In this diverse global economy, it's not uncommon to find five generations working under one roof:

If that depicts your company, it may spell trouble, as generations--supposedly--see things differently and have different values, adding possible misunderstanding, tension, and conflict that could stifle morale and productivity at work.

Or so you would think.

The Research

In a massive study by the Hay Group, a global management consulting firm, researchers analyzed data from over 5 million employees across the world to make comparisons across different generations.

Not surprisingly, they found that generational differences are more likely to reflect the stage of development of employees, as opposed to their generation.

In other words, the differences between Millennials versus Boomers better reflect changes in perceptions and expectations due to their age and career stage, rather than generational thinking or values.

For example, Boomers and Xers are likely to have more insight into today's leadership challenges by virtue of having more experience at work. Millennials and Gen-Z have a view of the future that is shaped by their perception of the next challenge for them, like moving up into the management ranks.

But here's where it gets interesting. While the Hay Group report analyzed things like "positivity in the workplace" (Millennials, by the way, rate their experiences and expectations the least positive of all of the generations), and what different generations want from their boss (things like a focus on customers, teamwork, decision making, planning, and organizing), what struck me the most is the discovery that three commonly-held beliefs and perceptions about generational thinking are actually total myths.

These myths may settle the argument once and for all about what tactics and approaches to use for engaging each generation, and for developing future leaders to engage those same generations. It's not what we thought; people, regardless of age, really want the same things.

Myth or Reality?

Younger generations look to their leaders to provide meaning and purpose to their work. They look for a "sense of fulfillment."

This is pure myth. According to the data, "engaging people in the purpose of the organization" only emerges as being strongly valued in leaders by people over the age of 55. Surprisingly, the report states, "Generation Y (compared to all other generations) are least impressed by leaders' efforts to connect people with projects that are personally meaningful to them."

Myth or Reality?

Organizations need to use different approaches to retain the younger generations. Some research (cited in the report) suggests younger generations are less loyal and more willing to change, and that a work-life balance is more important than career progression.

Again, these long-held perceptions are a myth. According to the report, "All generations cite the same attribute as the primary reason for staying at their company: having exciting and challenging work."

Following that, the second and third most important reasons they stay with their companies are "opportunities to advance" and "autonomy/freedom." At 55 and over, "meaningful work" replaces advancement opportunities. But autonomy and freedom remain important, regardless of age, states the report.

Myth or Reality?

Each generation needs to be managed differently in order to keep them engaged and motivated. Because of the diverse needs of each generation, leaders should adopt different leadership skills for different generations.

Yep, myth. When it comes to what people are looking for from their actual leaders (future wants and desires), there are very few differences across generations. Rather than focusing on developing "generation specific" skills, and defining people's needs at work by gender, age, or cultural background, today's leaders should "be able to flex and adapt leadership styles to the needs of each individual," states the report.

Moving Forward

As a leadership development strategy, The Hay Group advocates for future leaders to engage and motivate teams by creating an environment that gets the best from everyone, regardless of age.

These are self-aware, insightful, and empathetic leaders who can draw on a range of different leadership styles to address each unique person and situation they'll encounter.

In light of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, due to white nationalist groups espousing their hate and separatist ideologies, future leaders who will excel the most in our organizations will embrace diversity; welcome differing opinions, ideas, and expressions; and create an open environment that promotes mutual understanding, where people come together for a greater good.