Generation-X, Generation-Y, millennials, and boomers — these are common terms that are used to represent generational differences, and there are few places where these differences are more present than in the workplace.
The Making Good @ Work research project is a fascinating exploration of the shifting role of millennials in the workplace. This research revealed five primary points of difference between millennials and previous generations:
- Celebrating difference
- Life-work balance
- Bleeding digital
- A passion for learning
- Mission driven
Julian Caspari from Making Good was kind enough to sit down with me to discuss the project's findings.
A new generation, a new way of working
Caspari described millennials as a "bit of a Trojan horse... bringing a new way of working in the 21st century. They bring a different global consciousness. They're bringing with them a different set of learning expectations and processes."
The value of diversity
"If you look at the multicultural milieu that the boomer culture worked and grew up in versus what the millennials did, you see that millennials were immersed in multicultural communities, classrooms, soccer teams, art clubs or whatever it was," he said.
"When there isn't diversity in a room, millennials will recognize that there is something wrong with that picture; whereas boomers, having grown up in more homogeneous communities, do not tend to notice it as much."
Caspari brought up the Diverse City Program, spearheaded in Toronto by a group called Civic Action. This program is designed to build diverse set of civic leaders, many of which will have an impact in the workplace. "They found that a more diverse workforce increases business revenue, productivity and social cohesion in the office," he said. "Having people from different cultures and all walks of life naturally creates links to global markets, and it enhances creativity."
Millennials are also known for being mission-driven, and focused on purposeful work. "Many boomers have a practice of philanthropy. They would participate with a select group of charities, their child's PTA, or a local sport league, perhaps," he said. "Whereas, the millennial generation is looking to the company that they are working for to actually be connected to a mission, and to a larger social goal behind the development of whatever products or service their company is creating."
Caspari explained that that 58 percent of students today say they would take a 15 percent pay cut to work for a mission-driven organization.
"The terminology has always been work-life balance," he said. "But we say life-work balance because there is a narrative around 'what is your life's work?' and our life's work is to be engaged with a company or organization that is aligned with our values and flows naturally between our personal and professional spaces."
"There's a bit of a blurring of the lines between the personal and professional in a lot of millennials' lifestyles. That is something that many people from this generation actually desire."
The influence of technology
To that end, technology has empowered the millennial generation to be able to pick and choose when and where to work, while also allowing them to be productive and follow healthy work and family practices. "They can 'have it all,'" he said. "There is a big opportunity to use technology to empower workplace flexibility." In fact, 45% of millennials would choose workplace flexibility over pay.
Caspari also described the millennial generation as the most educated generation in the workforce, and one that recognizes that today's career might not be the career they will be in five years from now.
"Millennials don't want to stop learning after their first week of training. They want to have opportunities in different departments within the organization. They want to have more opportunities to be mentored by senior level VP's or executives," he said. "They want to hear the stories, challenges, and successes of the company. They want to see how they fit within that, and they always want to be learning new skill sets."
"Learning is something that improves our quality of life. It keeps our bodies, minds and souls engaged."
This can be a massive advantage for an organization. When discussing companies that invest in immersive learning programs, he said, "To engage the individual with their full mind, body and soul — and to help them move along their path and build skill sets they can parlay into other departments of the company — is a huge opportunity."
Despite their differences, millennials and boomers are similar in many ways. "Everybody wants to be part of a productive team, they want to be part of a culture, they want to be recognized and appreciated, and they want to continue to learn in their careers, they want to use technology," he said.
"We all want the same thing. We want to have good family lives. We're all human, from the same gene pool here with similar desires."
In order to succeed, it's important for boomers and millennials to see the common goals they're working toward, and understand the strengths in their different approaches.
"They need to have points of intersection, shared stories and rich moments that they can refer back to and feel connected around," he said. "So there can be more empathy and people can be seen for who they are and not for the rules they follow or the policies that they are strictly abiding by, or the pay scale that they sit at. But who are we all as people."
Caspari shared one of his favorite quotes from James Temple from Price Waterhouse Coopers who said, "Inclusion is the journey and diversity is the mix."
"Being on that journey means sharing stories, working on projects together, and understanding each other deeper," he said. "I think there is a huge opportunity for creating spaces for that journey to be rich and to help contribute to company culture."
Caspari explained the value of "eldership," which he defined as the reverence with which we see our grandparents, mentors, uncles and aunts — the people in our community who have been through so much and have seen certain trends, things rise and fall.
"There is an opportunity for companies to encourage eldership, especially for those who are in the twilight of their career," he explained. "Help them to transition into a role that is more about mentorship, bringing up the new talent around them, finding ways to tap into that energy, and sharing their wisdom so it can be infused throughout the organization."
He explained that getting older does not necessarily mean that you become an elder. Eldership comes with a commitment to intergenerational learning, which requires millennials and boomers to build stronger relationships.
There are many generational differences in the workplace. Those differences can be a divisive weakness in your organization, or a source of strength. It's up to you and your team to determine which they will be.