Why entitlement may actually be a good thing
Remember when your parents told you to turn down that loud, obnoxious music? Actually, they yelled, because otherwise you wouldn’t have heard them. They griped about “kids today” and wondered what this next generation was coming to.
Many of us have turned into our parents, and now we deliver the same message to our kids and our grandkids, and to the employees in our multi-generational workforce. How hypocritical is that?
Entitled to Respect
I started to write a research-based post about managing a multi-generational workforce, but if you know me, you won’t be surprised I found most of the research boring.
People aren’t boring, and I was inspired by the perspective of a bright, savvy millennial woman, who’s also a wife and mother—and a member of my multi-generational team. She wrote the following to me:
I hate all the generational stereotypes, and the fact that my generation, millennials, is blasting Gen Z now. Don’t they remember how unfair that felt to us, just over a decade ago? I didn’t relate to a lot of the stereotypes about my generation, especially since it spanned 20 years, and I was born at the very beginning of it!
Also, I wish that if people wanted to focus on stereotypes, they’d focus more on the positive ones. Millennial’s brought a lot of value to the workplace. We insisted on flexibility, and older generations called us entitled for it, but our demands for balance and flexibility earned more balance and flexibility for all generations. I always thought the moniker “entitled” was an insult, and then one day it occurred to me that, yes, I do feel entitled to control my life. Yes, I do feel entitled to work/life balance. And that’s not a bad thing.
Now Gen Z is insisting on social change and inspiring us all in the process. They feel entitled to equality, entitled to safe schools, and they’re demanding it. Good for them!
My millennial friend and I are a couple generations apart, but on this topic (and many others), we’re not so different after all. The same is true of your multi-generational workforce.
Generational Stereotypes Are Bunk
I wrote about Gen Z a few months ago and vehemently stated that my generation doesn’t define me. Who we are as individuals might be influenced by when and how we grow up, but there’s more to all of us than one simple demographic.
Just consider the stereotypes about your own generation:
- Generation Z (1997–2012) was born with phones in their hands and are tech wizzes. Technology is king, and that’s their main focus. Not so fast: Contrary to popular stereotypes about young people, Gen Z is very focused on financial stability, and they prefer face-to-face communication in many situations. Who knew? (I did, because these are my grandchildren.)
- Millennials (1981–1996), also known as Gen Y, love technology. They grew up immersed in text messages and emails. So, it’s completely logical that many of them prefer communicating digitally rather than talking in person, even if older generations can’t relate and worry about the future of human communication. As my millennial friend pointed out, they’ve been labeled “entitled.” If I were a millennial, I’d resent that too.
- Generation Xers (1965–1980) want autonomy in the workplace and are exceptional at both digital and in-person interactions. They also got labeled as apathetic slackers, and considering my daughters fall into this category, I can tell you that’s not true.
- Baby boomers (1946–1964) are hardworking, fiercely independent, and value face-to-face interaction. They love public acknowledgement and job security. They want to be recognized for their skills. But they got some critical labels from older generations as well, and certainly from their children. (OK, boomer?)
- Traditionalists (1928–1945) could include me, but I don’t view myself as similar to someone born two decades before me. However, I do relate to the attributes of being valued for my knowledge and loving face-to-face communication. But I don’t relate to being an old-fashioned luddite. I’ll never use a cell phone like younger generations, but I use technology that works for me.
If you’re like me, you can identify with some of the stereotypes attributed to your generation, but not all of them. Everyone born in a 20-year period doesn’t have the same life experience, personality, or values, and it’s silly to even think they do.
The Most Multi-Generational Workforce Ever
There are currently five generations in the workforce, driven by the fact that many boomers are working well past the years when their parents and grandparents retired. As Brandman University argues, this is a good thing:
As younger generations come of age, older individuals are opting to work longer. While multi-generational workforce’s present some obstacles to employers, they’re arguably more productive and have less turnover than those without generational diversity. Aaron Raby, leadership development and professional coach, adjunct professor at Brandman University and host of the upcoming Brandman webinar, “Leading Across Generations,” elaborates.
“Leaders need to look at the multi-generational workforce as a benefit rather than a challenge,” Raby says. “From a tactical standpoint, once you have the mindset that it’s a benefit, you pave the way for a healthy discourse, for a diversity in opinions and for a richness in dialogue.”
I totally agree. We love to put people in buckets and splay generalities on them. And as one of those people working past the traditional retirement age, I can tell you it’s offensive no matter how old you are or how thin your skin.
Not Your Grandmother’s Grandmother
I was appalled when listening to a podcast on marketing, and the interviewee said: “Explain it so your grandmother would understand.”
That’s what the CMO of a tech company said about how to explain your mission statement! I was listening to his podcast at 7:00 on a Monday morning, and I was ready to kick butt. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the grandmother reference. I’ve heard it for mothers as well, but never for fathers or grandfathers.
It’s insulting and degrading to suggest dumbing anything down for grandmothers, because we’re not dumb or out of touch with the modern world. There are grandmothers in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. Many of us are still in the workforce and still listening to business podcasts.
Know What Motivates Your Team
Instead of “dumbing things down,” focus on knowing what motivates people, so you know how to interact, recognize, and manage them. You might get some clues about managing a multi-generational workforce by studying the tendencies of each group, but please, let’s treat people as individuals.
How do you know what motivates them? Ask. Until you ask, you’re just guessing and playing on stereotypes.
I vividly recall a lunch with the head of subscriptions at the San Francisco Business Times. It was a Friday. He told me: “Joanne, if I told my team they’d get a $50 bonus if they met their quota for the week when I returned from lunch, they’d still be scrambling. However, if I told my team they could leave for the weekend when I returned from lunch, they would be packed up and ready to go.” This had nothing to do with generations. He knew what motivated his multi-generational workforce, his team.
Best Practices for Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce
We have five generations in the workforce. No one has experience with that many generations all together in one company. So, how do we build a thriving multi-generational workforce?
Based on “core recommendations from the SHRM and AARP data,” the Brandman University article identified three ways to cultivate a multi-generational workforce: prioritize flexibility, dispel generational stereotypes, and encourage cross-collaboration and mutual mentoring.
Personally, I would use guidelines from research on generational attributes to learn what might motivate each generation. Then I’d speak with each person on my team and ask questions about what exactly they need to do their best work.
- How should I interact with you?
- What should I avoid doing?
- What should I always do?
- What are aspects of my behavior that will piss you off?
- How will you know you can count on me?
- How will I know I can count on you?
It’s time to stop pointing fingers and face the truth: For better or worse, the world is changing, and it’s not the fault of any generation. So, instead of griping about them, maybe we could learn a thing or two and start collaborating. That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?