Like many of my fellow Gen Xers, I have spent the majority of my career managing Millennials and being managed by Baby Boomers. Being caught between these two generations has provided an interesting perspective on the differences between the young’uns and the olds, shedding light on how my managers must have perceived me and my work when I got my first job in the mid-1990s and giving me a glimpse into what could lay ahead if I continue on the same path as my predecessors.
It’s not uncommon for me to hear from Millennial colleagues that they “distrust and don’t like” older senior management (who are seen as overbearing and not-tech-savvy), nor is it uncommon for me to hear from Baby Boomer colleagues that they “distrust and don’t like” Gen Y up-and-comers (who are seen as needy and ambitious beyond their abilities).
While I am sympathetic to the concerns from both camps, if I’m being honest, I’d have to say that I am more attuned to the interests and grievances of my Millennial staff than I am to those of my Boomer colleagues. Most Gen Xers recall being unfairly branded as “slackers” by Boomers back in the day (and lots of us still hold a grudge about it), and while we weren’t born with computers, smartphones and tablets in our hands like our younger cohorts, compared to Boomers, we are as close to being digital natives without the benefit of getting our first tech gadgets before our first birthdays.
Beyond our shared love and embrace of technology, it seems to me that Gen Xers and Millennials are more aligned when it comes to issues related to work-life integration than most Boomers. It may be a gross over-generalization on both sides, but Gen Xers and Millennials have witnessed the consequences of (some) Boomers’ “work-first, life-second” approach, and we don’t like what we see. And don’t get me started on generational differences related to media consumption habits, politics, and race — all topics for another day.
Fortunately, these differences in cross-generational values aren’t insurmountable. In fact, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers alike can gain a lot by taking a cue from Millennials, whose values were forged under the watchful eyes of helicopter parents (mostly Boomers themselves) during times of continuous geopolitical conflicts and economic crises.
Here are a few Millennial values that are reshaping the ways that we all live, work and play.
1. I Do What I Want (But I Want to Do Good)
There was a time when people were encouraged (if not outright expected) to compartmentalize their lives, drawing distinct lines between the personal and the professional. Millennials have shown themselves to be a restless, ambitious, and conscientious lot and #yolo isn’t merely a hashtag for them, and thus these work-play lines are decidedly blurry for them. Indeed, the merger of vocation and avocation is having a tremendous impact across generations, and we can thank Gen Y for leading the charge on finding better balance. By embracing careers and lives that have been slashed together, Millennials are demonstrating that ideas and experiences — no matter their source or origin — have value and shouldn’t be discounted. Moreover, as priorities go, Millennials have made it clear that altruism and doing good isn’t just a “nice to have” ideal, but is essential to their core values.
2. (Over)sharing Is the New Normal
Millennials grew up with protective and engaged parents who documented and shared their every milestone, so naturally Gen Y have continued to do this throughout their lives. While Millennials have expressed less concerns about privacy than older groups have, they also can be wary and distrustful, especially of marketing messages that are inauthentic or if there is no value exchange for sharing information. Still, over-sharing virtually every aspect of our lives — and the increasing expectation to do so — isn’t just a trend, it’s clearly the new normal.
3. Redefinition of Success
For all of the hand-wringing that goes on by older generations about Millennials’ sometimes unrealistic expectations for career advancement, Gen Y has made it clear that climbing the corporate ladder is less a means to an end (like for previous generations of workers), but more about gaining the opportunities to have a voice and to contribute and collaborate in more meaningful ways. A survey by the Brookings Institution found that an overwhelming majority of Millennials (87.5%) don’t define monetary gain at the best measure for success, and 64% of Millennials said they would rather have a $40,000 annual salary at a job that they loved than a $100,000 salary at a job that was boring. That’s not to say that Millennials aren’t ambitious, but Gen Y is redefining success on its own terms.
4. Think Locally, Act Globally
Perhaps more than any previous generation, Millennials live, work, and play in a global society and global economy with ease, thanks in large part to technology. This global perspective means that they have a deeper understanding and greater compassion for the world around them, and don’t hold many of the same biases and fears that previous generations held. This wider worldview has led Millennials to embrace global experiences, influencing the ways that the travel industry speaks to them. But Millennials aren’t just eyeing foreign travel, they also are deeply connected to their local communities, and this highly educated group understands that grassroots efforts still have huge impacts, both locally and globally.
5. The End of Colorblindness
As the most racially diverse generation in American history, Millennials are at the tipping point of becoming the first minority-majority group in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 43% of Millennial adults are non-white, the highest share of any generation in the country. About half of newborns in America today are non-white, and the Census Bureau projects that the full U.S. population will be majority non-white sometime around 2043. But rather than espouse the “we are all the same, colorblind” philosophy of the past, Millennials have evolved the conversation about race and ethnicity toward an idea about radical diversity, where differences between race and ethnicity aren’t things to be erased and ignored, but to be celebrated.
Whenever I hear Millennials being called self-centered and self-involved, I think back to many of the same criticisms that were tossed on Gen Xers. In truth, many of the generational differences have less to do with generational demarcations — which, let’s be honest, can be arbitrary — and more to do with life stages. Still, there’s a lot that older generations can learn from Millennials — if we are willing to listen.
Of course, I might be biased. As a middle-of-the-pack Gen Xer, I scored a 92 (out of 100) on Pew Research Center’s “How Millennial Are You?” survey. Turns out I might have been born in the wrong generation. As the kids like to say, LOL.