Three’s Company takes on a whole new meaning in a multigenerational workplace where values-driven, Boomer executives collide with the alienated pragmatism of Gen-X middle managers. Toss in team-oriented Millennials and even innocuous conversation poses a challenge.
A panel of students, alumni, and professionals, representing all age brackets, gathered at Goizueta Oct. 21 for “Talk’n Bout Re-Generation: Disruptive Patterns in Work and Learning.” The discussion focused on how to find common ground in adopting communication strategies, employee assessment tools, technological innovation and work-life balance priorities. The talk was part of a two-day Knowledge Futures Forum, “Re-Generation: Envisioning New Relations to Media, Civics, Work and Learning,” organized by the Halle Institute for Global Learning and the Goizueta ISOM faculty.
Acknowledging that generational generalizations only serve as a starting point; speakers agreed the greatest source of tension in the office is between fiercely entrepreneurial Gen-Xers and their largely sheltered Millennial employees.
“The Millennial generation has been raised to have all options all the time, 24-7, 365, for 18 years and counting,” said moderator Andrea Hershatter, senior associate dean and director of the BBA Program.
Hershatter pointed to a 2011 McCann Worldgroup study, which found that more than half of Millennials surveyed would trade their sense of smell before relinquishing their cell phones.
That reliance on instant communication frustrates managers who would rather chat over coffee than explain a big picture strategy via text message, said Renu Kulkarni 94MBA, founder and executive director of FutureMedia at Georgia Tech.
Millennial Chad Thayer 12BBA outlined an unspoken communication hierarchy among his peers, governing who is Facebook-worthy, text-worthy and tweet-worthy, based on the strength of the relationship.
“A phone call has become the more urgent means of communication,” he said.
Gen-Xer Chip Gross 97MBA, Client Partner at interactive marketing agency Razorfish, explained that younger generations are more adept at multitasking.
“I can be on a conference call with a client, responding to email, and have the IM window opened up,” he said.
In delivering feedback, it’s important to know your audience, the speakers agreed. Gen-Xers prefer efficient evaluations hitting key performance targets, while Millennials appreciate more informal, consistent feedback.
Millennials also desire a supportive and open-minded supervisor-employee relationship, while Gen-Xers just “want their boss to stay out the way and not be toxic,” Hershatter said.
“A boss can be anywhere from a dictator to a friend,” noted Dan Pious 13MBA and former winner of the reality television show The Amazing Race. “I want the boss to be much closer to the friend side.”
“It’s important to feel like you’re relevant in your supervisor’s mind and not just an afterthought,” added Thayer.
At the same time, it is essential to recognize the wealth of experience among older employees, said Boomer Gail Norris, director of the industry solutions division of Siemens Industry Sector. To that end, Siemens has established cross-generational employee resource groups.
Added Kulkarni: “All of these folks have an equal seat at the table. We can learn from each of them.”
– Margie Fishman