The millennial generation, some say, are only interested in switching jobs, getting flex time and employee benefits. Gen Z workers are tech snobs who have short attention spans and are less focused than other generations.
Hold up on those kinds of myths and fallacies, says Misty Bennett, an assistant dean of the Central Michigan University College of Business Administration. Treating employees of any generation with a broad brush is not only a bad idea; it is also bad for business, Bennett says.
“We all expect one thing (from the many generations in the workforce) but there’s another reality out there,” Bennett said. “We’re all unique, so let’s think of solutions that work for all of us.”
Bennett has been researching the behaviors of the different generations in the workplace. She’s worked with many large companies and professional organizations and teaches classes on human resources, organizational behavior and management at CMU.
Millennials are considered those people born between 1981 and 1996. Millennials are said to be the largest segment in the workplace. Within the next two years, research shows that 50% of the U.S. workforce is expected to be made up of millennials. It will be 75% by 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The workplace is said to have five generations within it at the moment. They are traditionalists, who are born before 1946; Baby Boomers, who are born between 1946 and 1964; Generation X, who are born between 1965 and 1976; Generation Y, or millennials who are born between 1977 and 1997.
Generation Z includes people who are born after 1997 and they are starting to flood the workforce. These are the children of Gen X, typically, and have similar characteristics to that generation, some career experts say. They love tech, they are independent and they have self confidence on the job.
Bennett said Gen Z has also been called the iGen because they were basically born with smartphones in their hands. That’s the life they’re used to and have grown up within. So that is a true description of this generation — they want sophisticated online tools, lots of new tech and plenty of exposure to workplaces that respect their time.
One thing that is generally true among everyone who is living today is that social media has changed the way we treat ourselves and one another, Bennett said. Because we are putting ourselves on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, we are becoming more narcissistic, which is also creating personal and social anxiety, she says.
“To a degree, (millennials and Gen Z) are getting a bad rap for what’s happening to all of us,” Bennett said. “I’ve been in a meeting with executives who say they think these millennials don’t pay attention in meetings. But then I ask them whether they’ve looked at their smartphones during a meeting and most of them raise their hands.
“As leaders, we have to lead and we have to show what kinds of behaviors we’re looking for. We have to set expectations. We have to put our phones away and make that signal clear,” Bennett says.
Another myth she tries to temper is that Gen Z or millennials want flex time for their personal desires, such as hobbies or outside activities. Rather, she tells managers and business owners to understand that all generations, especially baby boomers, may need or want flex time for family issues and related situations.
“This is really all of us,” Bennett says. “What if you’re a baby boomer with an ailing parent at home? It’s not just that we need flexibility for a younger generation, but we need more time to be home to care for a parent.”
Bennett says her key message is to think about how benefits or programs help people across the age spectrum.
“We have to take the blinders off and see how those benefits help everyone and make our messages broader. At the end of the day, we all want to hire best,” Bennett says. “Think about the assumptions, and challenge them. Think about society, the culture, the trends. They affect us all. My advice to managers: Avoid stereotypes. Look at growing and developing talent, and put yourselves in their shoes and remember what it was like to be their age.”