Multi-Generational Myths are Holding Your Organization Back

Written by on December 22, 2015

Baby Boomers are idealistic and optimistic. They’re loyal to the organization. They’re diligent, driven – and they place work at the center of life.

Gen Xers are cynical and depressed. They’re pessimistic and known for slacking. They’re skeptical of authority – and willing to break the rules. They value work and life equally.

Millennials are entitled and self-serving. They don’t care about job security – they care that work doesn’t interfere with life.

Do any of these descriptions truly encapsulate you as a human being? Can you fit yourself, and others, neatly into these pigeonholes? Jennifer J. Deal, research scientist with the Center for Creative Leadership believes the answer is a resounding no: “[W]hen you hold the stereotypes up to the light, they don’t cast much of a shadow.” Yet why do organizations continue to believe generational myths – and agonize over “managing” a multi-generational workforce?

How Do You Motivate Multiple Generations in the Workplace?

You start by asking the right question: how do you motivate people in the workplace? How do you engage people in the workplace? I’ve worked with folks of all ages; and motivation is far more personal than generational. It’s not that all Baby Boomers put work above “life” or all Millennials want to job-hop their way through their careers.

One of the most pervasive myths is that Millennials are less loyal and less committed than, say, Baby Boomers. It’s simply not true; it’s not supported by the facts. Research by Jennifer Deal and others finds that there are no significant differences in values, needs or desires between generations.

An IBM study entitled “Myths, Exaggerations, and Uncomfortable Truths,” for instance, looked at 1784 people, in 12 countries: “We discovered that Millennials want many of the same things their older colleagues do. While there are some distinctions among the generations, Millennials attitudes are not poles apart from other employees’.”

No, the career goals and expectations of Millennials aren’t’ vastly different from boomers. No, they don’t expect a trophy simply for showing up. And, when it comes to switching jobs, boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials do so for many of the same reasons.

So why do these myths persist?

Generational Myths as Coping Mechanisms?

In some cases, leaders, managers, and organizations use generational myths – or the act of distressing about them – as coping mechanisms. The thinking goes: I can worry about this because it’s outside my control – and so I don’t have to spend time thinking about what it is that I really need to do.”

The reality is that that you always have a choice when something is causing your stress or anxiety. You can choose to focus on it and try to do something about it – or you can choose to accept it and stop worrying.

When it comes to managing and leading multiple generations, there is something you can do. Stop. Start managing and leading people. There are far more similarities than differences – and when you understand and acknowledge that, you can achieve better results.