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Chapter 10

Confronting Generational Differences

As Baby Boomers and Gen Xers begin to exit the workforce, Millennials are taking their place and bringing new and varied sets of challenges to the workplace.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Baby Boomers became the largest generation ever to exist in the U.S.; as a result, they transformed the workplace. Today, the Millennial generation is poised to make a similar impact. It’s imperative for talent organizations to adjust their recruitment and retention strategies in order to keep up with today’s labor market.

In January 2015, Millennials became the largest share of the U.S. workforce; today, an estimated 53.5 million American workers belong to the Millennial generation.

Millennials have a very different set of values and drivers than their Baby Boomer and Gen X predecessors. By comparison they love to travel, they’re more adventurous, and their comfort with the internet and the digital age makes it easy for them to quickly become informed on a variety of topics.

While Millennials enjoy bonding with their colleagues over happy hour and other social activities, intergenerational mixing doesn’t come naturally—and many employers see a workforce that is divided by generation. This may seem trivial, but socializing in and out of work helps build strong teams that work together more efficiently, recognize problems sooner, and operate more effectively.

It isn’t business as usual, and if we don’t figure out those differences in the generations of the workforce, we’ll lose them.

Kim Day, CEO, Denver International Airport

With today’s Baby Boomers and Gen Xers beginning to age out, it’s imperative for them to foster strong working relationships with their Millennial counterparts in order to pass on their knowledge, skills and experience to the younger generation.

There is a true grit that you get only through doing the work, and we need to enable communication between the seasoned and newer employees.

Kathleen Quinn Votaw, CEO, TalenTrust

Colorado executives say that Millennials want to move up the ranks faster than their predecessors. While some may call that entitlement, it’s simply a different approach to engagement—and companies need to learn how to manage those expectations or risk losing employees.

Millennials are uncomfortable with rigidly hierarchical corporate structures, and can grow frustrated with tenure-driven workplaces. Millennials grow up with a strong sense of themselves as unique individuals, and they want opportunities to progress at their own pace and based on their own merit. 52 percent of Millennials say that career progression is the most important thing they look for in an employer—topping even salary.

Generally, Millennials have room for improvement in soft skills, where they lag earlier generations by comparison. Many employers have found it necessary to offer training in core competencies of the workplace: how to speak, what to wear, and how to use technology appropriately for business. Etiquette dinners are popular at colleges to help students learn to network and interact with colleagues.

In today’s business world, effectively managing generational differences can make or break a company. Businesses and workers who are trained in related best practices (either via formal training or through self-study) have a major leg up on those who don’t recognize generational differences and can’t adapt their behavior accordingly.