Between a Millennial and Gen X

Observations from a Corporate Transitional Fossil

According to a University of Michigan report, Generation X (or just Gen X) is defined as people who were born between 1961 and 1981 and tend to align themselves with their company’s core mission and purpose. Gen X employees have a tendency to keep their head down, assume their work will speak for itself and expect loyalty to be reciprocated by their employer.

According to a 2013 PwC study, Millennials are people who were born between 1980 and 1995 and are inclined to prioritize individual growth and chase new personal opportunities. Also known as the “Me” generation, Millennials are more likely to switch jobs frequently to pursue their passion.

I was born in 1981, and as a result I can technically be categorized as both a product of Gen X and a Millennial. In other words, I am part of the “missing link” generation.

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In my 12 years since graduating college I have worked at (or should I say for) a handful companies, interacting with coworkers who have been both older and younger than me. Based on my own observations and discussions with peers, it is more apparent than ever that the Gen X’ers and Millennials have a different outlook on what they each want to get out of work and how they approach the day-to-day pressures of achieving professional goals.

Millennials do not believe that productivity should be measured by the number of hours worked at the office, but by the output of the work performed. — PwC’s NextGen: A global generational study

The good news is that both Gen X’ers and Millennials believe in working hard and getting rewarded for their accomplishments. However, Gen X’ers are more likely to drop everything in their personal life to get a job done in an office environment, while Millennials favor a flexible schedule where they can work remotely to complete an assignment. This clash in ideology along with a resistance to compromise has led to a contemptuous and unhappy working environment at many companies.

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As the reality of the new workforce sets in, Gen X’ers in managerial roles need to be nimble in their efforts to accommodate the demands of Millennials in order to best position a company for the future. In fact, that is what the aforementioned study, NextGen: A global generational study, was all about. The purpose of the study was to assess the current state of PwC’s workforce and determine ways to evolve their corporate structure and philosophy to recruit and retain top talent.

Some of the findings included:

  • Create a flexible employee schedule that supports a better life / work balance including working remotely.
  • Invest and integrate the latest technology to create a more efficient and adaptable working environment.
  • Increase transparency around compensation and career paths, along with a meaningful reward structure that acknowledges good work.
  • Build a sense of community within a team and provide honest and consistent feedback.
  • Offer opportunities to work in different areas within a company to encourage learning and discourage boredom.

(Side note: PWC Chairman Bob Moritz published an article last November in the Harvard Business Review with an update on the study’s results.)

Likewise, Millennials need to quickly adapt to a post-collegiate world and have greater tolerance when collaborating with seasoned employees who have been accustomed to a certain type of work protocol. The biggest mistake Millennials can make is to divulge “novice expertise” on a subject where they truly know very little. Be patient and take the time to learn the trade before you ask to get paid.

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On the surface it may seem like Millennials are just narcissistic and entitled, and even though this may be true in some cases, Millennials have been shaped by a series of events — the Great Recession, technology advancements, 9/11, two long wars — that will result in a great force for positive change. Millennials have not only witnessed but were victims of the corporate greed that led to months of unemployment and the heartache of watching family lose their jobs and retirement savings after years of loyalty to a company. Is it unreasonable to say Millennials have been conditioned to be resentful and think of themselves first?

Tom Brokaw said in a 2013 Time article, The Me Generation, “Their great mantra has been: Challenge convention. Find new and better ways of doing things. And so that ethos transcends the wonky people who are inventing apps and embraces the whole economy.”

As Millennials switch gears from creating vanity apps to creating products that will change the world, do you want to be the company that failed to adapt? It is critical that companies with a vision make every effort to find and nurture talented Millennials to lead the charge in the years ahead … well, until Gen Z graduates from college and once again challenges convention.

Allen Yesilevich is the author of Career Unlock, the Ultimate Guide to Launching a Marketing Career, and is an integrated marketing manager at a global professional services firm. You can follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.