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Optimum Talks Blog

Getting the Generation Gap

by Optimum Talent
January 6, 2012

The Young Guns (me, my sisters and cousins) took on the Stormin’ Normans (Grandpa and the other +45s) in a family board game this Christmas. While bantering over points, the differences in the generations became apparent. Us Young Guns were trying to gain advantage and argue for our points in a different way than the Stormin’ Normans, which led an uncle to make a comment about the “youngsters” and I thought: It’s not that we’re young; it’s that our generation truly does have different expectations. We take some things for granted that the +45s don’t. And the generational differences go beyond the living room and into the office.

Others have made the same observation. A study conducted by Sean Lyons, associate Professor of business at the University of Guelph, Eddy Ng, associate Professor of management at Dalhousie University and Linda Schweitzer, assistant Professor at Carleton University found that Boomers (currently between 45 and 60 years of age) and mature workers (currently over 60 years of age) were significantly more likely to rate “challenging work” as an essential element of their job. What did Millennials (those employees in their 20s) state as an essential element of their job? “Quick advancement”, “congenial co-workers” and “fun”. Not only that, but the study also found that Millennials expect to see their personal wages climb by 60 per cent in the next five years, while the average annual increase has only been three per cent year-over-year for the past three years.

The fact that Millennials today change jobs three times more than Boomers did before they were thirty (and perhaps why we played four different board games over the course of an hour on Christmas day …) is not likely due to the fact that their wage hasn’t increased 60 per cent – because that is nearly impossible to find anywhere! It is more so a result of the difficult balancing act between finding companies that can keep jobs interesting and dynamic enough to provide the opportunities that help develop skills rapid enough for this ‘quick job advancement’ that Millennials desire. If the appeal for Millennials is to find jobs that strongly support their values, (which admittedly are difficult to achieve…), here are some quick tips to help your organization keep those talented and willing Millennials that you have invested in advance through hard work:

  1. CULTURE – As the above study found, Millennials will not hesitate to switch jobs, as they have done so three times more than the previous Generation had by their age. This is likely because they have been raised in an environment where they have so many options for work, they will not hesitate to switch jobs in order to find the culture – co-workers and office dynamics – that they desire. The better your organizational culture, the more likely you are to retain employees.
    a. A fair warning: Do not exhaust resources to retain unhappy employees. No matter how much you may have invested in someone, it is never worth as much to keep them as it could be detrimental to have their attitude poison the organizational culture and workplace environment, which, in turn could cause other, more valuable employees to leave your organization.
  2. MOVEMENT WITHIN – Millennials who want new opportunities to expand their skills, in order to rapidly advance their career (which the study proved is most of them), are more likely to stay within your organization if these aforementioned opportunities can be found within your organization. It is a win-win situation: Your Millennial expands his/her knowledge (and as a result, his/her opportunities for advancement), and you get to keep your investment in his/her talent.
  3. LIFESTLYE INTEGRATION & FLEXIBILITY – Upon completion of the study, Professor Lyons articulated that a strong message is for companies to provide flexibility for the Millennials to live their lifestyle of choice. If they are working for your organization, they want your organization to work with them, and their values, in return. Need proof? Think of Steve Jobs – a representative of the age of digital culture – who stated, “it’s more fun to be a pirate than [to] join the Navy.” This statement reflects upon the independence and flexibility which Millennials strive to achieve in their careers – and the edge they need to win board games.

So, while on a high-level this study may make my youthful generation of “fun-seekers” look lazy and self-righteous, we have been raised in an environment where we can do anything we set our minds to. What we’ve set our minds to is the same as any other generation; success, but through different means, which explains the desire for rapid advancement and its alignment with job-hopping. The future of the working world is dependent upon Millennials to achieve, and these three small tips can help you retain the younger generation to achieve success for your organization.

By the way, I would be remiss not to mention that the Young Guns won by one, hard-earned, point.

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