the rest of the team back.
How big of a deal do you think intergenerational conflict is in the workplace? Has it held your business back at all, or has it been hardly noticeable? Leave your input in the comments section.