Leadership / Management | Organizational Development | Training & CPE

Making the most of generational differences

DisagreeAs we've seen over the past several days, there are substantial differences in the ways the "matures," the baby boomers, Generation X and the millennials approach work.

So what do we do about it?

Generational expert Cam Marston has a few ideas. For starters, he says Xers and millennials need to realize they will likely work for and respond to baby boomer bosses for the next 20 years or so. "It's bleak," he said, "but there's no way around it."

With that in mind, Marston says it's helpful for younger generations to understand a few basic truths about boomer bosses:

  1. They often determine your commitment to their workplace based on the amount of time you spend there, not by your productivity.
  2. They assume that, since you are a team member, you understand the "whatever it takes" attitude.
  3. They believe that loyalty should be to the job, the opportunity or the organization, not to the person.

Given these truths, Marston says there are a few things Xers and millennials can do to further their own causes.

  1. Prove you can do the job based on boomers' success criteria, then barter for a schedule that may better accommodate your own commitments.
  2. Play the role that boomers prescribe regarding the team and your contribution to the team. Doing so will bring you all the success you want.
  3. Identify the person from whom you can learn. Find an advocate in your workplace and ask him or her to help.

On the flip side, there are some things boomer bosses can do to improve their relationships with their younger employees. In a recent article, Marston offers boomers the following advice:

  • "Understanding that being at the job isn’t as important to millennials as completing the assigned task opens up new opportunities for motivation and reward."
  • "Boomer managers have a tendency to lose the interest of their (younger) employees by looking too far into the future. ... Tell your employees you have a plan. Take pains to ensure it is in a timeframe short enough for them to envision. Be prepared to fulfill your promise."
  • "Loyalty to the individual is the number one reason Xers and millennials stay in the job. ... So to increase retention, managers must take a flipped view on leadership. It is no longer enough to hire the right people and show them the way. Now you must BE the right person to win their affection."

And finally, writes Marston, "Don’t waste time wishing they were different. Don’t spend your energy comparing today’s youth to the desires and drive you had at age 18. These employees are not a reflection of you, nor are they an earlier version of you. ... Your task is to take this new understanding and use it to reposition how you interact with, motivate and reward your staff."


Bill Sheridan