Generational Generalizations

By: MarkWeaver Monday August 17, 2015 comments

I have this 19 year old son who likes to quip that when his old man was a teenager surfing in Florida, there was no sand on the beach. Only rocks. Erosion hadn’t created sand yet. So when I talk about what life was like when I entered the professional workplace, let’s just say it wasn’t yesterday.

When I entered the workforce in the early 80s, we were toward the end of the Baby Boomer generation. That meant that there were a whole LOT of older baby boomers already in the workforce for 15 or so years, and a bunch of people even older. And even more traditional. Here’s what I remember all of them saying about those of us who were my age back then:

• “They don’t dress as professionally as we do.”
• “They are more concerned about social issues and less about corporate life than we are.”
• “They want to move up and get ahead, long before they have paid their dues like we had to.”
• “They want more time off than they should be able to get as new employees.”
• “They must not care as much about their career as we did.”
• “They don’t have our work ethic.”

Sound familiar? Similar things are being said now about Millennials. Similar things were said when Gen X arrived. Similar things have been said about young adults all throughout time going back to quotes from Aristotle.

When you hire recent grads who are stepping in to their first professional position, there are some things you should realize and do:

1. Look inside. Hair, clothing, tattoos, fingernail colors – all of that is external stuff. It says nothing about work ethic, customer service, integrity, or potential. If you let externals define your opinion, you will fail to see the potential, and then fail to challenge that potential.

2. Listen to their heart. Passion makes the world go round. Stifle that, and you will create a bored and probably entitled employee. Harness it, encourage it, challenge it, and direct it, and you will have a team member who believes you get it. And as you do, it will energize you.

3. Keep your eyes open. People don’t stay on the job very long these days. Don’t lament turnover; embrace it. Look for the right opportunity for your people, inside your organization or out. Structure things so that it doesn’t kill you when people leave. Then celebrate with them when they have a good opportunity. Don’t burn bridges; you may get them back.

4. Reconsider Time Off Benefits. Of course younger employees want more time off! They’ve been in the educational system all their lives where they got lots of time off. Now we want to give them 2 weeks? What is the business case for time off benefits that favor seniority? If long-term employees are the most productive and retaining them is priority, the traditional policy makes sense. If new employees are the most productive and attracting them is priority, the traditional approach is totally upside down. Doing what everyone else is doing isn’t a great business strategy.

5. Talk with them. The only way to know how much they care about their career is to engage in some meaningful dialogue. Don’t assume you can screen what they must mean by their approach, based on what it would mean if you took that approach. Ask questions and listen. Position yourself as someone interested in their career – as a mentor – and you will add value that will be returned.

6. Challenge them. If you want to see work ethic, show them that you value them for their ideas, solutions, and brain, rather than their ability to check off a task. They want to contribute to something meaningful and bigger than themselves. Give them an end result without dictating the means. They may have faster, better, cheaper, cleaner ways of getting the result you need.

Much of what is said of Millennials today is pretty similar to what was said to generations before them. Millennials aren’t really all that different; they’re just young. We all were too once. But if we forget how ineffective many old people were when we were young, we'll be in danger of becoming the same kind of old people. History has this way of repeating itself. Maybe that explains comb-overs.

About the Author: MarkWeaver


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