Learning from Millennials

Monday, November 19 2018

Every generation blames the one before.

Do you recognize this line? It’s from the 1988 hit, In the Living Years by Mike and The Mechanics. If you know it you might be a boomer or perhaps you were raised by boomer parents, since 1988 is about the midpoint of the Gen Y or Millennial birth period. The songwriter is lamenting the disconnect between generations – from the perspective of the next generation.

It’s a lament we hear from many managers and employers today: Millennials, they suggest are at the root of so many of their hiring and employment challenges. Perhaps the most common word used to describe Gen Y is entitled; the rant is that they just don’t have the work ethic that boomers, who are still a significant proportion of leaders, were raised with. And so on…

Many boomers blame the education system for coddling and creating an everybody-gets-a ribbon mentality. An unwillingness to take risks and be independent is attributed to helicopter parenting. Kids today didn’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps… like we did… the urban legend of “rode my bike 16 miles to school each day, up hill both ways” kind of story. To hear it told, nobody gave us a break, but we turned out great!

The future is definitely not what it used to be! Consider that:

  • Finding and keeping good employees is considered the biggest issue facing employers today.
  • The number of people not actively looking for work has reached staggering levels. One report suggests that only 50% of Canadians who could be working, are doing so.*
  • As of 2017, Canada has more people over age 65 than under 15.
  • We have more generations in the workforce today than at anytime in history.**
  • According to a recent BDC report, 39% of Canadian businesses are already struggling to find workers.

*Only 50% Of Canadians Have Jobs

**5 Generations in the Workplace

If the data is any indicator, companies that bridge the generation gap will have a better chance of success. Leaders, regardless of their generational cohort, need to support individuals in finding better ways to work together. What if this was a specific strategy in your organization? How might it help you better attract and retain employees compared to your competitors? And by competitors, I mean any organization that could steal your most valued asset – your employees!

Most millennials have been raised in a more nurturing, supportive environment than boomers. “Spare the rod, spoil the child’ was a common expression when many boomers were growing up. The concept of acquiescence through fear of punishment is old school, but still prevalent in business, even if it’s not overt. However, new brain science suggests affirmation and support are more effective performance levers. How does your organization ensure positive support is engrained in its culture?

While we have lots we can teach the upcoming generations, they have lots they can teach us. As Mike says, “You can listen as well as you hear.”