The Impact of Age Gaps

Generational differences and divisions aren’t new in the twenty-first century, but they are affecting more companies as the tech age and globalization are in full swing. Technology is changing the way people work, where they work, and attitudes around work settings. Twentieth-century workflow systems and certain professional environments can often feel foreign to younger generations. Fax machines, the intranet, and landlines may seem archaic. There is an upward trend to work remotely, and companies/organizations are finding financial savings when they create “work-from-home” opportunities. Coffee shops, home offices, and co-working spaces that were once unconventional work settings have become more popular, and younger generations are generally tech-savvy with various online platforms and devices. These factors have drastically changed communication within a workplace, and overall, millennials communicate quite differently than previous generations. Chip Espinoza, author of “Managing the Millennials,” says, “The No. 1 question I get about managing Millennials is communication. There’s a sense of frustration because leaders do realize there has been a breakdown. But a lot of the problem gets projected on the young professional. Companies are abdicating their own responsibility to try to fix that. The people with the most responsibility have to be the ones willing to adapt. When leaders don’t do that, there’s failure.”

Many company/organization owners, who often come from the baby boomer generation, ask if the communication issue should be taken seriously. The answer is yes. Communication issues can be costly. A Dynamic Signals Annual State of Employee Communication and Engagement Study found that 80% of the U.S. workforce reports being stressed because of poor company communication, 63% says they are ready to quit their jobs, and 70% feel overwhelmed because of fragmented communication methods. If companies can’t figure out how to evolve with new communication resources and tools, it can translate into financial drain.

A Digital Signal millennial research report stated, “Many organizations have struggled to keep pace with innovation. They remain hard-wired to traditional methods of corporate communication. They make employees search for information they need – like on an intranet. It’s an impersonal, rigid, and closed style of communication…That’s just not the way employees expect to access content anymore. They’re used to having information at their fingertips.” The Pew Research Center reported in 2016 that millennials now comprise the majority of the workforce. Gallup Chairman and CEO, Jim Clifton, stated in a 2016 report, “Millennials will change the world decisively more than any other generation . . . Millennials will continue to disrupt how the world communicates – how we read and write and relate.”

Although baby boomers may hesitate to “cater” to millennials—finding a middle ground between generations could benefit a company/organizations. Baby boomers can prosper from better understanding millennial strengths and using them to a company's/organization advantage. Below are two major millennial operating points and what that can mean for a team.

A Tech-Savvy Generation: Millennials haven’t known a professional world without technology. Anything from banking, to shopping, to social media is done online with ease. A 2018 Gartner study revealed that “38 percent of Millennials surveyed say they have the ‘latest and greatest’ personal devices compared to 25 percent of Baby Boomers, and a larger portion of Millennials consider the applications they use in their personal lives to be more useful than those they are given at work.” A Gallup poll found that “85 percent of Millennials access the Internet from their phones – more than all other generations.”

Companies that allow tasks to be done from personal devices, and/or provide incentives for employees to supply their own devices, could potentially save money. Companies can also benefit from their employees using high end technology that they don’t have to supply.

Incentivizing: Millennials are known as the generation to change jobs regularly, and they generally aren’t incentivized only by a paycheck. Gallup identified six characteristics that differentiate this generation from their older predessors: 1) they want purpose not just a paycheck; 2) they pursue job development over job satisfaction; 3) they want coaches over bosses; 4) they want ongoing communication and conversations over an annual review; 5) they are more likely to accept their weaknesses but want to develop their strengths; 6) they see their job as an extension of their life.

Companies/organizations who can recognize these traits and incentivize accordingly can retain loyal and longtime workers. A Great Place to Work study found that when millennials are happy in their workplace, they are 59 more times likely to endorse their company to family and friends, 88% plan to commit long-term, and they are 22 times more likely to stay at their job. The study found this statistic to be higher than other generations.

Companies/organizations can adopt new strategies to help create a more harmonious and productive workplace across generational gaps. Amanda Hammett, known as the “Millennial Translator,” explains, “For the most part, companies are not doing a good job of communicating with their Millennials. It’s a major contributing factor to disengagement and eventually the turnover of the Millennial employee. It’s just not something that companies have thought a lot about with previous generations. Employees just did what they were told and didn’t ask questions. But we don’t live in a world like that anymore, and companies have not evolved with their workforces.”

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