Yes, they are here to stay. What options do we have if we want to sustain our companies in the coming years? Baby boomers are thinning out. Generation X have about 10-15 years left. Let’s face it, there are not a lof of viable options.
Coming from the Generation X, I personally saw major differences in the work ethics of my generation and the generation Y or Millennials. I was even put in a difficult position when speaking to a group of Gen X and Ys for a water distribution company. I was invited to speak about Managing our Millennial workforce. Before even starting the talk, you could already feel the tension in the room. As the attendees walked into this huge meeting room, you will already notice the divide. Employees from Generation X started grouping together on the left side of this massive meeting table. The Millennials naturally gravitated to the other side.
As I did my talk, there was so much nervous energy in the air that people seem so controlled with the questions they asked. In the end, when I thought that it was over, the most senior executive from the Generation X side of the room raised her hand. She asked permission to raise one final question. I graciously said, ‘yes please’. Her question was ‘which generation was better? Generation X or Millennials?’ There was an extended silence in the room. I was caught off-guard with her question. After carefully crafting the answer in my mind, I replied ‘both generation had their strengths and weaknesses. However, if we can combine the passion and creativity of the Millennials with the experience of the Gen X then we will have a great work environment.’
There are a few fundamental problems in today’s workforce when it comes to multigenerational employees. The first mistake that comes to mind is that we label our workforce and it becomes ‘us vs them’. Employees are employees regardless of generation. Once we start labelling then we start creating a rift between the two.
The second fundamental problem is that both generations expect the other to make the first move to adjust. Like in chess we get a stalemate. Nobody will make the first move to accommodate the other. My advice? Let the more mature generation do the first move.
The third fundamental problem is that Generation X employees always refer to their experience. ‘In my days, this was the way we did things.’ I was in another Millennial talk for an organization of surgeons. At the end of the talk there was a heated debate between two Doctors. They were both in-charge of training future surgeons for their hospital.
The elder Doctor was clearly upset how Millennial doctors could not handle the rigor of their internship. He was complaining that the new generation of doctors did not bother with the long hours and the classroom type training. Their intern doctors had a turnover rate of over 80%. He was complaining that it is very expensive to train doctors through their internship program and the high turnover was not acceptable.
The younger Doctor expressed that his hospital too was in a similar predicament. However, since they were bleeding money as high potential doctors jump ship in the middle of their intern program, they decided to revisit how they were doing things. They started adjusting their program to suit Millennial doctors. Their intern attrition went down from a dangerous double digit to single digits. Clearly, they started doing something right.
The elder Doctor expressed his outrage as to why age old traditions in Medicinal training should be changed. The younger Doctor simply replied with a smile “If we did not change then we will not have any future doctors in the Hospital. This means that in a few years’ time, we may need to close the hospital.
With that, the elder doctor sat down but still indignant.
Regardless of how we feel about Millennials, they are here to stay. The question is how will we understand them so we can manage them better.