More that unites than divides Millennials and Boomers in the workplace

The consulting industry continues it’s lucrative, revenue-generating obsession with the “Millennials are Different” concept. Yet a growing body of evidence suggests that employees of all ages are much more alike than different in their attitudes and values in the workplace. So too in their roles as consumers.

To the extent that any gaps do exist, they amount to small differences that have always existed between younger and older generations throughout history and have little to do with Generation X, Y or Z.

This excellent article by Bruce Pfau in the HBR, cites a number of examples of research that cast doubt over the generational differences being amplified by consultants and that small differences that do appear are likely attributable to factors such as life-stage more than generational membership. A few convincing reports to support this hypothesis:

  1. A group of researchers from George Washington University and the Department of Defense analysed more than 20 published and unpublished studies examining generational differences and concluded that meaningful differences among generations probably do not exist in the workplace.
  2. IBM’s Institute for Business Value released a report titled “Myths, Exaggerations and Uncomfortable Truths: The Real Story Behind Millennials in the Workplace.” Based on a multigenerational study of 1,784 employees from companies across 12 countries and six industries, it found that about the same percentage of Millennials (25%) want to make a positive impact on their organization as Gen Xers (21%) and Baby Boomers (23%). Differences are uniformly minimal across nine other variables as well.W160401_PFAU_MILLENNIALSOLDER
  3. A 2015 national study commissioned by CNBC looked at the importance of six traits in a potential employer — ethics, environmental practices, work-life balance, profitability, diversity and reputation for hiring the best and brightest — and found that Millennial preferences are just about the same as the broader population on all six!
  4. KPMG’s annual survey of their 30,000-person work force (now comprised mainly of Millennials) found a lack of difference between Millennials and others. Of the 88 dimensions of morale and work life assessed by the survey, Millennials’ favourability ratings were within +/- 5 percentage points of everyone else’s on 70% of the items, and equal to or more favourable than their colleagues over the age of 35 on two-thirds of the items. KPMG’s Millennials are also virtually identical to their older colleagues on every measure of overall engagement such as pride in the organization, optimism about the firm’s future, trust in leadership, and willingness to recommend KPMG to a friend.

Whether among their employees or their customers, companies would be better advised to look for the similarities rather than differences between generations. They should realise that, despite the hype, age is a poor proxy for behaviour and the life-stage and life events have a far greater impact on behaviour (work and consumption) than age or mushy generational stereotypes.