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Bridging the Generational Gap in the Workplace • AdamsGabbert

Technology has forever changed our world. In fact, this next scenario is probably all too familiar to many of you: Just the other day, I caught myself scrolling through my phone while I watched TV, and at one point, telling Alexa to order the next batch of dog food. Simultaneously using three devices at once…not bad, right? (Or maybe really bad; I haven’t made up my mind).

But with this incredible change in technology in our personal lives, a changing workplace was bound to follow. In the last five or so years, there’s been a noticeable shift in how HR recruiters are recruiting. Gen-Xers and Millennials make up the majority of workers in the U.S., and through this shift, we’ve seen them begin to challenge the status quo (that has Millennials written all over it) and altogether shift their priorities.

In years past, recruiters had a different approach, and they were more focused on matching candidates with positions that offered the highest salaries and the best benefits. Enjoying time spent with co-workers, a work-life balance and philanthropic participation was low on everyone’s list of considerations.

Recruiters zeroed in on a candidate’s resume, looking at experience and degrees. Did they have any awards or certifications? If they did, you can bet that these qualifications were more important than their charisma, and believe me, the term “finding the right cultural fit” was not on any recruiter’s radar.

This latest shift, however, is largely representative of how the workforce is turning over because Millennials are officially taking over. Millennials have now surpassed both the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, and they will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2020.  In a Brookings report, “How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America,” authors Morley Winograd and Michael Hais share:

“The distinctive and widely shared attitudes and beliefs of this generation will slowly, but surely, reshape corporations in its image and end the confrontational and bottom-line oriented world that Boomers and Gen-Xers have created.”

Millennial mentality

We all know the stereotypes. They’ve been (mis)labeled as lazy or entitled, but Millennials today are proving they’re willing to work—it just might be for something other than money.

I recently read through this Heartland Monitor poll, which reports that 57 percent of younger Americans said their top priority was doing something they found enjoyable or that makes a difference in society, compared to the 64 percent of older Americans who talked about making as much money as possible or learning new skills.

Millennials’ interests go beyond what a specific position might look like and weigh more so on what the company looks like as a whole. What does the space look like? Is it a collaborative office or is individual problem-solving valued? Is the company innovative? Do they allow team members to work from home? And most importantly, is “take your dog to work day” a real thing?

Technology and flexibility are two pain points Millennials are not willing to negotiate. The days of the “butts in seats from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.” mentality is long gone, and it’s been replaced with “let’s chat on Google hangout.”

Gen-Xers find a happy medium

Overall, there’s been a shift in the kind of company candidates are interested in working for. And when you break it down, it’s obvious that different generations are just that: different. They have different preferences, beliefs and work ethics; not to mention that Millennials and Gen-Xers are also at very different points in their lives, so we’re going to see their interests and priorities scale the full spectrum.

Gen-Xers are most likely raising families and are even bigger proponents of flexible work schedules compared to Millennials; they follow the mantra, “Make your career fit into your life, not your life fit into your career.” When their first born makes his debut as Tiny Tim in the Christmas play at 4:00pm on a Wednesday, they’re going to have front row seats. No exceptions.

And because they’re well into their career and have a family to support, salary matters. Not only the salary level, but a 401(k) plan with matching benefits, job security and the opportunity for advancement. Many are seeking career development programs so they can be promoted from within, and ultimately finish out their career with the same company.

Generation Xers and Baby Boomers have now been working together for two decades and understand their stubborn mindset of “pay your dues and conform to a culture of overwork.” But over the last eight to 10 years, Xers have also witnessed Millennials take the workforce by storm, redefining almost every principle along the way. Gen-Xers are the bridge that unites the old school of thought with the new school, but they can’t do it alone.

Bridging the generational gap

Over the years, I’ve seen that one of the biggest challenges a manager or business leader faces is managing a mixed bag of personalities, and getting a group of employees from different backgrounds (and age demographics) to work together requires practice…and a lot of patience. A lot. They need the support of their employers to thread the needle. If ignored, you can all but guarantee a decrease in productivity and profit.

Diversity is key. The easy route is to group people who are similar in age and interest, but managers would be missing an opportunity. Each generation can learn skills from the other, and different experiences and backgrounds provoke different solutions or discussions.

And there has to be a high level of communication and feedback; when you ask the question “How can we do things better?” to your employees, you’ll learn their motivators and what incentivizes each employee. Instead of bottling up their frustrations, they’ll feel like they have an opportunity to be a part of the solution and that they’re not being looked over.

With all the differences to consider, there’s no masking that recruiting has its challenges; but, in recruiting, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy and there shouldn’t be. And if you acknowledge that, you’re headed in the right direction. It takes skilled expertise to match the right employee with the right position and the right company, and that’s where the work begins.


Justin Secrist is the manager of recruiting and staffing services for AdamsGabbert (AG), a catalyst for growth, a spark for innovation, and a facilitator of progress. Founded in 1999 and based in Overland Park, Kan., AG focuses on staffing + recruiting, technology services, and consulting—all designed to make business better for their clients.What has been your experience speaking generational languages? Share your thoughts on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter!