It's been a while since someone automatically assumed something about me because I'm a Millennial. And I appreciate that. But that also means that the focus is quickly shifting from Millennials to Gen Z

Soon their generation will have their own stereotypes, just like we have avocados and entitlement. They're a superfood, back off already. But the most important thing to note about generational divides is that they aren't abnormal, they are a constant. And the attributes of a generation are far more related to their economic opportunities and stage in life than what year they were born. 

A 25-year-old is always going to be less focused than a 45-year-old. And even though Millennials are waiting longer to start families, there's a clear shift in their priorities once they do that reflects any generation when they become parents. Baby Boomers that complain about Millennials once were on the other end of the same comparisons. It's a never-ending cycle. 

That said there are real changes to the office, the workforce and how companies perceive talent that need to be addressed. The gig economy has created global talent pools as location is less important. The increased use of data science and AI in everything is requiring a different skill set. 

But there are still ways to unify a workforce and retain talent from multiple generations.

Start with a purpose. 

"There is a common misconception that Millennials are unique for wanting to do purpose-driven work," said Sjoerd Gehring VP of Talent Acquisition and People Experience, Johnson & Johnson.

"In fact, 70 percent of U.S. adults say it is important to them that their actions help make a positive difference in the world. With 130 years in business, Johnson & Johnson was one of the world's first mission-driven companies. Our credo is able to connect the personal values of all generations with our corporate values, which really resonates with current employees and prospective talent."

Purpose is universal and generations that are on the way out of the workforce, this time Boomers, always struggle with purpose. As Generation X takes over leadership roles they see their window to carve out direction closing. Millennials, now the largest age demographic, require a lot of focus from talent departments.

But why does that window have to close? Converting recently retired Boomers to the gig economy can restore purpose. 

As a startup you are always in search of the most talent for the least amount of money. Recent retirees are a goldmine for startups, even high-tech startups. They offer business wisdom, connections and guidance without charging top dollar. And retirees would much rather stay in their field than substitute teach or take an odd job for supplemental income. When done correctly it can be awin-win for both sides.

And if you're running a startup dispel the myth that people in their 50s, 60s and 70s can't be helpful in tech. You probably talk all the time about blockchain and only know 25% about hot it actually works. You don't need to be a developer to help with a business. Most principles of business are universal and transcend industry. At most they require a couple day crash course in the nuances specifically related to that industry. 

Think beyond mentorship programs.

That seems like an obvious piece of advice. But let's dig a little deeper. A Boomer doesn't necessarily want to spend time with the indignity of training their replacement. Brett Favre didn't help Aaron Rodgers and that turned out fine. 

So reinvent how this functions and put Millennials and Boomers on projects with equal tasks requiring both to succeed for the project to be a success. There may be some bumps at first but utilizing collective skillsets will naturally create collaboration. Once people see skills in action there is a deeper understanding of how those skills can be leveraged going forward. 

It won't always work but it's way more effective, both from a business productivity and company culture standpoint than standard mentoring. Not every personality is geared for mentorship and that can't be forced. Wanting to be successful on a project, that's universal. 

The biggest key in navigating generational divides in the workplace is to understand the motivations of each person, what's important to them and to put them in the best position for success. 

Published on: Mar 16, 2018