According to the 2011 Canadian Census Report, 31.9 percent of the Canadian population falls into the Baby Boomer generation, and a further 29 percent of the same population falls within The Millennial generation category. In the past, when there was a significant imbalance, human management-related discussions were often prospective as futurists and forecasters tried to understand the possible upcoming changes in the work place when younger generations entered organizations in large numbers.
To illustrate the inevitable role reversal, I was in a young, dynamic and very fluid work environment recently that was promoting ‘Bring a Boomer to Work’ day. Needless to say, it was somewhat amusing and an interesting conversation starter. For now, the Boomers are still hanging on to senior management roles in the majority of organizations.
The reality is that the future is now. According to a generational breakdown of the US workforce (as provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) there has been a dramatic demographic shift in the past 15 years. Today, 35 percent (and growing) of the American workforce are Millennials, while 31 percent (and on the decline) are Baby Boomers. How can we extrapolate information we learn about the Millennials to facilitate a smoother transition to a work environment that is better for every generation? Can this research myth-bust our pre-existing, stereotypical attitudes?
Within the current HR landscape there is no doubt that conversation and attitudes continue to swirl around generational differences, particularly the characteristics and work habits of Generation Y/the Millennials (people born between the late 1970s and early 2000s) and the Baby Boomers (people born post-World War II between 1946 and 1964). Depending upon the level of emotional maturity or perhaps tolerance of the parties involved, it can easily flare up into heated debate.
In a Forbes article by Meghan Casserly she references author Lindsey Pollak, Getting From College to Career: The Revised Edition surrounding her commentary on the widely accepted conventions surrounding the two generations who now account for over 60 percent of the Canadian population. “One of the biggest stereotypes about Millennials is that they only want to communicate through technology.” says Pollack. In opposition of this stereotype, Baby Boomers are seen as technophobes, who are reluctant to communicate via emerging technology and have an implied preference to “sit down and discuss issues in person”.
PwC’s NextGen: A global generational study focuses on dissecting the similarities as well as the differences of these key demographic groups to facilitate the growth of better, more inclusive, corporate culture. The report deliberately highlights the strengths of Millennial workers that were surfaced by their survey. Compared to previous generations, Millennials are more:
- Technologically inclined;
- Globally focused; and
Of note, the authors point out that younger workers are no less committed to their work when compared to other generations. They are willing to work just as hard, despite a reputation that is often characterized as non-committal, lazy and entitled.
Are these needs different from other generations, or simply more vocally articulated? How can we utilize these trends and findings to elevate performance and satisfaction within the workplace?
How can we harness these strengths and realize the full potential of this generation? Some solid suggestions are offered:
- Create a flexible work culture (let people decide when, where and how they wish to contribute to the goals and mission of the organization);
- Fully leverage technology (offer a virtual option, integrate social media into how work is done);
- Increase transparency around compensation, rewards and career decisions (many prefer temporary or project arrangements to allow them to address other family or social priorities);
- Build a sense of community (the strength of common purpose, goals, strong values);
- Introduce or accelerate global mobility programs (through partnerships and assignments);
- Evaluate the impact Millennials (or any generation) may have on the strategy of the organization;
- Listen and stay connected to employees (informal conversations); and
- Remain aware that all employees are distinctly unique (generational or otherwise) and one size does not fit all.
Recall the difficulties of putting work-life balance concepts into practice and then re-visit the measures proposed above. It is hard work to re-calibrate our conceptions of power and control isn’t it?
To gauge a Millennial perspective, I suggest a quick look at a recent publication issued by AIESEC (an international leadership development organization run by youth for youth). In 2015 YouthSpeak (AIESEC International) launched the YouthSpeak Survey Millennial Insight Report to help provide much needed information to bridge the gap between youth and decision makers. In their survey, participants noted that the most influential individuals who help Millennials make career decisions include: Parents/Relatives (27 percent) and professors/tutors and university advisors (at 15 percent), showing presumably that their trust and sources of counsel in many areas falls upon the shoulders of other generations, including The Baby Boomer generation they are so often pitted against.
YouthSpeak Global Vice President Gordon Ching comments in the survey report how Millennials “will represent 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025”.
Criticisms of a particular generation and their perceived work ethic or style brings us no closer to working well together. Millennials themselves look to those who have earned their grey hair to help them assume their place in shaping the world – and then often politely requesting that they get out of the way!
I challenge all of you to connect, reach out, mentor and be a source of wisdom drawing on the lessons of your journey. Perhaps you too will earn the privilege of an invitation to ‘Bring a Boomer to Work’ day.