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Friday, December 01, 2023
With so many different generations in the workplace, it can often seem like a daunting, futile task to motivate and manage ­your ­employees. What might have galvanized your 50something reservationist might not mean as much to your 20something dispatcher. While every employee’s situation is unique, there are some commonalities amongst the various generations that can help an employer understand what makes each one tick, what drives them to do a good job, and what instances might require a little patience. In this four-part series that began in the July issue, we examine the generations currently in the workforce—Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials—and how you can best tap into their individual potential for a productive and thriving operation.

Harassment Policies Arguably the most ridiculed and dreaded generation, the Millennials are the generation we just love to hate. The “everyone wins a trophy” generation first hit my radar nearly 10 years ago as a cautionary tale, when I heard of the impending influx of over-loved toddlers about to enter the workplace. Back in July, in the initial installment of this series, I shared my own example of the first Millennial I encountered in the professional world and how I was baffled by her belief that she had earned the right to her ideal work/life balance at such a young age.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The truth is, the reason we all love to hate the Millennials is because they figured out how to live even before they entered the workforce. They are beginning their careers with a solid notion of who they are and what kind of life they want to lead, and they definitely don’t subscribe to the “live to work” philosophy of previous generations. They are looking for companies and opportunities that align with their beliefs. They want to make sure that they carve out time to live while they are young. Essentially, I believe what we are finding with this generation is that youth is no longer wasted on the young.

I sprinted out of the gates early in my career, sacrificing every part of me to succeed. I climbed the right ladders, earned lots of money, and when I reflect upon my 20s—the first decade of my adult life—I mostly remember working. I was successful in the understanding I possessed at the time, but I now realize that I sacrificed a large part of my life in exchange for advancement, stability, and security—all the things that I later learned to be finite.

Most Millennials have been told their whole lives that they are special and that they can do and be anything they want. In our depths of self-loathing, I think we want to believe that this renders them spoiled, useless, and irrelevant; however, we are instead finding this generation to be less wasteful, less entitled, more giving, and more socially aware than any recent generation we have seen. Yes, they yearn for a work/life balance, but they spend their lives wisely—in nature, in fitness, in public service, in the creative arts. They don’t define themselves by their occupation and they expand their horizons by never even thinking to box themselves in.
"They want to make sure that they carve out time to live while they are young. Essentially, I believe what we are finding with this generation is that youth is no longer wasted on the young."
If the generation of Millennials is troubling you, you only have yourself to blame: More than likely, you either raised them yourself or you raised the generation who, in turn, raised them as a reaction against their own upbringing. Either way, in the most general of terms, they were created in love. The parents of Millennials knew what it was like to be underappreciated and to sacrifice every part of yourself just to keep your head above water. Those parents knew that the things we once depended upon were no longer dependable, and they instilled self-worth and enlightened citizenship as values, rather than emphasizing the importance of towing the line and sacrificing it all just for the promise of money or advancement.

Millennials’ values vary widely from those of the Traditionalists, the Baby Boomers, and Generation X. While previous generations were driven to consume, this generation is driven to experience. They are, essentially, eschewing the “greed is good” excess of the 1980s. They are less concerned with having a big house or a nice car, and more interested in simply having a place to live and a way to get around that meets the needs of their lifestyle.

By 2020, there will be more Millennials in the workplace than any other generation. In fact, they alone will represent at least 40 percent of the workforce, and by 2030, they will represent 75 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We will need to change the way we manage people and run our companies for their benefit, and their influence will eventually impact the generations who follow in their stead.

Millennials tend to be collaborative, not overly concerned with titles, driven by values, and less likely to be chained to a specific location than previous generations. They don’t want to be at the kid’s table; they often feel like they have as much to contribute as senior management. They want to be heard, and if they aren’t, they will find plenty of other work opportunities where they can be. There may be a bit of frustration from other generations who have tended to hunker down and work their way up. While a robust organizational structure was the best way to manage people and offer career growth in the past, organizations of the future will have a flatter, more synergetic structure.

It also goes without saying that they are driven by technology. They have been immersed in it since they were young kids, and now it’s walking around with them in their pockets, so it is an extension of themselves. They will almost always look toward the technological solution as a way to make something more efficient or faster.

We joke about everyone winning a trophy, but what the Millennials ultimately learned from those experiences was the value of succeeding as a team, rather than as an individual—which, as it turns out, wasn’t really a bad lesson to learn. A group of five people giving their best to find a mutually beneficial solution will generally produce better results than one person working alone, or one person dragging four uninspired underlings toward a pale compromise.
"We joke about everyone winning a trophy, but what the Millennials ultimately learned from those experiences was the value of succeeding as a team, rather than as an individual which, as it turns out, wasn’t ­really a bad lesson to learn."
Companies wanting to attract top talent in future years will not do so with the same tools they have used or are even using today. The most appealing opportunities will be in organizations that focus on values and that recognize the importance of balance and flexibility. They will also offer opportunities to leverage world-class technology, as the Millennials have come to understand its place working hand in hand with virtually everything. Lastly, Millennials will be seeking opportunities with strong mentorship programs. Senior leaders clinging to their knowledge and experience as security will not fare well in years to come.

The values and characteristics of all the generations we have explored are a roadmap to our past and our future. With each generation, we have built upon our knowledge and understanding, and we’ve been challenged to be better as a result. If you want to know what motivates your employees, no matter what generation they represent, the best thing you can do is talk to them—and talk to them often. A culture built upon the strengths of the past and the vision of the future will weather the storms of changing economies and markets, and will thrive once the waters are calm again.   [CD0119]