This research aims to understand millennials and generations Xers and examine the differences in their perspectives and ethics. It seeks to determine how the differences contribute to intergenerational conflicts, the challenges that organizations face in managing these generations, the implications for the 21st century workplace and how organizations could deal with conflicts.
Millennials and Generation Xers came from totally different historical backgrounds and cultures. Work ethics, job performance, career goals, coping skills, perspectives and expectations are all defined by upbringing and struggles of the generations (Becton et al, 2014).
Organizations are faced with many challenges in successfully leading multigenerational workforces because of differences in perspectives and ethics at the workplace. Generational differences do not reflect an inability to work well together, however, awareness of differences, making necessary adjustments, understanding each group and catering to respective needs could greatly assist in limiting conflicts and ensuring that organizations successfully achieve desired results (Johnson & Johnson, 2010).
Recognizing differences and appreciating expertise of each generation reduces conflicts and encourages generational diversity in which each generation learns to embrace working as teams and mutually benefit from the strengths of each other (Sneltvedt & Sorlie, 2011).
Generation Xers consists of people who were born between 1965 and 1980. This generation spent a lot of time alone as both parents were working. They are classified as being independent and are always looking for an avenue to learn a new skill to improve themselves in preparation of the next job. Generation Xers have an entrepreneurial spirit and prefer to work with minimal supervision. They believe that promotion should be guided by experience and competence and not by seniority. They are highly motivated individuals who have an appreciation for flexible schedules and recognition for their hard work. Generation Xers believe in work life balance and that their life should revolve around work.
Millennials are known as Gen Y, born between 1981 and 1999. This generation has a high level of education and are tech savvy. They will jump from organization to organization if the remuneration package is more attractive. Their work ethic differs to previous generations, they are perceived to be lazy because they do not like to work long hours. However, this perception is not true, they always welcome learning opportunities. They expect to be employed in strategic positions at organizations as soon as they leave university. They believe that entry level positions are below their standards and that they should have flexible work hours or be given the opportunity to work from home with the use of their technological skills.
“Millennials prefer to communicate using technology and expect to be answered right away. They are unimpressed with status and experience, they focus on credibility, while Generation Xers communication styles lean towards the town hall meeting where senior executives stand and announce a change in strategy,’ (STALEY, 2011)
Findings or Our Arguments
The purpose of this study was to examine the different perspectives and work ethics of Generation Xers and Millennials. The research showed that both generations have different attitudes and behaviours towards work ethics. “Generation Xers can be distinguished from other generations with traits such as resourcefulness, eclectic, ease and comfort with change whereas Millennials need a different type of management that has a resemblance to “coaching” (Sajjadi et al., 2012).
There are many generational differences that are documented about the workplace with very conflicting views. Generation Xers have been seen as distrustful, cynical, skeptical towards employers, valuing commitments to their own careers and challenging authority. Despite these myths, this generation has proven to be resilient, realistic about situations, work hard to solve issues and have endured financial constraints (Lester et al., 2012).
Millennials are perceived as being proud, bold, impatient, lacking loyalty, multi-taskers, confident, eager to learn, street smarts, job-hoppers, challenging authority and the old way of doing business and difficult to retain. They expect rewards for participating in events and change jobs when their expectations are not being met (Real et al., 2010).
Although, these two generations may have unique approaches and expectations at work because of their childhood values and experiences. However, results from a study of more than 3,000 corporate leaders conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership revealed that employees of all ages do want similar things from their work and share similar values on the things that really matter such as family, respect and trust (SHRM, 2007).
“Workplaces today are highly diversified with the employees coming from different countries, different age groups, religions, races, groups, color and gender. Handling such a complex diversity poses a challenge to Managers who need to handle the people having different work ethics, ambitions, views, mindsets and work styles” (Rajput et al, 2013).
The implications of having generation Xers and millennials working together can either be disastrous or fulfilling depending on how it is managed; as both bring strengths to the 21st-century workplace and these strengths can be exploited to create a productive, successful and happy work environment. As such, it is important to note the basic and most important work characteristics of both generations. According to Saileela & Thiruchanuru (2018), Generation Xers are said to be “problem solvers, manage well, technologically savvy, stay long in jobs and climb the professional ladder and are loyal to organizations that nurture their growth and career advancement”. Millennials, on the other hand, are considered very technologically sophisticated, have a higher professional risk tolerance, impatient, have a very limited ability to take criticism, are adaptable and flexible and able to deal with an ever-increasing rate of change in life and the work environment (Sa’aban, et al, 2013).
For workplace success, a basic understanding of both generations and their work beliefs and ethics are necessary. Millennials are technologically very sophisticated and are higher risk-takers; while Generation Xers are very good at managing projects and getting things done. Both generations can collaboratively work together wherein, creative and possibly risky ventures developed by millennials could be managed and executed by Generation Xers who are better at managing and getting the job done. Also, Generation Xers have more work experience and would be in a better position to navigate any pitfalls of risky ventures to lead to the success and profitability of projects. Furthermore, millennials are more technologically savvy and value social communications and can reach a wide market audience on all social platforms; Generation Xers are more experienced and could help to manage and maintain the necessary systems and support their millennial colleagues by helping them to develop content and products based on their knowledge and experience.
“It should be noted that 62% of Generation Xers want to be mentors”, (Allen, 2007). In essence, this could be of great advantage to the workplace and lead to a greater development of the business’s resources and expertise capital. If Generation Xers in the business place should mentor promising young millennials, this could result in well-rounded managers and workers. Additionally, professional generational culture sharing could lead to employees benefiting from the best of both generations. For example; millennials with innovative ideas for product and service development could benefit from professional attributes of Generation Xers such as managing projects well and developing in a company through career advancement and career opportunities. Generation Xers can benefit from millennials’ by learning to be more flexible and adaptable to an ever-changing work environment and fully embracing technology. This will allow companies to adopt new and innovative technological development that could give the company a competitive edge. This professional culture sharing between generations could assist companies in increasing productivity and profitability built on the bridge of generational professional sharing of each generation’s best business ethic and attribute.
On the other hand, businesses with a mixture of both generations of employees who have not integrated well in the workplace can certainly lead to dismay; low productivity and poor work conditions between the Generation Xers and the millennials. Wey and Sutton, (2002) opined that “Generation Xers employees sometimes view their millennial co-workers as being self-centered, abstractly idealistic and unwilling to put in the necessary work to move up the professional ladder. While millennials at times view Generation Xers as archaic, skeptic and too authoritative”. These very different and negative views held by the different groups of employees causes them to resent each other and refuse to work together in a meaningful way and this will affect the company’s growth and productivity.
Consequently, it is essentially important that both generations learn to work together for the benefit of the company and their own development. It is important that Generation Xers and millennials respect the differences between each group and maximize each other’s strengths and assimilate the progressive qualities of each other. This will then be reflected in the company’s productivity and market success and the career advancement and development of each group. Failure to do this will have negative implications for the company. As in the words of Fishman, “Every generation is unique. Practitioners, employers, and managers of human resources (HR) who understand and respect the differences between Millennials and Generation can develop strategies from a generational point of view and thereby enable these employees to perform at their peak regardless of age” (2016).
Linking Theory With Practical
Frederick Herzberg’s two factor theories of Hygiene factors and motivators comes to mind when dealing with the approach to the implications of work ethic between millennials and generation Xers.
According to Management Study Guide.com. Hygiene factors are those factors which are essential for the existence of motivation at the workplace. The hygiene factors symbolize the physiological needs which the individuals wanted and expected to be fulfilled. Hygiene factors are also called dissatisfiers or maintenance factors as they are required to avoid dissatisfaction. Hygiene factors include: Pay, company policies and administrative policies, fringe benefits, physical working conditions, status, interpersonal relations and job security.
Motivational factors: According to Herzberg, the hygiene factors cannot be regarded as motivators. The motivational factors yield positive satisfaction. These factors are inherent to work. These factors motivate the employees for a superior performance. These factors are called satisfiers. These are factors involved in performing the job. Employees find these factors intrinsically rewarding. Motivational factors include: Recognition, sense of achievement, growth and promotional opportunities, responsibility, meaningfulness of the work.
While each generation is different and managing each has its own challenges. Herzberg’s two theories can be applied to each generation.
For example, the ‘Traditionalists’ those born between 1928 and 1945 who still believe in honesty, respect and loyalty to the ‘job’ still need to feel like they are involved by being responsible and making a contribution to ‘getting the job done’. This is important to this generation even if they are comfortable working in the same job for years.
Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964 would have a different mindset to that of the Traditionalists and can be motivated by levels of responsibility, sense of achievement and meaningfulness to the work, of course it goes without saying that the hygiene factors need to be present.
Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1980. These Xers prefer to work independently with minimal supervision just like the Baby Boomers are motivated by responsibility and sense of achievement. However, maintenance factors such as pay, physical working conditions and status seem to be the major motivational factors behind this generation.
Millennials (Generation Y) those born after 1980 are a tech savvy generation and are not as loyal as the Traditionalists or the Baby Boomers. They present a large portion of the work force and would not stay in a job if the working conditions are not right or if they are being unfairly paid. Therefore, moving from job to job seems no problem for them as they are more interested in pay, benefits and what skills they bring to the organization, not loyalty (most if not are more likely to leave after the three month probation period) especially if they feel the job being monotonous or not meeting their needs and expectations.
In conclusion, to avoid employee dissatisfaction, managers could apply Herzberg’s two factors hygiene factors and motivation factors carefully across all generations, especially if you have all four generations working in the same organization, there will be some sort of conflict. It requires a level of understanding to work as a team because what applies or appeals to one generation may not apply to another as each has their own ‘driving force’ or ‘motivational factor’ and managers must harness this. It is indeed important for managers to use employees’ level of skill, knowledge and work experience in order to achieve the level of productivity that the organization needs and demands.
Having a multigenerational workforce may be beneficial on some levels (Brandman University, 2019) but different preferences among generational cohorts can result in misunderstandings and conflict in the workplace. Fortunately, these differences can be managed effectively by the implementation of some proactive measures, including: –
- A common mode of communication to avoid miscommunication among workers
Choosing the right platform to communicate in the workplace is essential as most communication methods in the 21st century involves some form of technology. To mitigate this barrier engaging and connecting workers must be considered by employers. Millennials & Generation Xers both use smart devices to tweet, text and email. While these are regular means of communication, an easier and convenient way of communication in the workplace today is through the use of mobile applications(apps), this allows all members of the organization to be on one platform, thus encourage engagement, promote productivity and erasing age bias and stereotypes among workers. Posnanski, & Badzińska (2017) agreed to this platform, they found it to be very successful and it is quickly adopting globally.
One successful company is the accounting firm Deloitte Services LP, they have created a mobile application to support multigenerational communication in the company, it offers employees and clients a wide range of collaboration on one platform (Ambrosio, 2009).
- Implementation of a reverse mentoring program.
Gursoy. et al., (2008) endorses the innovative mentoring measure which is geared towards helping generations to learn from each other by pairing younger skilled and knowledgeable employees as mentors to share their expertise with older coworkers which helps them to embrace new ways of doing things. Initiated by Jack Welsh of GE’s (Jordan & Sorell, 2019) to bring awareness and teach senior employees about internet use. It was further developed to encompass building leadership skills, handling strategic challenges and improving work ethics across generational workers while promoting diversity. To this end, employees are more socially, technological inclined, forward thinking and have a great awareness of current trends.
American Express welcomed the reverse-style mentoring for team building in an effort to bridge the gap of social media, use of technology and current trends, according to Henricks. M, (2014) this is “teaching an old dog new tricks”. Murphy, W. (2012) stated that although the gap of generational differences has been bridged some cross-cultural differences may complicate such generational relationships.
- Involve staff in social events and outreach programs
Recreation activities and games can help to engage but generations and help them to forge friendships beyond the workplace. Jirasevijinda, (2018) suggested the use of Jeopardy as it helps to stimulate one’s mind, other ideas such a pool table, darts to be used during breaks can help staff to respect and be patient with each other.
- Reward and Recognition to motivate employees
It is important to reward employees’ performance individual and team work as it helps to motivate them. Generation Xers are thought to be motivated by money and other extrinsic rewards, while millennials are said to be intrinsically motivated through self-determination. According to Larkin, S. (2017) in an effort to gain superior operational result organizations must be willing to make significant investment to motivate their employees. Hence, an ongoing employee motivational program aligned with a retention strategy will seek to address these conflicts and ensure workers are recognized for their efforts.
- Avoid stereotype
It is important that organizations avoid making assumptions based on one’s age. Studies have shown that the older generation are stereotyped (Hummert, et.al, 1994) but not much attention has been given to millennials in the workplace. Biasness to one generation is unacceptable and can result in diversity in organizations which upsurge of conflict (Williams & O’Reilly, 1998). (Penttila 2009) cautioned that such conflicts in organizations if not given attention and resolved quickly can lead to high staff turnover, low production and profits, and an unhappy workforce. It is better to understand employees’ working style than being judgmental. Like the assumption that older employees are uncomfortable using technology is false, (Patrizio, 2016; Nash, n.d.).
Overall, multigenerational workforce challenges are not new (Chitre, 2019) but organizations must seek to identify and address these challenges in an effort to create a much more productive, healthier and harmonized work environment for all employees.