Category Archives: Generations


Coworker preferences – where gender and generation collide

In December, the Pew Research Center released the results of a snap survey that asked whether individuals preferred to work with male or female co-workers. Whether politically correct or simply honest, the overwhelming majority (77%) expressed no preference. However, of those that did express a preference, males and females both stated a preference for working with males. But then they dug deeper and analyzed the responses by generation…

Interestingly, the survey indicated that Millennials are “significantly less likely to prefer working with male coworkers than other generations.” And Millennial men are nearly twice as likely to prefer working with mostly women than Millennial women.

Admittedly, this was a very simplistic survey – asking only three questions about personal preference and the perceived preference of others – yet I still find it intriguing that the youngest men in the workforce are the most interested in working with women. The survey doesn’t indicate whether that preference is for female peers (Millennial women) or all women (female bosses over male bosses), so the theories on why this could be are far ranging and could build on every gender stereotype known to man. But is there something inherently different with this generation, or is it simply an issue of age? I did not find any similar reports from previous generations, so for now we’ll just have to surmise. What are your thoughts?


Who’s the boss? Or rather, who wants to be the boss?

That’s the question the Pew Research Center asked recently. And the answer is, the kids. Millennials want to be the boss, Gen Xers are split, and Boomers say, no thanks. More scientifically, 32% of Boomer, 58% of Gen Xers and 70% of Millennials males (and 21%, 41% and 61%, respectively for females) want to be the boss.

That may or may not come as a surprise to you. Often those with the least power are most hungry for it, and those in power better understand the burden. So, from a generational and age perspective it makes sense that the youngest workers are most eager to become the boss. But what does that really mean? 

If you apply what we know about each generation – Millennials’ desire for independence and self-reliace, Gen Xers wish to better balance personal and professional achievement – it may be that there is a slightly different definition of “boss” at play. Does the younger generation want to be the boss of others?  Or just the boss of themselves? 


Millennial (not just Boomer) demands are creating new business opportunities

Aging Baby Boomers who don’t want to take on the typical retirement stereotypes have created demand for new businesses aimed at helping them address their AARP years in a whole new way. On the flip side of business, some Millennials are recognizing that their unique way of navigating the workforce demands some new ways of looking at business. Dan Friedman, the millennial founder of one such business, Thinkful, recently shared his perspective in Business Insider. In an nutshell, Friedman proposes that the loss of expectations for meaningful employee-employer loyalty has created a professional learning gap for today’s young workers. More companies are offering less professional development because employees don’t stay around long enough for it to be considered a good investment.

Friedman’s solution is to create a non-collegiate learning platform that allows young professionals to get the workplace development they want on their terms, regardless of employer involvement. Which, when you think about it, a very Millennial approach:  my way, right away, for my benefit. And it would be easy to get cynical about that, except for that pesky truth about diminished professional development at many companies and the incredibly shrinking tenure.

In the chicken-egg discussion that is generations in the workplace one might ask whether such a solution is only fueling the problem, but that isn’t going to get you very far. The more interesting discussion, in my view, is this: what other businesses may develop in response to changing demands from this youngest workforce?  So much attention is paid to what the Boomers may need (and they tend to have the finances to support entrepreneurs, so this makes sense), but their offspring have some high needs, too. Kudos to Friedman for seeing a distinct trend and creating a business opportunity for himself that may well be an opportunity for business overall.   

Believe it or not, your employees want to be engaged in their work

As much as it is maligned, the whole concept of “go out and find a job that makes you happy” may not be such a bad thing after all.  Yes, it is possible that seeking happiness may make a person perpetually dissatisfied, as if there is always likely to be something better around the next bend.  However, there are layers of happiness that can come with simple things, such as career accomplishments.  And it seems this is where some companies are missing the boat.

In a recent Workplace Insights study by Accounting Principals, hiring managers shared that while they know more employees leave to pursue professional development opportunities (26 percent) as they do salary increases (21 percent), they are more willing to negotiate salary (39 percent) than to discuss career development (14 percent).  And yet 25 percent are kept up at night thinking about recruitment.

On the surface, the logic seems awfully clear:

  • Employees value career development ahead of salary and are willing to leave to learn.
  • Recruiting is a pain point for companies and is more expensive than retaining good employees.
  • Clear career development programs could increase engagement and retention, thereby minimizing recruitment needs.

And yet the go-to negotiation is salary. That’s the old way. Today’s workers want to be engaged.  They want to feel empowered.  And they want to grow – all of this can be used to your advantage as a business owner or manager.  Spend the time to understand what your employees want to learn and how they see their careers advancing.  Then make sure the mechanism exists to help them achieve that goal. The result will be interested, engaged and better-skilled employees who are creating the jobs that make them happy.

Generational differences must be accommodated to ensure optimal employee engagement

A new survey by Ceridian, reported in MarketWatch, highlights the changing expectations and desires of the different generations in the workplace.  The results demonstrate that generational perspectives have a very real impact on the way employees engage with your business.  Understanding and adapting to the generational difference can make a difference in the employee engagement, job satisfaction and company loyalty.

According to the survey, non-monetary rewards are extremely important to the youngest generations.  While salary certainly counts, 64% of respondents overall and 70% of Millennials wanted to see their companies offer perks such as free personal days, free food and access to event tickets (shows, concerts, sports, etc.).  These are the extras that make the work environment more interesting.

The study also found that employees simply want interesting work.  39% are motivated by interesting work, 32% by autonomy and 31% by a good salary.  Interestingly, Boomers and Millennials put the strongest rating around interesting work.  As we’ve discussed, Millennials are the ones whose parents told them to “go out and find a job you love” and those parents are frequently Boomers.  Xers, many of whom are deep in the throes of child raising, rated good pay as the most motivating factor.

So how did survey respondents suggest you could make their jobs more rewarding?  Flexible work hours, more training opportunities, telecommuting options and clear growth plans, with the opportunity to take on additional (more interesting?) work.

Are you adjusting your formal and informal policies to reflect the changing desires of your workforce?

Rethinking the Baby Boomer market

Businesses spend quite a bit of time trying to understand what’s next…from the workplace demands of the next generation of superstars to the buying habits of the famed “18-24 target market” of potential brand loyalists.  However, demographics tell us that “what’s next” may well be what just was.  That is, the power of last generation’s new target market—Baby Boomers—is still the most powerful consumer market, and the older Gen Xers are right on their tails.  Businesses need to keep up.

By 2017, nearly half the US population will be 50 or older. They will have the more purchasing power than any other generation has had at this age, and they will want to use it in ways that are not “old.”  This is the message in a recent Financial Times article, Why companies are failing to cash in on flood of aging Baby Boomers worth US$15-trillion.

Much has been written about how Baby Boomers are eschewing the traditional retired life, whether that means working longer to make ends meet, launching into a second career to fulfill one’s dreams or moving to the city instead of the retirement community, Boomers are doing things differently and companies need to figure out what that means from a consumer standpoint.  And they need to do it fast.

When creating new products for this “new” market, or selling existing products/services to this group after many years, it is important to remember that while the fundamentals of the generation may be the same, they are still evolving and growing.  You may have always sold to Baby Boomers, but do you know them now?

The FT article reminds us “When it comes to aging, myths abound. Here’s one: Older consumers buy the same brands they’ve always bought, so why bother catering to them? ‘If that theory was true, I would drive a Chevy Impala and wear English Leather,’ said (gerontologist Ken) Dychtwald, 63.”  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Boomers joining Millennials for the city life

Here’s an interesting new trend – Baby Boomers are beginning to settle down in the big city.  According to a report in the Seattle Times, more and more Baby Boomers are walking away from the homes and yards in the suburbs to spend their empty-nester and retirement (or semi-retirement) years in the metro bustle that had once been the playground of the fresh-from-college crowd.

It makes a lot of sense – smaller spaces, less time and money on maintenance, no worries about school districts – and it creates some interesting opportunities for employers and businesses.  Besides the overall real estate impact, these Boomers are typically returning to the city looking for an active lifestyle.  This can mean new target audiences for restaurants, shops and galleries.  It can also mean the potential to retain knowledgeable workers longer – reduced commutes create more work-life balance, and close proximity to the office may encourage older workers to stay on in consulting roles as a semi-retirement solution.

What I find most fascinating about this trend is that it underscores the strange truth that Millennials and Boomers – despite being a full generation apart and frequently rolling their eyes at one another – have some very strong similarities.  What the Boomers and the Millennials both want right now is more individuality, more excitement and more freedom. It will be interesting to see if they can stand being neighbors.

Helicopter parents are back, and they are coming to an HR office near you

I’ve posted about this phenomenon before, and talked about it with clients over the years, but still people have a hard time believing it is true.  Yes, I’m talking about parents getting all up in their grown children’s employment business.  The topic is back thanks to an article in Huffington Post Business “Millennials Now Bring Their Parents along to Job Interviews.”

HuffPost is reporting out statistics that say 3% of job seekers have their parents sit in on an interview – a number that seems statistically insignificant until you realize that until a few years ago not only would the number be 0%, the question itself would not even make it to the survey.

There is one environment where this trend makes solid sense – the US Army.  In fact, the Army has been recruiting parents and children together for several years now, and it makes good sense. A soldier is more successful if he or she has full support back at home.  Convincing parents that the army is a great career for their children is a sound approach, because the job is putting the child’s life at risk.  The survey findings above were not Army-exclusive, however, so I must remind our younger job seekers and their parents to stop.  Just stop.

Post-retirement Boomer careers – taking a tip from younger generations?

You can barely pick up the paper these days without hearing about the 10,000 Baby Boomers who are reaching retirement age every day and how they will a) be a drain on the social security system and b) not “go gently into that good night.” Yet whether it is for the flexibility to visit with grandchildren and pursue travel dreams, the need for added income, or simply the desire not to be seen as past their prime, more and more Boomers are taking post-retirement careers.

Boomers that achieved executive status often return to the workforce as consultants – working flexible hours on focused projects of special interest or where their retained knowledge is especially helpful. But more and more Boomers are shifting gears completely, focusing on post-retirement careers that feed into a creative desire or relate to hobbies and personal interests outside of an individual’s primary career. Could it be that the generation that told its children to “go out and find something that makes you happy” is taking its own advice?

A recent article in the Plattsburg Press Republican speaks to this phenomena, which has been dubbed “encore careers.” The University of Hartford has a program, Encore! Hartford, specifically geared toward helping individuals find their encore careers.

If Boomers don’t really want to – or can’t fully – retire, and Xers and Millennials are seeking careers that are more about happiness than climbing the corporate ladder, businesses that figure out how to let employees find passion in their work will surge to the forefront. This doesn’t have to mean small, entrepreneurial companies are the only way to find loyalty and engagement, but it does mean that corporations will have to work harder to be the places of business where today’s employees want to work.

Latest Gallup poll on generations in the workforce paints unsettling picture

Boomers and Xers make up 88% of the workforce, but only about 27% are actively engaged employees, according to the most recent Gallup research. In fact, the only generation with a strong margin of actively engaged employees was the Traditionalists (I call them the Matures), whose engagement profile is 44% – yet they represent only 4% of all employees.

So what does this mean for employers? If nearly 75% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged – that is, they would considering leaving their place of employment if another opportunity surfaced or they are actively seeking alternate employment – the potential for lost institutional knowledge and increased hiring and training costs is high.

It doesn’t surprise me that the numbers stack up as they do. We’ve recognized the impact of past layoffs on future employee loyalty for quite some time. Those 4% of Traditionalists are the last group of employees who expect to spend an entire career at one company. But this doesn’t mean that companies are doomed to suffer revolving- door employment. By understanding what the different generations value most – and by creating avenues for shared knowledge at all levels of an organization – business leaders can both improve engagement and minimize the impact of turnover on knowledge retention. These are the tools and tactics we discuss in my sessions on Attracting and Retaining a New Generation of Employees.

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