The Biggest Work Fears of Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials
Insights from the author of 'You Can't Google It!'
This article is adapted from You Can’t Google It! The Compelling Case for Cross-Generational Conversation at Work by Phyllis Weiss Haserot published by Morgan James Publishing.)
The premise of my new book, You Can’t Google It!, is that much of the learning, skills and perspectives people of all ages need to succeed in their career are not found in data on the Internet but rather in conversations and personal relationships with the people they work with. The new multigenerational paradigm is meaningful cross-generational conversation.
My purpose in writing the book is to encourage individuals of all generations to get to know and understand each other and interact and collaborate more appreciatively and harmoniously. One way they can do this is by getting a sense of what worries the other generations about today’s working world.
Whether articulated explicitly or not, there are fears that people from each generation commonly experience that affect their productivity and career satisfaction. Over the last two decades, in my work with professional services personnel and knowledge workers, I’ve identified these common fears, by generation:
Work Fears of Boomers
Idealistic, individualistic boomers still in management roles who want to stay connected to work, be respected and continue adding value:
Fears: Being displaced by younger managers and new ways of doing things (technological and other), reduction in team productivity if they permit more flexibility and new methods as yet unproven to them, loss of professional identity, loss of relevance and loss of clients.
Work Fears of Gen Xers
Independent-minded, skeptical Gen Xers who are eager to take over from baby boomers but have more work/life flexibility and are in a lifecycle stage of overwhelm. They must win over boomers for succession, transitioning and knowledge transfer and also win over millennials who often have unaligned expectations. This is a small generation with less clout in numbers than the others.
Fears: Losing clients, reduced profitability, losing millennial employees (turnover) in support roles, not being adequately prepared for major leadership roles, lack of support from boomers and millennials to get the work done and not having time for their families and personal lives.
Work Fears of Millennials
Ambitious millennials who are impatient to move up and eager to understand those of other generations and develop rapport with them. This is insufficiently recognized by members of older generations, many of whom think millennials are just demanding to do things their way. This is a very large demographic segment positioned to have a great influence on the workplace.
Fears: Not understanding perspectives and expectations of older colleagues, “failing” — not doing everything right, disapproval, not appearing smart, not having a voice and having their self-expression restricted.
Pain Points Translated Into Fears
As I compiled a long list of pain points in the form of generationally-related symptoms and complaints, it became clear that they come down to primarily four fears:
- The often real danger of losing clients
- Losing talent
- Losing institutional or individual vital knowledge for the business and/or mission
- Losing status — power, influence and/or compensation — individually or as an organization
Some people dwell on the differences among the generations in the workplace and see them as obstacles to productivity and serenity. Others ignore the differences or deny that they are real, saying that we all are individuals who can’t be categorized. The observed truth lies somewhere in between.
We do need to regard each person as an individual, avoid stereotyping and remember that not all behavior is derived from generational factors. Having said that, there are observable patterns that a large percentage of people (in the U.S. and to a lesser but growing extent in other parts of the world) exhibit that are related to formative influences while they were growing up.
Being aware of these generational patterns and attitudes is valuable when designing strategies and interacting as team members, mentors, mentees, coaches and supervisors. We need to take a cross-generational approach — a multigenerational one that proves we have the flexibility to shift as warranted to new perspectives and strategies.