What’s the biggest difference between millennials or those from Generation Y (born between 1981 and 1994) and baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)? And how do those in Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) fit in? The biggest gap—and the greatest way to reach others—is through personal and social media and a deeper comprehension of what messages are being sent (including verbal communications) and how the messages are being perceived. DiversityInc’s Daryl Hannah (a millennial) and Barbara Frankel (a boomer) sat down with five corporate experts in a roundtable in DiversityInc’s Newark, N.J., offices to see what they believe are the biggest generational workplace issues and how they are resolving them. In this four-part series, we give you their answers.
LaMae Allen deJongh
U.S. Human Capital and Diversity Leader
Senior Diversity Practitioner
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida
Principal Responsible for Cross-Generational Initiatives and Author of Decoding Generational Differences
Chief Diversity Officer
Allstate Insurance Co.
Vice President of Human Resources
We asked our panel how boomers and the younger generations differ. The response was primarily in their use of technology to communicate (social networks, texting) and in their different views of work/life balance.
Wiley-Little: Technology and social networking have really changed the way we interact with people. Millennials can be anywhere because of social networking, and when the baby boomers catch up to Facebook and things like that, what happens? Then there’s Twitter, and when they catch up to that, there will be something else. If boomers don’t embrace all the new media quickly, we will have a great challenge going forward.
deJongh: One of the things that we have started to do much more deliberately is figure out based on what it is we’re trying to communicate and want to communicate: What’s the best medium to do it? Is it podcast? Is it through the iPod? Is it through e-mail? Is it through the blog? [This way,] it’s not just the traditional styles of communication all of the time. Even on our project teams while we’re on client sites, IM has become much more the norm in terms of communication than even e-mail.
Smith: A baby-boomer friend of mine went to a technology event about blogging and he was carrying a Wall Street Journal. This 25-year-old came up to him and said, ‘Dude, you still read that?’ As the millennials have come into the work force, it has affected the language of everybody else and it’s not cool for anybody to act in a way that’s exclusive.
deJongh: Work/life is the greatest gap, and it manifests itself in a few different ways. From a baby boomer’s perspective, I would categorize it as live to work. For Generation X, work to live, and for millennials, they are really smart workers, so they want the littlest amount of effort to get the results that you need. For our business, we’ve seen it manifested in terms of leadership styles, management styles and perceptions. If you’re managing diverse teams, you have cross-generational representation. One’s actions, one’s approaches can be misconstrued; boomers can be perceived as workaholics and millennials as not caring or putting in the time. We have to not force perceptions or interpret work ethics in terms of that.
Smith: One of the real differences is for the millennials to say, “I want to work smarter.” That’s heard as “I don’t really know what’s going on.” The food for thought for Gen Y is they need to understand that there’s a process in work that you need to understand, and what you said would make sense to you, but it doesn’t make sense to someone else.
One of the big gaps that we have is that you say one thing and I hear another. One other gap that we have is: Just what does a complete job look like? And if I say, “You need to go back and do that again,” I may be saying, “Our client wants a high level of work,” and you may be saying, “Where did you come from? This work is good enough.”
Are There Generational Differences Around Coming Out?
For many LGBT boomers, coming out has been a traumatic event, and for some, it hasn’t happened, at least in the workplace. For millennials, it’s more of a ‘So what?’
deJongh: Our LGBT employee-resource group has actually done a lot of talking and thinking around this. We found on average that the age baby boomers tend to come out was 40, compared with Generation Y, which is the average age of 19. And when you look forward another four or five years, you’re going to find that age becoming younger.
The baby boomers that tend to assume more of a leadership or elder statesman role in the organization are more concerned about whether we promote the right kind of education awareness within the organization to others. They are much more concerned about if we are getting our 100 percent on the [Human Rights Campaign's] Corporate Equality Index, which we did. Are we thinking about all the different rights from a benefit perspective? Whereas [people in] Generation Y are already assuming that’s in place and they’re much more out front and open about it and trying to push us to be active in terms of advertising, wanting to see us more in LGBT publications and on Capitol Hill pushing for legislation. Internally, they want us to emphasize the allies in LGBT friends and family and focus more on the inclusivity.
Purdy: I’ve had the opportunity to work in different places across the country, and as you would expect, in the major cities, you would see more inclusion versus rural places, where they are more reserved about it. But I also have seen what Accenture has seen with respect to the openness. As the baby boomers have firsthand experience with it, whether it’s their family members, children, it affects their perspective on it as well.
Jackson: At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, I don’t necessarily see it broken down as generational. When we did begin building Respect (an LGBT employee-resource group), there were certain leaders—maybe around 40 or 45—who said, “I don’t feel comfortable being professionally out. I’m out to you or a certain person, but I’m not quite sure how comfortable I am in the organization.” We had to fight off the heterosexual advocates who wanted to be a part of that. At the launch, we had all prepared for protests and people with their different beliefs, but it was the biggest non-event you ever wanted to see. Our CEO (Dr. Robert Lufrano) said this is one of the proudest moments that he’s had at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida in launching this LGBT group because he knew that the organization had to say “We’re ready for this.” Once we realized at the company there seriously wasn’t going to be any retaliation, then we got more [of the] people who were saying “I am not going to be professionally out” who were now feeling more comfortable to support the ERG.
Smith: One of the things that is most refreshing about Generation Y is that they’re wondering why this is even an issue.