Are Generational Differences Going Away?

It started with a survey. A couple of years ago I worked with the Career Advisory Board, a non-profit organization commissioned by DeVry University that aims to help all job seekers advance, to survey how Millennials (young professionals born 1980-90) felt about their careers and workplaces.

The research indicated that Millennial attitudes had shifted since the onset of the recession. Prior to 2008, managers complained bitterly about Millennials’ sense of entitlement, overconfidence, and overall bullishness in their first jobs out of college. But the economic downturn appeared to change things significantly. Suddenly, the Millennials felt lucky to have their jobs and lucky to have senior people around from whom they could learn.

Nevertheless, communications frustrations still lingered among members of different generations. From 2008-2012, the Boomers still chastised the Millennials for trying to take over right away, and the Millennials still whined that their companies were drowning in a mess of Boomer-induced bureaucracy.

Playing nice in the sandbox

Not too long ago I was doing a workshop on communicating across the generations at a top HR consulting firm, and it was the first time I’ve ever heard the Boomers, Gen X-ers, and Millennials being consistently complimentary toward one another.  It seems that the generations have come a long way toward understanding one another, and that they aren’t so stuck in their own ways anymore.  Even when a rare negative comment was made, the participant always prefaced it with:  “I don’t necessarily think this is true of anyone in this room, but I’ve noticed that Millennials in general…”

There are undoubtedly those who never believed in generational differences to begin with. These are the people who comment that the Boomers were the same as Millennials are now when they were in their twenties and early thirties. When people ask me about this, I usually say that the Boomers and the X-ers did indeed want the same things as Millennials want today, but Millennials are different because they are actually speaking up. The older generations toed the line and waited for their turn to influence direction, but the Millennials won’t do that.  They’ll demand what they want now, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

Are permanent changes afoot?

Now I’m wondering, though, if this is still the case.  The Millennials I met recently seemed pretty diplomatic, politically correct and hesitant to make too many waves.  For their part, the Boomers and the X-ers were less irritable, more patient, and more open-minded.  In a workshop like this, I can usually tell who’s a Boomer, X-er, and Millennial by listening to participants rather than looking at them.  But I found myself relying on appearance cues much more than usual, and it was strange and frankly, quite intriguing!

What do you think?  Do you believe this company was just an anomaly and generational differences are still very much apparent in your office?  Or do you think the Millennials are growing up and the Boomers/X-ers are mellowing out?  If this is true, what does it mean for the future of our multi-aged workplaces?












Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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