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In some ways, all humans are motivated by similar means. Bellrock Management Foundations teaches that we all want BAMP – belonging, autonomy, mastery, and purpose in our work (and the rest of our lives). But there are attitudinal and experiential differences between Generation Y (also called “The Millennials”) and Generation Z that Baby Boomers and Generation Xers need to consider if we want to keep our North American colleagues engaged and thriving. Generalizations are dangerous in general, but treating Millennials and Gen Zers as a single cohort is not just risky, it’s wrong headed.
|Gen X||Gen Y||Gen Z|
|Slang||Dude, Rad, Wicked, As If||Doh!, Whassup, Foshizz||GOAT, Slay, Yass queen|
|Defining Historic Moment||1987 Stock Market Crash||September 11, 2001||Global Financial Crisis 2008|
|On Screen||Heathers, Reality Bites, Swingers||Harry Potter, Mean Girls, The Matrix||Euphoria, Sex Education, The Hate You Give|
|Positive Work Traits||Independent|
Focused on greater good
Flourish in diversity
|Desires from Work||Trustworthy employer|
Written and visual communication
Salary and career advancement
*In the chart above, Gen X characteristics are listed for comparative purposes.
Millennials were raised, for the most part, by Baby Boomers. This is the “everyone gets a trophy” generation that grew up in a robust economic climate and were taught that they were each as unique as a snowflake and could accomplish anything they put their minds to. They were also on the bleeding edge of social media, when the privacy concerns were as serious as they are today, but no one really understood that yet.
Generation Z faced a different reality. They were shaped, in part, by the insecurity their Gen X parents experienced entering the labour market when there were “no jobs” because of the huge Boomer cohort and the fear post-9/11. In 2008, they saw their older siblings moving back into the family home with the Global Financial Crisis. The lessons of “The Star Wars Kid” and heavy media reporting of cyber-bullying incidents served as cautionary tales that the online world could be just as unsafe as the world offline.
While Millennials are attracted to freedom and flexibility, Generation Z wants stability. Not the stability of the Boomers with their defined benefit pensions and fully funded health care, but they want to trust that hard work will lead to rewards. They aren’t going to settle for the first opportunity that comes along or lower financial rewards in exchange for a better title. Gen Z understands their worth in the market and aren’t afraid to stand up for it.
Millennials value “work-life balance” where Zs are interested in making money and career advancement. When Zs aren’t offered these opportunities they “job-hop”, “quiet-quit”, develop a side hustle, or even get over-employed working several full-time jobs at once to build a nest egg for the future. And the differences don’t end there.
Both generations are tech savvy, however, Gen Z are digital natives. They’ve never known a world without cell phones and personal computing. Gen Y grew up learning from and still respond to written and visual communication. Gen Z prefers short form video and podcasts for their information consumption.
Despite their differences, there are many management practices that will inspire productivity and motivation to both generations. While they can’t be applied in the same way to all, they do rhyme.
If we don’t explicitly set expectations with our staff, we make it less likely that they will meet them. Common sense is not common and, as we’ve illustrated, the perspective with which the generations view the world is different. Important systems for businesses of any size to develop are: robust onboarding, formal feedback, and regular 1:1s.
Humans like to feel that they’re making progress. While pre-digital generations expected that progress to be measured in years, the digital generations are used to leveling up with greater frequency. This requires organizations to develop more robust organizational tools with more incremental milestones. Important business systems include organizational structures with clear career paths and training programs that allow for advancement of skills. Formal mentorship is also valued if the mentors are effective and understand their role.
Millennials and Gen Z alike don’t want to be tied down to “doing it as we’ve always done”. Technological freedom to use on whatever platform serves the work best, geographic freedom to work from where they work best or what enables team functioning, and training and mentorship programs all empower employees to deliver their best work on their own terms.
Yes, people work to make money and yes, if you don’t pay them enough, there will be a negative impact on performance. Once we get the compensation right, however, how do people compare one job to another? It’s the culture of the organization. Companies that can connect what they do with a greater purpose or “why” tend to have more motivated, productive employees. This starts at the job posting and the messaging should carry through all company activities – town halls, performance evaluations, quarterly themes, etc. People feel better when they’re working for a noble purpose.
There is no generation that hopes they will be micromanaged. To allow for autonomy, even in the most junior roles, expectations should be well set for employees to thrive. Communications systems that include regular townhalls are an opportunity to explain the context in which the business operates and provide criteria for independent decision-making. Of course, people also need boundaries which are most efficiently set with robust job descriptions, including evaluation criteria that allow everyone to measure progress with a common ruler.
Most people remain good people, trying hard to contribute to society no matter what year they were born. They want to return home at the end of a hard day’s work and feel like they made a difference – and they’d like it if someone recognized them for doing so. Management practices don’t have to change all that much to accommodate the different generations in the workforce. “Management” itself, however, is necessary. While the Gen Xers of the world might prefer to be left alone to do their jobs, and Boomers had to work up hill in the snow both ways (manager? he was having a three martini lunch!) both Y & Z demand more from their employers, as they should. Training managers to be supportive of all employees’ development is necessary for any organization that recognizes the value of their company is derived from the people within it.
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