Millennials vs. GenX vs. Boomers: How To Avoid A Workplace Generation War

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Generations don’t actually exist.

The lines that divide them are arbitrary, as pointed out in comedian Adam Conover’s hilarious presentation about the myth of the millennial.

millennials vs. boomers

That said, there are still cultural norms and trends in the workplace that change over time. And the office culture in place when you’re young is likely to be the one you carry with you. That means different age groups tend to have different values and priorities in the workplace.

So how do you manage an age-diverse workforce in a way that makes everyone happy?

Keep in mind these important details about what different groups want in the workplace to improve your employee experience across the age board.

Baby Boomers

Even though they’re beginning to retire (at a rate of roughly four million yearly), Baby Boomers still make up a hefty 29% of the workforce. That’s nothing to sneeze at, especially as some boomers rejoin jobs after retirement or prove reluctant to retire at all.

Boomers have a reputation for being bad at technology, but in reality they want tech training, and do just fine once they have it. Boomers care about their companies and nearly half (46%) are motivated largely by having a sense of purpose at work. Boomers do great with teamwork (a characteristic seen in 56% of the generation) and collaboration, and are in a prime spot for leadership.

The best way to help your baby boomer employees is to take advantage of their team attitude. Set them up with leadership positions, like a mentorship program to benefit employees of all ages.To combat the tech-illiterate stereotype, continued workplace learning is your best bet.

GenX

Ah GenX. That nebulous, oft-forgotten generation that bridges the gap between Boomers and Millennials. Tempting as it can be to do some shuffling to favor the majorities, lumping GenX in with one side or another is a mistake. They’re a unique group with their own workplace needs and desires.

The denizens of GenX are grown, but still young. They’re not digital natives, but they’re still tech savvy. They’re seen as being entrepreneurial, adaptable (49%) and great at collaboration (54%). They want to learn more job skills so that they can stay competitive and keep growing in the workplace. They want structure, but they highly value a work/life balance.

That work/life balance might be one of the most important factors, and it’s a place where you can make a huge difference. Keep your GenX-ers happy by making sure your benefits are in line with what they need.

How? There are plenty of ways, among them allowing for flexible hours to encourage that work/life balance and giving employees plenty of chances to receive on-the-job training to get ahead in their careers.

If it feels like a lot to handle, there’s software for that.

Millennials

What do millennials love? They want a workplace that aligns with their values, with a solid 94% wanting their skills to be used for good causes. They want workplace flexibility and the ability to sustain a good work/life balance. They also crave continual, ongoing feedback to help them progress more effectively, wanting 50% more feedback than employees of other generations.

In HR you might not be able to do much about making sure the entire company goes green or that its values align with exactly what your millennial applicants want. But you do have a lot of control over feedback. The yearly performance review is not going to be enough for millennials. Instead, look for ways to give them constant feedback. One way to do this is to have a more advanced performance appraisal system, something that allows for a shorter time between check-ins, and gives both you and your employees the ability to track their performance in the meantime.

You could also consider a gamifying parts of the job. Can you add a leaderboard to your sales tracking? How about adding some objective badges employees can collect for reaching goals? You have tons of options, and gamification is a strong form of micro-appraisal that allows employees to track their own performance in real time.

Stop thinking ages, start thinking people

The most important thing to remember is that while generations may have their cultural trends and traits, you can’t see a single person as a representative for an entire generation. You shouldn’t rely on blanket assumptions and stereotypes to do your thinking for you. And you never want to confuse a generational stereotype with personal character flaws. (Is your employee lazy because he’s a millennial or because he’s just not that great at his job?)

But as long as you keep those things in mind, you can use generational trends to be a better, more flexible manager for your workforce.
Do you have other tips for managing a multi-generational office? Do you think these age stereotypes have value, or are they complete bunk? Let me know in the comments below. And if you’ve fond a software that lets you manage all ages, review it here.

Looking for Talent Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Talent Management software solutions.

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Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen is a former Capterra analyst.

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