There’s a lot of mumbo jumbo being sold by “generational experts” that today’s young workers are very different from previous generations and need to be managed differently. Clearly there are differences between groups of people who grew up in different times, circumstances, and cultures.
But people are people. And what we’re looking for from our work and in our workplaces is remarkably universal. Jennifer Deal is a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and author of Retiring the Generation Gap. For 12 years she’s been studying “the so-called generation gap through empirical research.” From analyzing 13,000 online surveys across for-profit, non-profit, and government organizations she’s concluded that “stereotypes of millennials in the workplace are inconsistent at best and destructive at worst.”
Drawing from her research, Jennifer published “Five Millennial Myths” in the Spring 2012 issue of strategy+business produced by booz&co:
Millennials don’t want to be told what to do.
The Reality - they’re actually more deferential to authority than baby boomers or Gen X.
Millennials lack organizational loyalty.
The Reality – they have the same level of commitment as previous generations. Young people of all generations change jobs more often. People at lower organizational levels always have slightly less commitment.
Millennials aren’t interested in their work.
The Reality – they’re just as intrinsically motivated as other generations. But they are turned off by doing boring work. They want meaningful and enjoyable work.
Millennials are motivated by perks and high pay.
The Reality – data from 5,000 people aged 22 – 80 found no generational differences on this issue. People of any generation at lower levels who are paid less are slighter more motivated by financial rewards than those at more senior levels.
Millennials want more work-life balance
The Reality – There’s a slight bit of truth to this but it’s related more to life stages such as having a young family.
Jennifer’s findings are very consistent with other research exposing the big holes in theories of workplace generational differences. Associate management professor, industrial psychologist and behavior science researcher, David Sirota, has been collecting research on workforce attitudes and motivational factors since 1972. He reports:
“There are certainly superficial differences, for instance, the way my children talk, the way I talk, the music they like. But with regard to the basic goals at work — the need to be treated fairly, the desire to have a sense of achievement and pride in your work, and the desire to have productive relations with your co-workers, our claim based upon these data and lots of other data is there is no substantial difference. People want to be proud of what they do, they want to receive recognition for what they do. These are the same for all generations, for men and women, blacks, whites and Asians and so on all around the world.”
ZengerFolkman’s massive database of 200,000 multi-rater participants assessing 20,000 managers showed ” … no discernible conclusions indicating differences between baby boomers and the younger Gen-Xers, Gen-Yers, Millennials, or Nexters in this matter of how leaders inspire. It is cross-generational.”
Promises of “breakthroughs” in health, fitness, and diet “secrets” generates billions of dollars in the search for shortcuts defying the basic laws of physics such as calories consumed minus calories burned. Far too many people are also searching for shortcuts or “secrets” to motivating today’s workers.
Jennifer Deal summarizes her finding:
“Rather than trying to figure out what particular incentive or gimmick is going to make millennials more committed and less likely to leave, focus on making sure they’re fairly compensated; have interesting work to do; and have the opportunity to learn, develop, and advance … create an organizational culture that support all employees regardless of when they were born.“
That’s called leadership. There aren’t any shortcuts or secrets.
Thanks. I totally agree.
Thanks Jim! I prefer evidence to anecdote on big matters, and you’ve given us credible evidence – I admire that. And it returns the discourse to leadership and purpose – essentials – rather than distractions.
James Hilmar Todd
What a refreshing article on the generation gap. I have been curious about all the attention on age diversity in the workplace, given my experience over 40 decades in both public and private sector organizations. Clearly these times are not the same as it was years ago, but Jennifer Deal’s research and your commentary certainly ring true for me.
This article is very interesting and insightful. It gets to the heart of the matter, which is to manage based on what is valued by the employee. It also provides tangible strategies for leading Millennials. The strategies are fairly basic and straightforward, and ironically enough, transcend all generations.
[...] response concerns the nonsense we keep hearing about generational differences. My first post was We Need Less Generational Nonsense and More Leadership. Last month I posted a follow up blog on More on Less Generational [...]
[...] “Leading Generation X” • “We Need Less Generational Nonsense and More Leadership” • “More on Less Generational [...]
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