This is a look into the workplace in regard to the generational age gap between workers. The purpose is to explain the need for proper education of workplace management on the generational gaps in employees and what it entails. For this instance, millennials will be defined as individuals born in or after 1980. Millennials show confidence in roles utilizing leadership due to their mentality being greatly developed by the older generations (Cattermole, 2018). As the Baby Boomer generation is retiring out of the workforce, Millennials are now finding their way into leadership and managerial positions previously held by their older counterparts. Millennials are shown to excel in adaption, job skills, and software technologies; however, they are also shown to want praise, adulation, and accolades for their work. The body of research being collected to suggest the failure to realize the differences between the generations could lead to workplace detriments is growing; on the other hand, empirical research also shows a lack of significance in generational differences in workplace behavior (Becton, 2014).
Generations in the Workforce
Scholars noted when looking at specific observed differences between the generations, these differences might be attributed to, in part by, the current age, career stage, or even stage of life the individual is experiencing. Human development is benchmarked by the different experiences that are uniquely experienced in cognitive, emotional, and behavioral ways; henceforth, the perceived disparities among the different generations in the workforce may be attributed to the nature of the career, or even by the current stage of life the individual is in. Shared experiences such as life events, can have a much stronger or have a more pronounced effect on the individuals among a specific generation rather than all the generations as a whole. There currently are three recognized generations in the workforce: Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials.
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Baby Boomers came from a generations that was involved in World War II and thus when the war ended, a period of prosperity ensued leading to a dramatically increased generation size. Baby Boomers are often described as being believers in lifetime job employment. These individuals often would describe themselves as belonging to a specific company or corporation rather than just being employed by. Due to this ideal, this generation has much lower job mobility scores than other generations. This generation still often equates their job loyalty to job security and their success in the corporate food chain.
Generation X is different from the Baby Boomer generation because they experienced the workforce during the periods of layoffs and decreased job security no matter how loyal an employee was to the business. This generation was very low for job satisfaction ion due to the increased level of employees working outside their field and taking jobs they felt would compensate them for their time and effort. This ideology carried heavily into the millennial generation.
The millennial generation grew up in the start of the digital age. Information and newer technologies developed with this generation which henceforth gave this generation a greater access to new information and technologies that the older generations were not accustomed to. This generation also has a nickname of “trophy generation” due to the emphasis on participatory awards given to individuals at a young age for participation rather than victory within a competition. Due to this, a common stereotype given to the generation is their need for praise, accolades, and one-on-one attention in the workplace. Studies show that millennials often have good skills, job adaption, and are software savvy; however, millennials tend to be less conventional and push the envelope when it comes to status quo for workplace procedure. When limited and subjected to strict regulations, millennials find themselves feeling oppressed and limited.
Another stereotype awarded to this generation would be their lack of hardworking traits in the workplace. This could have come about from the lack of workplace loyalty millennials feel towards their places of work. Job mobility tends to be rather higher for millennials when compared to baby boomers. This generation is much more likely to look elsewhere for employment or leave their current employment if their needs are not being met in their current situation. These findings support the idea that workplace satisfaction ratings are much more important for employers of a workforce primarily composed of millennials rather than other generations
The findings of the studies done by Cattermole suggested that while generational differences still exist in many cases, the generalized stereotypes popularized are still not consistent when it comes to workplace behaviors. Cattermole’s researched focused on behaviors rather than attitudes and values which tend to be emphasized by other research. Because the findings were not indicative of any strong or largely proportional relationships between generation and workplace behavior, the study concluded with a simple word of caution to organizations. This caution was not to attempt to change too much based upon publicized stereotypes. Policy change is a costly and lengthy policy and without strong conclusive evidence, companies could be unnecessarily putting resources into something that does not deserve this amount of emphasis.
While this research does provide validity, possible factors that can skew the findings that were mentioned would be the individuals that are born more towards the cusps of the generational divisions. Those who were born within 5 years of the cusp of a new generation may end up sharing more traits that are aligned with the older generation rather than the generation they actually belong to; therefore, any of these specific individuals included in this study could be skewing the results when it comes to workplace behavior. On the same end of the spectrum, those born near the end of a generational cusp can share ideals of the successor generation. Younger millennials share many qualities of Generation Z, which is the advanced digital age and is much more out of touch with the older generations.
The workforce is in a constant state of change. While more and more millennials are joining the workforce, there are a lack of retirement from baby boomers as the median retirement age is increasing due to economic stressors. Relational to economic stressors, more millennials are being observed taking work outside of their field due to the necessity to pay off student loans; furthermore, many millennials are seen having a second more menial job to help pay bills. Due to this emphasis on career earning potential, job satisfaction is decreasing while the median education requirements for jobs is increasing.
Millennials are starting in the workforce with degrees in hand and are taught to challenge the status quo and innovate. These thoughts and ideals are not restricted to this generation; however, the baby boomer who are more accustomed to rules and regulations are struggling to manage and work with the gumption of the younger generation. On the other hand, millennials are finding it hard to work under the pressures of strict rules and guidelines when it comes to job positions that do not allow freedom of thought and expression in the workplace.
While there is an over-dramatization of the stereotypes of the different generations, there is still merit for the argument of workplaces needing educate and train supervisory positions in the handling and understanding of employees from all generations. Suggested failure to recognize the differences between them would be intergenerational conflict in the workplace, decreased value in working relationships among employees, increases in miscommunications, and decreases in workplace productivity. Scholars have found similarities in values and desires of the workers spanned across the generations; however, workplace behaviors and job mobility do differ from generation to generation.
Los Angeles County, CA already has introduced trainings for managerial workers to be educated in the topic of generational workers. Some companies are not implementing new trainings and policy to adapt to the change in workforce on the fact that when waiting long enough, all baby boomers will exit the work force and the focus that is on the conflicts between millennials and baby boomers will be over; although, as one generation exits another enters and Generation Z shares more in common with the ideals and new ideologies that millennials brought to the workforce. Knowing this, failure to implement new strategies in resolving workplace inefficiencies due to generational gaps now could lead to future struggles and detriment.
- Becton, J. B., Walker, H. J., & Jones‐Farmer, A. (2014). Generational differences in workplace behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 44(3), 175-189.
- Cattermole, G. (2018). Creating an employee engagement strategy for millennials. Strategic HR Review, 17(6), 290-294.