May 7, 2018
Baby Boomers vs. Millennials
Broadly speaking, a generation is a group of individuals born within a given timeframe, usually 15 years or so. Someone’s year of birth is far from a perfect indicator of who they are, and doesn’t account for the impact of being born into a particular region, class, ethnicity, etc.
But it can be useful to trace some general trends among different generations. They can help give us a big-picture view of a group’s values and tendencies, especially as some workplaces include up to five different generations.
Why generational labels matter.
We can gain insight from generational differences in expectations, priorities, cultural norms, levels of education, family and housing status, employment trends, and other criteria.
Labels are broad generalizations with useful trends.
Generational trends shape products and services, as well as the modern workplace. For example, millennials tend to be more health conscious than older generations, and organizations are shaping their perks and benefits accordingly. They’re also marrying later in life, which can shift the benefits companies offer.
Fostering workplace diversity without stereotypes.
Today’s workforce is more diverse than ever, and diversity is crucial for organizations to gain a creative and competitive edge. It’s equally crucial that teams and managers consider generational differences when it comes to collaboration and communication styles, life influences, and personal priorities.
We must be careful not to fall into the trap of stereotypes or myths that cover up the fact that most of the time, generations have more in common than not. In a recent webinar about engaging five generations in one workplace, which included Workfront Chief Product and Technology Officer Steve ZoBell, industry leaders agree, “it’s not about age; it’s about mindset.”
Who are baby boomers, Generation Xers, and millennials?
According to the Pew Research Center, baby boomers and millennials are the two largest generations, respectively, and they make up the biggest percentage of our workforce. This year, millennials are expected to surpass baby boomers to become the largest living generation.
Here’s how five current generations are usually identified:
Traditionalists (the silent generation) were born between 1928 and 1945 (ages 74 to 91)
Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 (ages 55 to 73 in 2019)
Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980 (ages 39 to 54 in 2019)
Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 23 to 38 in 2019)
Generation Z was born between 1997 and 2012 (ages 7 to 22)
Two millennials can have an age difference of 15 years, giving them different family lives, priorities, financial status, and perspectives. Intergenerational understanding helps employees within the same generation as much as between generations.
How different generations perceive work.
Our 2019 State of Enterprise Work report revealed how some generational differences appear at work, along with some surprising perspectives on productivity, management, and meaningful work.
Workload and space to think.
Millennials are more likely than Gen X or baby boomers to feel “swamped” with day-to-day work that gets in the way of their future planning. They are also more likely to see a lack of workplace innovation, and desire more time to think and focus on innovation.
How we spend our time at work.
In terms of how they spend their time at work, baby boomers are most likely to say they spend a greater percentage of their week on primary job duties, as opposed to performing administrative tasks, attending both useful and wasteful meetings, handling emails, and dealing with interruptions.
What gets in the way of work.
When asked about workflow processes, millennials are almost twice as likely to say that a lack of standard workflow processes gets in the way of their work, and to say that the lack of correct prioritization is the primary cause of project delays.
Taking work personally.
While the average worker says that 61% of the work they do matters to them personally, baby boomers are the most likely to say that their work matters to them personally.
Surprisingly, millennials are more likely than baby boomers to say that they feel like their company requires them to use too many technology tools/solutions. In addition, millennials are twice as likely as baby boomers to worry that automation will cause them to lose their job.
New technology, especially automation, is the future of work. In a webinar about engaging different generations in the future workplace, Jeanne Meister says that, “Effectively managing this new generation of work automation side by side with baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and now Gen Z is really the key to dramatically increase the productivity of our knowledge workers.”
Know your people, not just their generations.
Ironically, understanding all these differences should lead managers to be more personalized with their people strategies. This means not expecting all employees to be thrilled by the same perks. Or realizing that some may thrive with flex time and some may find it overwhelming. And not assuming that all millennials are unequivocally pro-technology and automation, or that baby boomers are the biggest sticklers for workflow processes.
None of this means that you forgo standard policies and procedures, but these differences can shape and inform work expectations to make for smoother teamwork and execution.