Why Culture Should Be First & Foremost
As the Baby Boomer generation retires, Gen X and Millennials are now making up the bulk of the workforce. But what keeps the two generations in a job in which they are happy? AKA: How do you keep the majority of your workforce happy?!
Turns out positive work relationships are a top priority for both generations. In fact, research from D. Mary Donohue, a generation expert and social scientist, shows that good relationships in the workplace decrease employee turnover by 50% and increases productivity by 11% within Xer-Millennial employees. Wow!
So what are these two discerning generations looking for in office culture? A lot of it starts with what these two scrappy generations experienced in their formative years.
Don’t Call Me Karen, Please: Gen X
While we often make fun of “Karens,” characterized as white, middle-aged women who want to speak to the manager and love their PSLs from Starbucks, Gen Xers are really quite self-deprecating and take things to heart. They are also known as “latch-key kids” because they come from families with the highest percentage of divorce and of working parents. But this and many of the other influential events that happened during their formative years have taught them the importance of being self-reliant and how to be adaptable.
Don’t misconstrue them as a “loner” generation. This generation values professionalism and enjoys staying connected. Gen X is the reason you have weekly team meetings and team projects. You can also thank them for the focus on work-life balance. They are learning from their parents’ mistakes of spending too much time at work and not enough with family and friends. This means they crave flexible hours as they take care of their own kids (which happens to be Gen Z).
In turn, Gen X brings quality, work ethic and reciprocal relationships where they help the team work together to achieve a common goal. Other generations can learn from their adaptability and feel buoyed by their love of cheering on other team members.
Okay, Boomer, You Can Keep Your Olive Garden: Millennials
There’s a lot of talk about the divide between Boomers and Millennials, but you can thank the parent-child humoristic elbow jabs for this. There are some big misconceptions about this tech-savvy generation, despite common consensus among other generations that Millennials are lazy and entitled. Rather, this generation entered into the workforce during an economic recession, having experienced some of the lowest wages, and entered post-university life with more debt than any other generation. The hopping from job to job actually stems from their anxiety about the future and the fact that if they are going to be paid low wages, they might as well at least enjoy their job.
Millennials are also civic minded. They aren’t just expecting change, but helping make change, such as skipping out on chain restaurants in favor of local food joints that share their values. This generation is known for their ability to multitask and has a “what’s next attitude.”
They also believe in working for a company that shares their values, which are often related to the environment and social values. They prefer authenticity and value respect. So put on your constructive criticism hat for them, and be sure that the different generations are respecting one another and what each has to offer (i.e. younger generations bring fresh talent while older generations bring experience). You can help the different generations do this by helping them to get to know one another as a person, and not a generational label—such as doing some team building exercises.
In return, Millennials aren’t afraid to take risks and bring fresh ideas borne from collaboration. These team players are less proprietary with ideas. Other generations can learn from their collaborative spirit and “can do” attitude.
How Culture Makes, or Breaks, Your Company with Gen Xers and Millennials
Both Gen X and Millennials enjoy a collaborative environment and have adapted well to new tech, but there are plenty of differences. And this is where you need to build reciprocal relationships. Gen X loves making decisive decisions and Millennials love when their manager lets them run with a project idea.
Create a culture where Gen X becomes somewhat of a mentor to Millennials, but still allows Millennials to feel valued for the fresh ideas they bring. Get the balance right, and you’ll have a happy workforce that keeps your organization moving forward.
Culture needs to be first for these dominant generations. As they come into senior leadership on teams, this is just the start. Culture must be and will be first, as we move forward.