Generations are Different – Embrace It

I experienced it during my last few years working in industry and continue to hear about it as I consult with various organizations.  The “it” is the frustration with those that have been entering the workforce over the last few years.  Organizations are dealing with staffing shortages, attendance issues, high turnover, poor morale, and low engagement.  Managers are using quite a few words to describe the younger generations that are having such an impact on these issues.  I hear words such as entitled, impatient, unreliable, lazy, and unprepared to just name a few.  Rather than continue to bash this group of young people, let’s take a look at a deeper level.

The younger group of Millennials and the Gen Z people that we are talking about grew up in a much different world than many of us more tenured folks did.  Let’s evaluate some of the comments above based on the culture and society they experienced.

Impatient:  Well, they are a group of people that had access to instant gratification at the tip of their finger.  If they wanted to watch a movie or a tv show, they didn’t have to wait for it to be shown, but rather just went to some streaming service and pulled it up.  If they wanted food, they could just push a few buttons, and food would show up at the doorstep.  They don’t even have to wait for an order at Sonic, because they can order ahead on an app.  They are accustomed to instant gratification.  They have had to wait for very little.  It’s not their fault.  Progress is great, but it sometimes comes with unintended consequences.

Unreliable:  Hey, with the expansion of virtual learning, many of these young people are no longer attending in-person classes.  The virtual classes are oftentimes just assignments posted on a website.  There is no interaction with the teacher, no discussion, and no requirement to be on time.  They sign on at their leisure.  They don’t interact with others and discuss the subject matter.  They work in isolation when they want to at their convenience.  Again, it’s not their fault.  The expansion of learning opportunities for people is a great achievement, but it also comes with unintended consequences for many. 

Lazy: I recall going to a summer football workout at 7AM, working 8 hours on a summer job, and playing baseball at night – talk about a full summer and developing a work ethic.  Today, the requirements of athletics all but eliminate a summer job option for a young person.  In addition, the jobs that were so readily available for young people have been greatly reduced through enhancements and efficiency gains over the years (lawn mowing, car washing, gas station attendant, etc. – some of my old jobs).  Don’t blame our young people.  We are responsible for everything noted above.  Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but they do come with unintended consequences.

Entitled, Unprepared, etc.:  These young people are smart and ambitious, like every generation before them.  However, they were likely exposed to more of the “everyone gets a trophy” concept and how “special” they are to ensure they didn’t get their feelings hurt at times.  Many were likely afforded better options growing up from parents that were able to do more for them as well.  In any case, let’s don’t blame them.  We led many of those efforts and are now seeing some of the unintended consequences. 

So, what do we do in light of those facts?  Rather than complain about it and blame these young people, let’s embrace it.  As I have stated previously, these generations are bright, ambitious young people with all kinds of skills and talents.  Sure, they are lacking in some areas, but they have so much potential!  What they need are organizations to understand where they are coming from and for the leaders within these organizations to adapt their approach to meet the needs of these young people.

I have seen some misguided attempts at this adaptation of leadership.  These young people aren’t asking for free food, smoothie bars at work, yoga classes at lunch, or casual dress days every day in the workplace.  Sure, they will take all these things, but that’s not what they are after.  They want meaning and purpose to their work.  They want to know what they are doing matters.  They need to see and understand the bigger picture and how they are contributing to the overall purpose of the organization.  While they may get impatient if they aren’t being promoted every six months, what they are really wanting is an effective development plan that they can see in action.  They want regular interaction with their leader on development and growth. 

Sure, they need to learn accountability, commitment, and teamwork.  Many of them missed these items growing up for all the reasons previously mentioned.  So, we must invest in them and develop them in these areas also.  Many of these young people aren’t accustomed to communicating in person, asking questions verbally to understand, working through a problem within a team environment, or grinding through a difficult task.  We must help them.  Leaders will need to adapt and invest to experience the results that we all want.  Culture has always been important, but it matters more now than ever.

Leaders need to embrace this challenge, make a difference, and create a workplace culture that attracts team members to drive results.  Let’s create a culture of purpose, development, teamwork, and mutual care that transcends generations.  That’s a sustainable plan!  Be a leader worthy of following and embrace this challenge!

For future articles, please consider following me on LinkedIn as I will be consolidating down to that approach in August.

Doug Strickel


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