The JWT survey mentioned in my last blog said millennials are facing a potential blowback from other generations in the workforce because of technology. It seems ludicrous that baby boomers could criticize them for being technically savvy. They grew up with the technological devices that boomers had to learn from scratch.
As for millennials' loyalty to their employers, the JWT survey said that "millennials are loyal and great employees if companies take the time to make adjustments within their cultures to engage them and understand their needs."
Another bone of contention for baby boomers with a chip on their shoulders is the belief that millennials are unmotivated because they have it too easy. What better example is that many of them are returning home to live with their parents after college? But according to the JWT study, only 15 percent of millennials reported living with their parents.
Some of the post-college surveys show that millennials are moving back home for a short period of time to get their feet steady," said Bea Fields, president of Bea Fields Co. Inc, a Southern Pines, N.C.-based leadership and Gen Y consultancy, and co-author of the book “Millennial Leaders.”
Many baby boomers, on the other hand, have an over-inflated sense of their own importance, according to Wikipedia.
In P.J. O’Rourke’s book, “The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way (And It Wasn’t My Fault) (And I’ll Never Do It Again)”, described boomers as the “largest, richest, best-educated generation of Americans, the favored children of a strong, confident and prosperous country.” Yet, O’Rourke said that “other generations call us, spoiled brats.”
The boomers ought to think twice about criticizing the millennials. While the boomers have been credited with changing the world and a long list of accomplishments, they also made plenty of mistakes, many of which can be traced to an ill-founded cockiness and lack of humility.
While impossible to attribute universal characteristics to an enormous generation, pundits have gone overboard writing about the historical impact of the baby boomer generation. The boomers are associated with a “rejection or redefinition of traditional values,” said Wikipedia. The boomers are associated with privilege, because many grew up during a time where there were widespread government subsidies in education and post-war housing. They’re been described as the most active and most physically fit generation. They were optimistic, and idealistic, but were criticized as spoiled and given to excessive spending. They thought of themselves as special, entitled and they rejected traditional values.
Compared to the boomers and millennials and the GenExers are a refreshing historical middle ground. The GenExers have been described as autonomous, adaptable, self-reliant, independent, and respectful of authority. In the workplace, they’ve been praised as productive, free agents, flexible, technically competent and comfortable with authority.
I’ve said enough about the generational divide. When it comes down the proverbial bottom line, aren’t we making far too much of it? Rather than focusing on negative traits and behaviors, wouldn’t it be more constructive if we concentrated on learning and sharing information? They’re the seeds for growth, change and a better world.
From a purely historical and evolutionary perspective, there are clear differences between the generations dictated by the times, economic environment and technology. All of these factors shape a generation, impact its attitudes about work and the future to a certain extent. But are they as influential and powerful as most people think? That’s where problems begin. I’ve learned to take what I read with a grain of salt. There are far too many generalizations, assumptions and conclusions based on questionable studies and surveys. As I’ve said in many stories and blogs, survey and trend data ought to be questioned and not taken as gospel. I’ve read survey findings based on biased and slanted samplings, but the conclusions are presented as definitive, irrefutable.
The upsetting part is that few people question how conclusions were drawn. The organizations – many well-funded non-profit think tanks-- don’t lie about how their surveys were conducted, where the information came from, how many people were surveyed, and the criteria for using them. The problem is we have to search for this information. It’s buried in small print at the bottom of the page, and because the explanations are long, wordy, academic sounding and purposely vague, we don’t bother to read them. Attorneys are masters at writing confusing, unintelligible documents bloated with legalize. Often, the more important the document, the more confusing the language.
The average consumer demands immediate gratification. He wants fast, cheap food, and easily accessible information that’s brief and easy to understand. The media moguls running global broadcasting and publishing companies have mastered the art of delivering neatly packaged information around the clock. They’ve learned that the attention span of the average person is frighteningly short. If a major story can’t be summarized in three to five short paragraphs, chances are it won’t be read. Because of the insatiable need for around-the-clock news and information, mainstream media depends upon new information that’s perfectly written and packaged. And if it comes from respected sources, it’s hardly questioned. Is it any wonder survey data and conclusions are seldom questioned?
A topical example is the unending stream of news stories published about the generational divide in the workplace, especially the fixation and exaggeration of generational values and how they impact and influence corporate cultures.
A new survey, Millennials at Work: Myth vs. Reality, released by advertising agency JWT, concluded that 20% of today’s older generations felt millennials lack respect for older people, institutions and even themselves. Millennials, born between 1980 and 1995, have been labeled the Peter Pan or boomerang generation, and described as lazy and self absorbed.
Based upon their values, many baby boomers aren’t surprised that millennials are having a hard time finding jobs, because they felt pay was the most important criterion in a job, another finding of a survey mentioned in last blog.
Without knowing the facts, it’s easy to see why boomers would be offended by Gen Y’s preoccupation with pay. Obviously, they’re priorities are warped, according to boomer thinking. Salary was certainly important to serious career-building boomers, but it was seldom the sole criterion for taking a job. The boomers had different values. The most successful boomers, the models of their generation, were long-term players. But many boomers didn’t bother to find out that pay is a major concern of millennials because they graduated with more student debt on average than prior generations. And they didn’t take the trouble to understand the thinking behind millennials’ decisions. The JWT survey presented some surprising insights into their attitudes and values. More on this topic in my next blog.
While the Baby Boomers are getting most of the ink, there is also a spillover effect. As I said in my first blog on the subject, generational differences is a subject of great interest in the workplace these days because for the first time four generations are working together.
In a perfect world this ought to be an incredible opportunity to learn about generational differences. A great deal of information can be imparted, and the results ought to be improved productivity, brainstorming and strategizing opportunities, and a better educated workforce. But that’s not what I’m hearing and reading. More on that subject later.
First let’s understand the differences between the generations. From talking to friends and colleagues, I was surprised how little people know about the generations. They’re familiar with the terminology, but know little about the sociological and historic characteristics of each generation. Often, the descriptions are not objectively reported. So we see a lot of assumptions, generalities and poorly substantiated conclusions. What’s missing are explanations behind each generation’s behaviors, attitudes and philosophies.
Rather than start with the baby boomer generation, I’m going to start with the millennials, because they are in the news these days. A recent survey found that 16 percent of them couldn’t find jobs after six months in the job market. The survey also found that 24 percent of survey respondents said they applied to 11 or more full-time job before they were hired.
Brooks Holtom, an associate professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, told Business Insider (www.businessinsider.com) that there are two reasons millennials are having a rough time finding jobs. The first is the number of private sector jobs has grown very slowly since the economy crawled out of the 2008 recession. Second, few baby boomers are retiring while a record number of college graduates were entering the job market. And when the millennials finally landed jobs, 82 percent didn’t negotiate their salary because they either didn’t feel comfortable or didn’t know they could, according to the survey.
That’s extraordinary considering the overwhelming amount of free information available about career building. More interesting is what the survey revealed about millennials’ values. When asked to list the three most important criteria in a job, millennials mentioned “pay” over “meaningful work” and “positive relationship with coworkers.” And “work-life balance, a big issue with Gen Y, was last.
Pay is a major concern of millennials because they graduated with more student debt on average than prior generations.
Here are a few additional findings of the survey:
What do we make of these findings and how are they interpreted by other generational groups? More on this subject in my next blog.
The “generational divide” is in the news these days. Historians, scholars and writers have been churning out dissertations, academic and white papers, countless articles and book companies have been publishing books covering the subject from every conceivable angle.
Visit Amazon and punch in baby boomers, Gen-X, and millennials and you’ll find dozens books about each generation.
I’ve read a few of them, and gave up frustrated when I found the same information repeated and regurgitated in different ways.
If unsure about the boundary lines separating the generations, here’s a rough guide. Baby boomers, 1946-1964; GenExers, 1965 – 1978; and Millennials, 1980-early 2000.
Clearly, there’s money to be made writing about generational differences. And there are even websites targeted at the different generations.
Put it all together and we have a bona fide niche business dispensing information about generational differences. The website creators felt that they could capture a readymade audience by focusing their content on one generation. They were right. Invest 30 minutes on Google, and you’ll find myriad sites about the generations. I’m amazed at how many websites there are about baby boomers. And new ones are springing up every week. AARP was one of the first. But since 2011 when the first and oldest wave of some 78 million baby boomers turned 65 (for the next 19 years every day 10,000 boomers turn 65). When one website goes belly-up, another replaced it. The subject matter of the sites varies. Some are about jobs, since most boomers have discovered that retirement is a myth. Only the AARP, a mainstream super successful business still devotes disproportionate space to the issue when only a small percentage of the boomer population can actually spend the last portion of their lives living off their pensions and savings doing whatever they want to do.
When it comes to careers and jobs, some clever marketing mavens created a new vocabulary for this overwhelming population of boomers. Retirement years (a grossly inaccurate term) are called “golden” years, and jobs for boomers are often called “twilight careers” or “encore careers” (offensive terms). Imagine how boomers stocking shelves at big box retailers or flipping burgers at McDonald’s feel about those terms?
While 2011 was a significant and historic year for baby boomers, it’s only in the past year that the media has elevated it to an ongoing breaking story. The mainstream media, newspapers, Internet, TV, has been covering the subject from a number of angles, lifestyle, historical impact, and jobs are the big ones. But there is also a spillover effect. Fascination with the baby boomer phenomenon has also triggered an interest in other generations. Hence, the generational divide has become a mainstream term. But it triggers many questions. The biggies are: How important is this information? What information is important? And, are we making too much of it? In upcoming blogs, I’m going to try and get a handle on this subject.
How do you feel about aging? If approaching 50, aging is already a concern. In fact, in some fields, notably fashion, entertainment, and especially technology, it’s a major concern. Trendsetting tech companies the likes of Microsoft and Intel would hire brilliant toddlers if they could write code. But once they start nearing 40, they’ve been programmed to think that they may have passed their creative peak. How dumb is that? But weren’t some of the greatest innovations turned by men in their 20s, many of whom never graduated college?
Forget what the HR heavies and the PR flack tell the public, hundreds – no thousands – of companies prefer to keep their workforces young. Forget their ads, and their website career pages showing a sampling of their workers. Note they’re all happy and smiling, driving home the staged point that they all look like they’ve all found job heaven. And many readers (likely naïve morons) believe that those relaxed smiles never leave their faces. That’s right, 8 hours of loving every millisecond of their jobs. Last, but by no means least, the cross-section of workers was carefully chosen to demonstrate the diversity of their workforce. There’s the obligatory mixture of white, black, Hispanic and Asian workers. While most exude youthful exuberance, note a few gray and white-haired oldsters in the bunch. Naturally, they too are smiling, communicating the illusion that they’re working for an organization that epitomizes a diverse workforce. And organizations’ battalion of attorneys are delighted because they’re keeping their employers happy by keeping them out of court, and shooting down even the mere whisper of an age discrimination suit.
To drive home an obvious cliché, money and power talk. I’ll amend that last statement. Money, power, and youth talks. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, most Americans – or maybe the greater part of the civilized world – are impressed by money, power and youth. A young person who has all three has transcended the American dream. We love prime time where we get to see how the rich and famous live. We can’t get enough garish opulence, the in-your-face excesses of the rich and famous – the mansions and estates spread over acres of lands, the countless rooms, pools, gardens, cars, planes and boats.
There are plenty of celebs in their 50, 60s and 70s who surround themselves with the all the decadent toys of opulence and they love showing off, strutting their stuff and flaunting their fortunes so the world – the vast global audience – can see in living color the fruits and toys of outrageous wealth. I understand why these shows are so popular, but I’m sickened by the celebs who agree to have their privacy invaded, and allow camera crews to film their riches, and all the expensive toys and gadgets that they’ve acquired. They have every right to be proud of their accomplishments, but flaunting it is obscene.
But whether the rich and famous are in their 20s or 60s, they all share a common trait. They go out of their way to tell the world that they go to great lengths to stay young and youthful. The older they get, the harder they work at it. But, an aging population, particularly problems created by the swelling numbers of boomers turning 65, has forced the trendsetters and newsmakers to present a revised and updated picture of aging. More on this in my next blog.