A recent survey about the ways boomers and Millennials work appears to channel Paul Lynde’s iconic question from Bye, Bye Birdie: “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way? What’s the matter with kids today?” In light of recent data, there is no little irony in the fact that this musical lament was originally about the teen-aged boomers.
As Millennials, now age 18 to 34, pour into the workplace (they’re expected to be half of it in 2020), generational conflicts between them and boomers seem to grow along with their numbers.
According to the 2015 State of Enterprise Work Report from Workfront and the Harris Poll, boomers harbor strong negative feelings about their youngest colleagues while holding themselves in high esteem. Conversely, Millennials rate themselves extraordinarily well and are not fans of their boomer-generation colleagues.
Perhaps such a result would be expected, but as someone who specializes in studying the multigenerational workforce, I’d note that the degree to which these differences emerged says a great deal about the disconnects fueling generational conflict at work.
61 percent of boomers surveyed say that their generation is the most productive at work. But only 5 percent of Millennials agree.
For the survey, Workfront queried 617 boomers, Millennials and Gen X’ers who work at companies with more than 500 employees and whose job involves collaboration with others. Here are highlights about the boomers’ views of Millennials and vice versa:
90 percent of boomers say their generation has the strongest work ethic. Only 14 percent of Millennials agree and 37 percent of Millennials say their own generation has the strongest work ethic, something 1 percent of boomers believe.
65 percent of boomers say their generation’s members are the best troubleshooters and problem solvers. A mere 5 percent of Millennials agree; 55 percent of Millennials say their own generation is the best as trouble shooters and problem solvers.
61 percent of boomers say that their generation is the most productive. But only 5 percent of Millennials agree. In fact, over half of Millennials surveyed (55 percent) said their generation is the most productive.
61 percent of boomers say their generation is the most friendly and helpful. Just 12 percent of Millennials agree.
On the flipside, 47 percent of Millennials say boomers are the least cooperative and least “team player” generation. Only 14 percent of boomers agree with that assessment and, with a back-at-you attitude, 61 percent of boomers call Millennials the least cooperative and least team player generation.
83 percent of Millennials say their generation is the most creative. About a third of boomers (32 percent) agree.
54 percent of Millennials say boomers are the biggest roadblocks at work. Only 23 percent of boomers agree and 51 percent of boomers call Millennials the biggest roadblocks.
But boomers and Millennials pretty much agree that Millennials are far more tech savvy than boomers. A full 90 percent of Millennials say their generation is the most tech savvy and 67 percent of boomers agree.
With boomers still a sizable and influential segment of the workplace, these perceptions are likely to have a significant impact on the advancement opportunities provided to their younger colleagues.
“The biggest surprise was how wide the margins of discrepancies were as groups rated themselves in certain areas,” says Workfront Chief Marketing Officer Joe Staples. “Perceptions across generational lines are very skewed and I don’t think that is very well recognized by each generational group.”
I think this survey’s data may hold particular lessons for boomers, who need to recognize that their positive self-image at work is often not shared by the Millennial generation, many of whom will ultimately succeed them.
One reason: Boomers are leaving behind a workplace culture that is often punishing in its demands on people. In fact, this survey noted that office workers are experiencing greater work conflict with others than in the past, working long hours and frequently logging into email on nights and weekends.
Boomers still have an opportunity to write a different ending to the story of their decades in the workplace, though. They can look at themselves in the mirror, embrace this fresh data (as painful as that may be) and make workplace changes that align with their dreams of what they want for their own Millennial children.
The survey found one place where the generations agreed: all pointed their fingers at the newest entrants to the workplace as the biggest complainers. This is likely because Millennials have been raised by their boomer parents to feel confident about voicing complaints. The next step is for their concerns to be heard.