By Debbie Hall

It is more than speaking to someone

According to many sources, including Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research, millennials (born 1980-2000) are now the largest generation in America. For decades, the baby boomers (born 1947-1964) were the largest generation. Both groups have reshaped the economy, society and the workplace.

But when the generations come together in a professional setting, there can be misunderstandings and miscommunication, whether peer-to-peer or management and staff.

According to Ann Simmons Nicholson, president and CEO of The Simmons Group, she would group the generations of the workplace into five groups. This includes traditionalists (prior to boomers), boomers, Generation X, millennial Y (or echo) generation and I generation (millennials born after 1995).

“Each generation has different needs, wants and desires, and in order to be an effective employer, you need to address the differences,” she explained. She defines generations as encompassing a 20-year period and people within that period that share similar experiences. This would include music, crisis (in society), celebrities, influential people, entertainment and age.

An employer or manager needs to approach each generation differently. The caveat is that it is not a defined boundary. A person born in 1980 can identify with both Generation X and millennial Y. Nicholson offers four different topics with different approaches. There is recruiting, supervision, communication and retention. It is also important that employers apply his or her knowledge of the different needs, wants and desires of each generation in the moment.

“Boomers live to work. They will accomplish assignments without many questions,” she stated. “However, generations born after 1965 want to have an understanding of why. People born in the early- to mid-1990s really want to know why they are doing something and associate it with value. While this might come across as negative, it really is not. They want to understand how it contributes to their position and the company,” she stated.

Ironically, millennials do not like to be labeled or grouped together, which makes it an identifying quality of the group. However, boomers really identify with their group. Boomers will have held fewer jobs and careers, while millennials will work 10 to 14 different jobs and change careers more frequently with three to five different professions by the age of 38. If a boomer or even a Generation X is reviewing résumés, it is important to understand this characteristic. It is also important to note that millennials are the largest generation in the workforce and are anticipated to comprise 51 percent by 2020.

Millennials are conscientious consumers and want to know about any company with which they are considering employment. They will ask questions about community involvement, sustainability, opportunities to share what the company does outside of the workplace, and how the company impacts the community as a whole and the neighborhood.

To recruit those born after 1980, know that they have a preference for social media communication. When recruiting, while ads should be posted, also use a blog or post on social media to attract this age group.

As for retention, all of the generations want the same thing, including meaningful work. The difference between the generations is the reaction if wants, needs and desires are not met. Millennials will leave employment if it is not satisfying, even without another job lined up.

Millennials also like to be included in brainstorming and decision-making. However, millennials need to be told that while their opinion are valuable, it might not be used. Also be flexible with millennials about schedules. Boomers are very time driven and follow a schedule, but the latter generations not so much.

Traditional forms of communication such as newsletters and videos will reach boomers. Millennials are technology driven and will seek out information. However, they want access to how the organization works and to senior leaders. Small group interaction works best with short bursts of information.

While this is just an overview of working between the generations, with knowledge and guidance everyone can communicate effectively with each other and create a productive workplace.

More Information
Ann NicholsonNicholson has 29 years of organizational development, human resources, operations and training experience. She formed and operates The Simmons Group, a full-service strategic planning, human resources, training, talent management and organizational development company.