I recently completed a research study designed to better understand how the millennial perspective on career development and workplace priorities differed from the perspectives of employees of other generations. The media feeds us a constant stream of information about the newest entrants to the workplace, from their impatience with advancement opportunities, a general sense of entitlement and their need to have a voice and make a difference.
Unlocking the secrets of generational differences
Given the prominence of this type of coverage, my study co-author, Olivia Gamber, and I wanted to understand what might be contributing to these unique millennial characteristics. We surveyed nearly 800 individuals across the generational spectrum and assessed the current level of satisfaction with their career development, what was most and least important to them with regard to work and the beliefs that might be driving these experiences.
We expected the data to help us unravel the secrets of our human differences. However, we were surprised to discover that, across generations, our similarities far outweigh our differences. In fact, the study served to bust a common millennial myth among many in leadership circles:
Millennials must be managed differently than other generations in the workplace.
This simply isn't true.
Myth busted: Millennials share many similarities with GenX and Boomers
For instance, many organizations are starting special career development initiatives in an effort to retain millennial workers. There's a widely held perception that those 'job-hopping, entitled' millennial workers are unhappy and disappointed with the career development offered by their employers. But according to my research, there is no significant difference in the level of career development satisfaction of workers based on age. Millennials are no more or less satisfied with their career development than GenX or Baby Boomers.
The study also failed to provide any meaningful information about how what's most important to employees differs by generation because these factors were also similar across generations.
Millennials identify the following work-related factors as key priorities:
- Have a boss you respect and trust
- Achievement and accomplishment
- Growth and learning
- Interesting work
- Fair treatment and respect
But, guess what? For the most part, so do the other generations. Gen Xers add 'open, transparent communication to their priorities'; and Baby Boomers also value 'opportunity to make a difference' and 'connections/relationships with others'.
Cross-generational similarities are good news for managers
So, from the standpoint of researching the differences, the study could be seen as a colossal disappointment. But it actually offers very good news to managers who've been concerned about how to manage the mythical differences among the generations.
This research frees leaders from decoding and trying to create custom responses to differences. It suggests that good leadership is good leadership no matter the age of the employee. And it helps managers to focus on a few critical priorities that will resonate with and support the performance of employees across the generational spectrum. These priorities include:
- Being the kind of boss that inspires trust and respect in others.
- Finding ways to make work meaningful and interesting to others.
- Demonstrating fair treatment and respect for everyone.
- Supporting employees so they can see progress and experience a sense of achievement in their work.
- Offering employees of all ages with opportunities to learn and grow.
Managers can shift their focus from generational differences to the much broader base of generational similarities. Honing these few 'ageless' leadership priorities is far easier - and more effective - than deploying countless millennial variations on a managerial theme. Managers who do this will drive engagement, retention and results regardless of age and that's the kind of difference organizations should be focusing on.
The detailed research report can be found here.