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The great divide – are generational gaps a real issue at work?

October 12, 2016

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

We’ve all read article after article about the workplace generational great divide.  The Millennials tend to take quite a beating and take the brunt of most criticism and blame.  But with up to five generations working side by side in today’s workplaces, it can’t only be the Millennials causing issues.  Can it?

With a population of over 80 million, Millennials obviously have the ability to shape work culture, as past generations have.  Negative stereotypes have plagued this generation since they entered the workforce.  Among them: Millennials need constant attention, feel entitled, and don’t seem to know how to navigate basic tasks.  At this point, these are now widely considered myths.

Are there really generational tendencies that create conflict between older and younger workers?  Do Boomers and Millennials have real workplace issues?  What role do GenX’ers play in these conflicts?

ARCompany, a marketing and research agency, created a series of generational “think tanks” to explore the multi-generational workplace.  The research focused on presenting prevailing myths as well as current research to a panel comprised of 6-8 members from each generation.  Here is some of what their research revealed:

  • All three generations (Boomers, GenXers, and Millennials) prefer communicating face-to-face for important issues.  When faced with complex issues face-to-face is still preferred over phone, email, or text.  Millennials in particular made it clear that they dislike any work-related texting.
  • The greatest tension was from GenXers toward Millennials.  GenXers are feeling overlooked and under pressure as Millennials flood the workplace and earn promotions.
  • ALL generations feel the open office plan is overrated.  Millennials in particular felt that open office spaces reduce productivity.  For this reason, many of them choose to work remotely at least once per week in order to concentrate and be more productive.
  • Millennials are extremely aware of the stereotypes about their generation.  And they are not happy about it.  They strongly dislike the “everyone gets a trophy” notion that so many accuse them of.  Yes, they want to advance quickly, but they are willing to work for it. 
  • There are technology gaps at work.  The biggest gap in the workplace when it comes to technology is between Millennials and Boomers.  Millennials are digital natives and GenXers aren’t far behind.  Many Boomers accept and embrace technology, but there is a learning curve that needs to be addressed.  It isn’t second nature to them.  Employers must understand these technology gaps and solve for them.

Millennials are just as sick about hearing about themselves as we are. Too many workplaces allow or even enable talk about Millennials, which is not only against most HR policies and a form of ageism, but can be deeply destructive to a positive work environment. In the end, it will cost you productivity and profitability.  

How can organizations create solutions for this ongoing issue? Many Millennials have expressed a strong desire for better mentorship. Doing so can help foster communication between the generations. Mentoring can be a two-way street, with generations learning from each other.  Boomers and even GenXers have a lot of workplace wisdom that can be shared with Millennials anxious to grow their careers.  Support Millennials hunger for growth, don’t fault them for it.

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