I was sitting around a conference table recently with my direct reports, discussing the best way to show my company's entertainment marketing prowess to a potential new client. It was one of those high-energy types of meetings we live for in the industry, with lots of fresh ideas coming out from all angles. It felt good -- dynamic and energizing.
I looked around the table and noticed the beverages my direct reports were sipping: energy drinks with high-voltage levels of caffeine; kombucha-infused teas; kale and spinach juices, spiked -- so they told me -- with bee pollen, chia seeds, protein powder, and other intriguing supplements. I sipped my black coffee and mused that if generational difference could be expressed via the medium of beverage choice, then this would surely be one classic case study.
I listened as one millennial praised another for taking a mental-health day after an exceptionally busy week. The open conversation that followed about the importance of taking time to recharge was illuminating and refreshingly honest.
As a guy who just sneaks in as a Gen Xer, I thought about how attitudes have changed. Throughout my career, taking personal days for mental health would have been seen as a sign of weakness. But today, rising stars are unapologetic about their need for mindfulness and spiritual well-being.
Forty percent of my team is comprised of millennials, and this Gen Xer is learning from them. My millennials are showing me that taking time to relax and mentally re-charge is a strength.
Recently, on a family vacation, I actually put an OOO message on my work email. Even then, it took a day or two to stop checking my inbox and switch off. When I did reconnect, I found that I was so much more present. The vacation days were infinitely more relaxing and rewarding, and I came back to work fully energized and refreshed and ready to jump back in with gusto.
Workforces today are fantastically diverse: baby boomers, Gen-Xers, millennials, and the rising Gen-Zers. Integrating the mindsets and mantras of a wide range of generations, from the first boomers of the Harry S. Truman era all the way through to those raised in the Barack Obama years, is a pretty fascinating proposition.
Each group has unique values and distinct attitudes toward work and life, and the combination is great for business. Sharing generational life experiences and listening and learning from one another is proving to be a great way to pave a path of understanding and innovation.
I admit that at times I’ve been both envious and frustrated by the millennial work ethic. I mean, what kind of person works for a few months and then takes off to travel the world?! Millennial priorities seem so wildly different from mine. Yet, their commitment to experiencing the world -- and making it better -- is undeniably enviable.
In my career trajectory, it was constantly drilled into me that hard work and commitment leads to institutional loyalty and success. But, in our dynamic, ever-changing industry, millennials are charting a different course and don’t appear to be taking career hits for experimenting.
Psychologist and business strategist Liane Margaret Davey wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review article that the key to preventing generational tension is to remember that everyone wants to feel valued. A member of the Gen X demo, Davey endorses the importance of seeing past stereotypes. “Age and stage don’t explain everything,” she writes “Take some time to consider each of your direct reports as a whole person — a function of their generation, their age and stage, and their personality. Don’t make the mistake of pigeonholing someone because of the year they were born.”
The narratives we create are naturally based on bias. Becoming aware of our biases and embracing individual qualities and life experiences boosts communication and understanding, which boosts business.
Boomers, Gen-Xers, millennials: all are dedicated and committed groups, but with different priorities. For instance, retirement funds are not crucial for millennials as they are for Gen Xers and Boomers. Millennials talk about living for today and as being more interested in experiences that enhance the moment.
The Gen-Xer in me worries about the future. But isn’t life about a balance of priorities? Maybe we can all learn something from one another on the best way to live and work, and how to balance the different demands placed on us.
And so this being Friday afternoon and Employee Appreciation Day. I’m looking forward to celebrating my multigenerational team and relaxing. I’ll raise a glass and toast before I figure out a new song on my trusty Gibson Memphis. Talent needs to be mobilized, embraced, and regularly celebrated. No, I won’t bake a vegan cake -- but I might just share some of the vinyl in my vast collection.