I have been inundated by articles recently about the issues with integration of Gen X and Millennials workers into the workplace. Not sure why, but this is a hot issue in trade journals and newspapers. The recent articles seem to focus in on the potential conflict between older, and younger workers who seem to have different perspectives on how work gets done and protocols. These folks would do well to read Dan Pink’s book Drive, which discusses the differences in motivation and how supervisors can carefully cultivate innovation and efficiently by recognizing the differences.
Since I teach at a university, I deal with Gen X and Millennials all the time. There are huge differences in their use and comfort with technology versus older workers. It is truly second nature for the younger workers, while the older generations had to learn these technologies. Many, if they had access to computers, they wrote programs by using punch cards and wrote their own compute programs in FORTRAN. The younger workers don’t know even know what a mainframe computer is let alone punch cards. Technology accelerates exponentially with time, which is why people feel left behind.
Funny how technology works though. While the kids I teach today are far more savvy than their predecessors 5 years ago (and those five years before that), they have to keep up of get left behind. That’s the older worker problem – the older guys cannot compete with the use of technology, but not to worry, in five years, same for these kids. As a result the older crowd may resist helpful technology. It surprises me how many engineering firms resist 3 dimensional design programs, despite my students knowing how to do it. By the way, the contractors hire my students because the contractors see the value in profits (and change orders). Younger workers know how to integrate the technology into the workplace.
While comfort with technology is the big difference you notice, it is not the driving issue as Dan Pink points out. Most of them make a decent wage so they are looking for more than salary to motivate them. Interestingly money is not the primarily motivation like it can be for older workers. The younger folk avoiding the rigid looks for flexibility, especially as it relates to family and friends. They are comfortable with working at home and at times throughout the day. It’s not that they work less, it’s they work differently. We should focus on productivity, versus conventions. Maybe we’d spend time appreciating each other more!
Go back to Drive and you realize that the Gen X and Millennials want to pursue these new technologies and integrate them into their jobs. They are motivated by responsibility, flexibility and independence, much because that’s what their baby boomer parents taught them. They are comfortable with flexible schedules and working when needed. Baby boomers need to help them use these concepts to innovate and create in the workplace. We need to learn to use this to our advantage in the workplace, not fight it.