An Inside Look At How Gen Y, Gen X And Baby Boomers View The Workplace

SAP multi-genertional panel discussionFostering a diverse and inclusive workplace has become a priority for many organizations in the business world today.

Why?  Because diversity drives innovation.  By maintaining a workforce of employees with varied perspectives, backgrounds and cultures, innovative ideas, products and processes come to life.

According to a Forbes Insights report, “Fostering Innovation Through a Diverse Workforce,” 85% agree that a diverse and inclusive workforce brings the different perspectives a company needs to drive innovation.

 

In a diverse organization, employees vary in age, work experience and generation.  As we know, every generation brings its own culture and transformations to the workplace and has different aspirations, values and ways of getting things done.

So does this make it hard for them to work together?  How do the less experienced generations like Generation Y (or Millennial Generation) fit in a workplace dominated by Generation X and Baby Boomer workers?

These were exactly the questions that SAP tackled at its Multi-Generational Panel Discussion, one of its Global Diversity Days events.  I had the pleasure of attending this eye-opening discussion, where panelists from across different generations (Generation Y, Generation X and the Baby Boomer Generation) compared experiences and shared perspectives of the workplace.  Panelists were asked a series of questions in order to uncover their differences when it comes to the work world, which I will discuss below.A comparison of the perspectives of different generations about the workplace

*Click on the image to enlarge.

Is it true that Gen Y expects constant feedback and gratification?

It is said that Generation Y desires constant feedback.  They don’t want to wait for the quarterly or yearly review, like Baby Boomers or Gen X who are more comfortable with waiting.

At the panel discussion, a Generation Y panelist completely agreed with the statement, claiming that the constant feedback that they want is not necessarily a “pat on the back,” but a way of measuring yourself.

It provides guidance and direction that allows you to improve at your job, especially in a high pace environment like IT.  Another Millennial, added that she enjoys weekly meetings with her manager to gain feedback on completed tasks, so in the future when she does it again, she can be certain that she is completing it correctly.

As a follow-up question, Gen X and Baby Boomer panelists were asked what they do as managers to make work fun for Millennials and to meet their need for constant feedback.

One Baby Boomer pointed out that every generation enjoys feedback, but that it may come from different sources.  While an early-stage career person may want feedback from their manager, a late-stage career person may gain feedback from customers or peers.

However, as a manager, it is very important to provide that feedback to any employee, regardless of the stage of their career.  Millennials may need more feedback though because they are just starting their careers and it allows them to correct themselves on a more responsive basis.

Another Baby Boomer added that he doesn’t like to wait until the end of the year to receive a performance review either.  He enjoys receiving feedback every week or bi-weekly, just to make sure that things are moving in the right direction.

He said that things change so fast and, let’s face it, we’re all not really good at communicating.  Communication is tough and work is so fast pace that providing as much feedback as often as possible is critical in helping employees be more successful.

A third Baby Boomer panelist presented a different perspective, saying that coaching is something that we do constantly.  However, he says that if you give people too much feedback too soon, you can create a situation where a person is working on things that are unnecessary.  People will learn from their mistakes.  It’s good to give coaching and tips, but for people that are very aggressive about their career, giving them feedback prematurely can be damaging.

What you should do is look for patterns and then reach out to those who are constantly doing something negative and then provide them with feedback.  Everyone else could just use some pat-on-the-backs and coaching.  You have to be careful with too much feedback because it can just as harmful as too little.

A Generation Y panelist agreed saying that structured PRM and coaching or mentoring is what enables him to succeed faster.  It’s less about feedback and more about guidance and encouragement.

How do you like to be rewarded for your hard work?

Panelists were next asked how they prefer to be rewarded, with a day off, a financial reward, or a personal note or peer-to-peer recognition.  A member of Generation X responded that while everyone loves financial compensation, he knows that money is not always a realistic reward.

As a substitute, recognition from peers and managers is really important and means a lot.  We’re all very busy and contribute to a lot of different projects, so we don’t always take the time to recognize others.  When people do take the time, the recognition and gratitude is very meaningful and appreciated.

A Millenial panelist added that these are especially important when you spend your time helping other teams with work that is not related to your core responsibilities.  All generations seemed to agree with that personal notes are the cheapest, but also one of the most valuable rewards.  What makes them even more prized, is that they can be presented to managers as a demonstration of their hard work for quarterly or year-end reviews.

To continue, a Baby Boomer panelist explained that every reward is appropriate at certain times, but it doesn’t cost anything to say something nice.  With employees, it’s like a bank account.  You can’t start withdrawing until you deposit.  You have to let them know that they have great traits about them before you can start pointing out the things that they need to improve upon.

What do you look for in a company?

Panelists were next asked to describe what initially attracted them to their employer – the work life balance it promotes, its culture, the pay, its fitness facilities, the free lunch?  A member of Gen X claimed that it was the flexibility to move around to find new challenging work that drew him in.

To early-stage career persons, change is important.  We want to make sure that we’re not doing the same repetitious activities over and over again and that we’re always being challenged. Constant challenge helps you grow as an employee and helps your company grow as a whole.

Another panelist claimed that as a Millennial, he was more attracted to the company’s mission, purpose and sustainability practices.  The company has a powerful purpose and is not driven by just making sales, but its desire to change the world – that’s what means the most for Millennials.  It’s about being a part of something bigger than just corporate America.

For Baby Boomers, a company’s culture is key.  It really matters who your company’s leaders are and how the company treats their employees.  On the other side, having new, challenging work is another important quality that Baby Boomers look for in a company.

How long should you stay before switching to another role?

The next question was “How long do you think you should stay in your current role before switching to a new one?”  There’s an HR rule that you’re supposed to wait a year until you can really master your current role and then move on to the next challenging opportunity.

One Baby Boomer claimed that she has adopted a three year rule when it comes to changing positions.  The first year is spent learning the new role, the second year is spent excelling at it and then third year is looking at what’s next.  Another added that there’s one more aspect you’ve got to consider – who you are and what’s important to you.

If the role is not a good fit, then it’s not doing you or the company any good if you’re not happy and not producing.  Understand what your strengths are and what you like to do and if you’re not in a role that matches that, then find something new, no matter how much time you’ve spent.

From a Millennial’s point of view, time spent in a role is dependent on whether or not you’re being continuously challenged and presented with new opportunities.  When you feel that you’re talents are no longer being fully utilized, it’s time to consider other positions.

On the other hand, one Baby Boomer panelist cautioned people from leaving their role prematurely because you may miss out on a golden learning opportunity because you weren’t patient.  When you’re done with a role, you’ll know and you’ll be an expert.  But don’t rush it; get the experience because that experience will get you to where you want to be.

Is Generation less loyal to their employer?

Panelists also tackled the perception that Generation Y is less committed to their employer than other generations and the question of what has changed to make them that way.  Is it just a generational difference, is it the way Gen Y was raised, or is it an overall corporate culture change that has made company loyalty less important?

One Baby Boomer said that they used to call people that jump between companies and roles as “movers and shakers.”  He remembers that, while such risk takers were the minority back then, they actually did really well for themselves.

Now, he feels that moving around is the norm, especially for Generation Y who is trained to be “movers and shakers.”  However, there’s nothing wrong with changing roles and companies until you find a career that you’re good at and that you love to do – it’s actually good for the company.

Another Baby Boomer reminded the audience that when you move to a different company, you have to reestablish your network and your personal brand and that takes a lot of energy and effort.

There are many opportunities to move within a company to discover different, more challenging jobs.  By staying with one company and moving horizontally, you get a lot of valuable experience that you wouldn’t get by constantly switching companies.

Is your generation stereotyped?

The panel finished with the question, “Do you feel that your generation is stereotyped at your company and in the business world?”  One Baby Boomer remembers at his first job calling the older programmers “the old dinosaurs.”  However, he doesn’t see that being a problem today and enjoys the diversity at his company.

A member of Gen X claimed that Generation X and Y both experience the stereotype of “not wanting to pay their dues.”  He claims that this is a misunderstanding that comes from those generations’ desire to be challenged – not from a refusal to start from the bottom.

Often times the tasks that they are being asked to do upon entering a company are not really meeting their need for challenging work.  For the early stage career generations, as long as they are being challenged and engaged, they will stay. If they are not, they will leave to go to another company or reinvest in education.

I am interested in learning your perspectives on the discussion above.  Would you answer any of the questions differently for your generation?

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