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Generational Divide in the Workplace: Fact or Fiction

Generational Divide in the Workplace: Fact or Fiction

By Gillian Leithman

Some call it the generational divide while others refer to it as the generational chasm.

Whatever you call today’s multigenerational workforce, chances are you are focused on our generational differences.

Gen Y, born between 1982 and 2002, also referred to as the millennials, are often thought of as entitled, lazy, attached to their technological gadgets and in need of constant feedback and recognition.

The baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are regarded as technophobes, selfish, unadventurous and disinterested in learning new things.

To say it mildly these are gross generalizations.

Such stereotypes are often exaggerated negative attempts at pitting one generation against the other. But more importantly, these generalizations cloud our judgment and may result in the generations avoiding one another at work, which only serves to reinforce and perpetuate these misguided beliefs.

I teach soft skills in a business school to (mostly) millennials. However my training and expertise focuses on aging at work and the boomer generation. When I am not in the classroom, I am often in a boardroom facilitating a seminar or workshop on pre-retirement planning, intergenerational knowledge transfer, or professional business skills.

What I have come to understand about these two different audiences is that they want very similar things.

In fact research indicates that the boomers and millennials are much more similar than they are different.

This so called generational divide applies to generation X who tends to differ in both attitude and behaviour from their boomer and millennial counterparts.

There is speculation that it may have to do with life stage.

While the Xers are busy paying down mortgages and raising young children, the Boomers and Millennials are freer to pursue interests outside of work and may have more time to devote to causes close to their heart.

The Boomers and the Millennials however, share quite a few similarities.

Here are just three of these similarities and what’s interesting is that the desires of these two age groups differ from the traditional financial incentives.

1. Rethink organizational rewards

Believe it or not, cash is no longer king. To be clear, no one is disputing the importance of money. However, these two generations hold other forms of workplace rewards just as important as pay. Being part of a great team, challenging tasks, exposure to novel opportunities, appreciation and feedback.

In a knowledge economy firms compete on the caliber of employees they can attract and retain. Employers who can provide these benefits will be advantaged.

2. Balance and flexibility

While these two generations are at different life phases, they both share a desire to pursue a life outside of work. Many older workers want to pursue interests they never had time to nurture, and working remotely allows them the flexibility to do so. Millennials too desire flexible work arrangements. They maintain that workplace flexibility motivates them to give 110 percent. Both generations indicate that they would be satisfied working from home even one day a week.

3. Opportunities for meaningful contribution

Both Millennials and Boomers want to work for companies who give back. They either want to be associated with firms that provide financial contributions to causes they deem worthy, or they want time off to volunteer for causes that are close to their heart. Indeed, research indicates that when we assist others we in turn experience what scientists refer to as “the helper’s high.” What better way to contribute to employee well-being than to support their desire to give back?

How is your firm rewarding employees?

We are living in exciting times.

Boomers and Millennials are motivated by a host of rewards that require organizations to rethink their value propositions. Those who align their offers with the values of these two generations are sure to reap positive financial and cultural rewards.

Focus your attention on similarities

It is easy to focus on characteristics that separate one group of people from another. Race, gender, and age are visible traits that we use to highlight what makes us different. This type of thinking alienates one from the other. We stay in our respective corners and are loyal to our misguided beliefs never really knowing if in fact that boomer is actually a technophobe, or if the millennial down the hall is entitled.

What I have come to realize is that if you want to search for differences you will find them. And when you to choose to focus on similarities you will find those too.

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Gillian Leithman, BA, MSc, Ph.D. is the founder of Rewire to Retire™. A company devoted to helping people position themselves for third age success by using cutting edge research from the field of Psychology, Management and Neuroscience.
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