Generation Frustration (Part 1)

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For the first time in history, there are five generations in the workforce: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z.

For the first time in history, there are five generations in the workforce (Episode 3)

A 480 PODCAST

Generation Frustration (Part 1)

21 minutes | May 1, 2019

00:00:00 00:00

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For the first time in history, there are five generations in the workforce: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. This much generational diversity is sure to breed clashing work styles and world views.

In part one of our interview with author and coach Tim Dean, we discuss what these groups bring to the table and the unfair stereotypes associated with each generation.

Craig Irons:

Hello, I'm Craig irons, and I'm your host today for the Leadership 480 Podcast from DDI, the podcast that's all about making the most of every moment of leadership.

Today's topic is focused on the 480 days, the number of work days in a two-year period, and the trends and forces leaders need to be aware of that impact their businesses. Today's topic is generations in the workplace. We are joined by Tim Dean.

Tim is a certified global coach, a sought-after keynote speaker with a passion for empowering others to realize their full potential, an international bestselling author. And he also teaches a class at St. Louis University called “How to Leverage Generational Diversity.” So that's what we're talking about today with Tim. We're talking all about generations in the workplace.

Tim, thanks for joining us.

Tim Dean:

I am so happy to be here. Thanks for asking. Looking forward to it.

Craig Irons:

Terrific. Let's just jump right into this class that you teach. You teach a university course on generations in the workforce. So the first question that comes to mind for me is, what makes generations in the workplace such a rich subject that you could spend an entire semester talking about it?

Tim Dean:

An excellent question. A little caveat or full disclosure, while the class does unfold over a full semester, it's a night class in the graduate program. The students work full time, and then are taking my class as an adjunct to fulfill their MBA curriculum. So while it does last the whole semester, it isn't three days a week for six or 18 weeks.

Craig Irons:

Sure.

Tim Dean:

However, every semester it's becoming more relevant simply because most of my students are under the age of 40, so they're millennials. Some millennials are right now literally the age of, say, 23 to 38, and they're managing. They're leading. And in fact, they're leading sooner than any generation before them. And therefore, the class becomes relevant because I'm literally helping share with them and expose with them or talk about best practices, how they navigate the minefield of managing people that are their parents' age.

Craig Irons:

Wow. So even though, as you point out, it's not a three-day-a-week course for the course of a semester, but I mean, it is an important topic, and it does make sense that that would be part of an MBA program for the reasons you just shared.

Tim Dean:

Yeah. And just a dovetail on that, Carnegie Mellon here in Pittsburgh, actually part of their leadership immersion program offered a handful of different courses that MBA students had to take to, again, kind of fill in their leadership development. I had a workshop similar to that, that I now do at St. Louis University.

So thankfully, some academia are recognizing that before MBA students finish their graduate work, that there's relevance to getting some real life business experience context. And now that we have five generations in the workplace, it's just such a relevant and ideal topic right now.

Craig Irons:

So even though it's just one night a week, it does unfold over the whole semester. So what do you talk about? What's on your syllabus for this course?

Tim Dean:

Well, a great question. Besides talking about the landscape of the five generations and the definitions and just getting some of the terminology out of the way, one of the first things we always have to address first are stereotypes. I have breakouts with the students where they are able to write down as many negative stereotypes of each of the four, now five generations. No filters.

Because when you hear certain generations or where the names come up, your first thought may go stereotypical, especially for the millennial generation. It's all about, "Oh, they're entitled," or, "They're trophied," or, "They're spoiled," or etc.

That, starting with the stereotypes, has to happen first because we need to acknowledge it, get it out there, and then move it aside to then spend the real meat of the class and the time to talk about, what are their unique skills that they're bringing?

What are the unique perspectives that millennials and other generations possess in the workplace? And now that we have five, how can leaders maximize and leverage that skills and awareness and experience effectively? That is where the crux of the class drives the content.

Craig Irons:

You mentioned the five generations that are currently in the workforce. So just for full disclosure, those are ...

Tim Dean:

Traditionalists are still there. They're in their 70s and 80s. It is by far the smallest in the workplace. Some are maybe working two days a week, three days a week, whatever the company will support. A lot of them are maybe a family-owned business where the patriarch or the matriarchs are still showing up a few days a week, but they're still out there. It's about 3% of the workforce.

Craig Irons:

Okay.

Tim Dean:

Baby boomers, which was the biggest generation in my lifetime. I'm 50 something. They were the largest in population and in the workplace, and still a pretty strong group or pretty big size right now. They have now been surpassed in both population and the workplace by millennials.

We'll get to them in a minute because, as always, we always jump over Gen X, the forgotten generation. We're the smallest generation, which is what I am, a Gen X. And we don't have the numbers to fill all of these baby boomer retirement positions that are being vacated at a record of 10,000 a day. We don't have the humans alive in this country to fill them all.

So guess who has to lead again, as I mentioned at the beginning? Who has to lead as a manager sooner and younger than any generation before them? It's the millennials, which are now the largest in population and in the workplace, and then we have Gen Z, which are roughly the ages between seven and 22. The oldest Gen Zers are one year out of college, so they are now in the workplace.

Craig Irons:

Wow. You threw out ranges there as opposed to specific ages. So that begs the question, how do you define a generation? Is it being born within specific timeframe, such as within a 10-year period or 20-year period? Seems like those definitions have become if not arbitrary, at least somewhat fluid.

Tim Dean:

Correct. Correct.

Craig Irons:

But is it that? Is it that simple, or is there something else in play here?

Tim Dean:

Well, you're touching on it, and it's kind of a combination of all of what you just mentioned. There are two authors, Howe and Strauss, if anyone's curious of just getting some background of generational history. They've written several books.

What they hypothesized is that in America we keep repeating 80-year cycles, consisting of four 20-year generations. They took it back to, say, the 1500s—because of the things that are happening in our country over those centuries from social things, political things, wars, strife, recovery, growth. They basically graphed it, if you will, then they tried to overlay that there's some cycle going on that we just keep repeating.

That's no longer holding as much credence today for a number of reasons. The biggest being technology. For decades, a generation was primarily defined as a birth cohort, individuals that were born in certain 20-year increments that shared social, political, and economic events during their formative years.

That implies that when you're between, say, the ages of eight to 18 or 18 to 20 ... or sorry, eight to 20, everything that happens—social, politically, and economically—you share that as a generation. Of course, you're going to develop your own values. And of course, we have much more in common than we have different.

However, there's some credence to, because of the decades you were born and therefore developed as an adult, there's something to be said about that, of how you're motivated and how the world's events have contributed to how you work. And that's why technology, which is now the fourth variable in the last 20 years—social, political, economic, and now technological—is so critical.

It's because generations, if you look at any time bounds these days, Gen X is only 15 years and boomers were 25. Millennials are only 15 years. Gen Zers are only 15 years. So technology is in fact redefining the birth cohort and shrinking it.

So, it's less now maybe the years you were born, and certainly more so what technology was launched during your formative years. That just kind of blows the whole thing out of the water, because in the future, a generation may have nothing to do with your birth year and only with what the latest technology that has just been released.

Craig Irons:

If I'm hearing you right, what you're saying is that you could almost draw a line between, say, people who came of age before the internet, post-internet, or even before Facebook and Instagram and after.

Tim Dean:

Correct. The Gen Xers were the bridge generation. We grew up with none of it, and then we were in the workplace when it became commonplace, and we're now living with all of the younger generations that have literally lived with technology all their lives. You're correct. That technology, especially when the iPhone got released.

And there's so much fascinating research of Gen Zers, for example, of how they've delayed dating, getting a driver's license, trying alcohol, or having a job outside of high school. Graphically, it just plummets. It's just fascinating that technology literally has affected their decisions on all those four things I mentioned, as well as the number of times they go out with their friends without an adult.

Craig Irons:

Wow.

Tim Dean:

So stay tuned for Gen Z. But even millennials. I mean, the oldest millennials are, as I mentioned, 38. I mean, they're parents.

It's funny. There's an article I love that I reference a lot. Many millennials during some of my keynotes will come up to me afterwards and say, "Well, I'm nothing like those 25-year-olds." And that's understandable.

Craig Irons:

Sure.

Tim Dean:

And there's a great article, “Don't Call Me a Millennial—I'm an Old Millennial.” So in essence, even though it's only a 15-year time span that the millennial generation is being defined as, if you will. Even that, there's uniqueness, sub-generations. And that's fine, too. None of this is labeling so stringently.

It's being aware, and that's the biggest word I share with my students and at any workshop. Be aware of what the other generation's thinking is, based on when they were coming of age, and how to capitalize again on learning that. It's all two-way.

And that's where the stereotypes, circling back to that, really just hinder that, because stereotypes are one way. We label it. We throw it on someone else, especially younger. We label them negatively, stereotypically. “Generational Awareness and Generational Diversity,” the class I teach, is all about two-way awareness. Certainly, better understanding your own, and understanding the others that you're literally are working with every day.

Craig Irons:

We're talking to Tim Dean, a certified-level coach, keynote speaker, and he also teaches a course at St. Louis University as part of their MBA program on how to leverage generational diversity.

Talking about generations, Tim. When you talk about generations in the workforce in many respects, that has almost felt like it's become synonymous with just talking about millennials.

Tim Dean:

Correct.

Craig Irons:

There's been so much media coverage over probably the last 10 years or so about millennials. So what is it about this generation? Now, you mentioned its sheer size. But what is it about this generation that attracts so much attention and scrutiny?

Tim Dean:

You hit on part of it. It's simply branding and marketing, because they have the largest amount. The other thing though is interesting, and I want to give some context as well. One of my slides, or one of my exercises that I do with my class is I've collected Time magazine covers dating back to the 60s.

Back in the day, the boomers were the "going to be the death of us all" that traditionalists were complaining about and worrying about. I have two-or-three Time cover magazines when Gen Xers were the slackers and, "They can't even give us a name," and were going to be the death of us all.

Now, millennials are just the next one in line. I predict every single time in any forum, any format, Gen Z will be on the cover of Time at some future date, and they'll be positioned as, "Oh, dear God. They're going to kill us all."

The other thing that's so interesting is one of the negative stereotypes that millennials continually are labeled with are just narcissistic. I'm here to tell you a simple fact, spoiler alert, every younger generation is more narcissistic than their elders. It's just a fact. Get over it.

Craig Irons:

Sure.

Tim Dean:

So there's things like that. Be careful what the noise is, especially when it's a stereotype. And that's why it's harder, bluntly harder to spend time and focus on, "Wait, what are the unique skills that they can actually bring?"

Let me give you an example of that. Every keynote or every workshop I do, we always break into the groups, as I mentioned. They are allowed free reign, all the negative stereotypes, and I talked about that. After that's over, and all the laughing, and there's lists and pages and pages, especially the millennials. I mean, it's flip charting and it's 30, 40 different things.

After that's over and there's more content, I then repeat the exercise, but now they have to do unique strengths of all the generations. It's almost as if you could hear a pin drop because, one, it's a lot harder because they just haven't thought of it, and the lists are considerably shorter. It's maybe 30% of the length of unique skills and strengths that they can think of versus all these stereotypes that just spill out almost subjectively or subconsciously.

So that's why I keep trying to reinforce the awareness aspect. Focus, forcibly focus, consciously focus on, "Wait. What is a unique value and skill and work ethic?” And there's several that each generation solely possesses.

The thing I really love about millennials is they are the most collaborative generation on the planet because they've been coached since birth. They love input. They're great on teams. So again, if I'm a manager or a leader of them, that's a perfect opportunity to say, "Okay, how can we capitalize on that?"

Craig Irons:

You mentioned the fact that there's been ... every generation that's coming up draws some attention. “They're going to be the death of us all,” I believe you said.

Tim Dean:

Right. Right. From the older generations.

Craig Irons:

From the older, yes.

Tim Dean:

Like I do to a Gen Z right now. No.

Craig Irons:

We're just joking, folks.

Tim Dean:

Joking, yeah.

Craig Irons:

We're just having a little fun.

Tim Dean:

And remind me later to tell you what the name of the generation after them is called.

Craig Irons:

That will be our little cliffhanger here, so I'm really interested to hear that.

Tim Dean:

Yes. If anyone listening has a child age six and younger, they're not Gen Z.

Craig Irons:

Hmm. Well, I'll be interested to hear what that reveal is.

Tim Dean:

Exactly.

Craig Irons:

That'll be coming up here in a little bit. Back to millennials for just a second. All the media attention devoted to millennials, again, given what you've talked about with earlier generations and how they were portrayed as well, has it been a little excessive? I guess, what I mean by that, to what extent has the attention been wrong? Where do the differences end and the stereotypes begin?

Tim Dean:

Excellent point, Craig. The other fascinating part that contributes I think to a lot of the focus, and is sometimes warranted. Take the stereotypes out of it. Let's go to the workplace. The millennial generation is the first generation in the workplace to embrace job-hopping.

And what I mean by that is their average tenure is 18 to 24 months. Of course, when I share that with a room full of boomers, their heads virtually explode. I'm a Gen Xer, had many jobs in the early days, if you will, of my career where that was seen as a real negative. That was seen as a negative perception of either job hopping or gaps.

Those days are gone. So the millennials, because they've literally taken the idea and the philosophy of work and turned it on its end, that is probably I'm surmising contributing to then a lot of the focus of, "What the heck are they doing?" Because it is completely different.

It is no more conforming. It is no more standardized. It is anything but. They want to redefine how we work, where we work, when we work, et cetera. That can rub leaders and C-suite and some companies. That's tough to embrace. Therefore, it's going to result in, of course, then that reaction.

I feel that certainly contributes to a lot of the press. Take, "The millennials are killing everything." That's the funny parts and stuff. But there's some real impact in day-to-day efficiencies, day-to-day work, company survival, retention, etc. If anyone listening, if you are running a company, it is time to adapt. Remember the numbers I shared with you. Gen Xers, we don't have the numbers. You will disappear.

Craig Irons:

Tune in to our next episode for the remainder of our interview with generations in the workplace expert, Tim Dean.

Join the conversation on Twitter! Use #Leadership480 to answer what your most impactful moment as a leader has been and what you’ve learned from it.