Is There Really a Generational Disconnect in Business?

Is There Really a Generational Disconnect in Business?
By ClockShark | 3 minute read

As a business leader with some experience, do you sometimes have a hard time communicating your vision and your expertise to new hires? Have you wondered about the loyalty and support of younger staff? Are you feeling the strain of divergent work styles and expectations? Are your training programs effective or do they seem to fall on deaf ears?

Differing styles of Baby Boomers and Millennials are legendary, both in business and personally, but are they really? And, if so, is it possible to find common ground to assure that your business doesn’t take a beating?

These are all important questions, and the way you answer them may determine the future growth and development, as well as the ultimate success, of your firm.

Symptoms of Generational Disconnect

The old ways are disappearing — sometimes far too quickly for business “old-timers.” New directions can be disorienting, but they are also exciting. For all the perceived differences between 30-somethings and their “mature” bosses, there are a lot of common goals and many “ties that bind.” Employ the right tools, and you’ll unlock the doors to understanding and mutual respect. There are ways to identify and deal with common misperceptions and to create a climate of trust and cooperation:

First, there are myths to dispel:

You’ve heard it said that Millennials are spoiled, fickle, only interested in fun or money, and unwilling to commit to a career. You may assume that younger workers have lots of education but “no smarts,” or that book-learning hasn’t equipped them with common sense. If you started on the bottom rung and worked your way up the ladder, it’s only normal to insist that “OJT” is necessary. But Millennials will rail against “the way it’s always been done.” Let them work with you to find better ways.

Straight talk is likely to lead to an attitude adjustment. And it should be a two-way street!

Matthew Widmaier, an insightful young construction worker, laid out some ground rules for collaboration in an Atlanta Business Chronicle article in December 2012. He noted that Millennials would represent the majority of the construction workforce within five years. It was also the time when the first of the Baby Boomers were reaching normal retirement age.

Five years have passed.

The Tides of Change on Generational Disconnect

Millennials do not remember a time before computers. Some Baby Boomers still do not really trust computers. But change has come and been accepted, grudgingly or not.

Technology is now mainstream, both in the office and on every job site. It’s this new connectivity that continues to make the work tracking and job monitoring easier, better, faster, and often cheaper. The benefits of digital plans, GPS tracking of materials and personnel, virtual problem-solving, time-lapse photography both for security and for job progress, real-time video conferencing and instant verification are obvious. New apps appear regularly, and there is no returning to the old ways. It’s good for business, and as younger workers begin to move into managerial positions and leadership roles, they will instinctively embrace even more beneficial tools. That will be even better for business.

On-the-job training is still essential, as it always has been, and the mentor-protege relationship still leads to efficiency and progress. But a kind of “reverse mentorship” can lead to relevant interaction between “un-equals,” and it is both enlightening and empowering.

Work-Life Balance

The pinnacle of achievement was once measured by business success. Millennials, however, are more apt to measure success in other ways; it’s not that they don’t value professional expertise, but they value it in different ways. Their goals extend beyond money, and their dreams are not confined only to their work. They believe that life exists outside of the office and away from the job site because they are always “in touch.” In a sense, they are always “on the job.” No, they cannot imagine turning off their smartphones, so don’t even try to suggest it!

This younger generation is idealistic; they want to promote the common good, “give back” to the community, establish world peace, explore their own interests, understand and preserve the world for future generations, and enjoy family, good times and good health. in short, they want the good things of life not only for themselves but for everyone. And, for the most part, it’s non-negotiable. They definitely want to be paid for their efforts, but they want acknowledgment for their intellectual input and business acumen, not simply a paycheck for their time. They are willing to work hard, but they want to be a part of a team, rather than an alone player.

Defining the Future of Generational Disconnect

If you take the time — and make opportunities — for open communication, you may be impressed by the wealth of ideas and the innovative suggestions your younger employees will present. Hold brainstorming sessions on a regular basis. View your role as “coach” rather than “dictator.” Seek input about procedures, timelines, ways to save money. Also, explore ways to market your products and services on social media. Your new employees will be more than happy to advise you.

“Millennial-watchers” note that a form of “attention-deficit disorder” is a generational trait. If you don’t offer your younger employees ongoing challenges, you will likely lose them at some point to another firm that promises additional learning opportunities, skill-building workshops or decision-making responsibility for day-to-day operations. Repetition is not a Millennial strong suit, but problem-solving often is. Again, however, the solutions will be new-fangled ones. View that as an important learning curve on your continuing path to business success. Be willing to let your younger employees take the lead on occasion.

Finally, Millennials are motivated by safety, by good works, by “giving back” to the community. They expect the same type of commitment from their leaders, their companies, their families and their peers. They enjoy making a difference and will become disenchanted with any organization that is simply content with the way things are.

So, if you’re up to the challenge, hire a Millennial — and make that connection!

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