So much has been said and written about the multi-generational workforce in the past couple of years, and to be honest most of it is nonsense. The majority of what has been said and written consists of the following 2 stereotypes: millennials are all entitled and impatient and impossible to keep happy. Baby boomers are all old and resistant to change and would still use a typewriter if they could. And then some generic words about Generation X being stuck in the middle, and Generation Z being digital natives. All of this is just ridiculous and one of the reasons why very few organisations have managed to successfully create an effective multi-generational workforce. 

Fixed Mindset v Growth Mindset

Ok, let’s start with a simple reality. Not all 25-year olds, 45-year olds or 65-year olds behave in the exact same way. Crazy right? Who knew? There are plenty of people over 50 that can work with a team of millennials, and vice versa. The real issue at the core of the generational struggle in the workplace is that its all about mindset and adaptability. There are those with fixed mindsets and those with growth mindsets. What do all these stereotypes have in common? They are all about fixed mindsets.

The older generations professionals with a fixed mindset are complaining about the younger generation professionals who have a growth mindset for wanting to do new things and bringing in new ways of thinking. This in truth has nothing to do with the persons age though. If you were to hire a growth mindset person who was 50, with new ideas and thinking, they would still complain. But instead of picking up on the persons youth, they would just be telling them “We have always done it this way here”. If leadership in a firm has a growth mindset, very few traditional HR challenges exist, as leaders have a flexible and adaptable approach to get the best out of almost any employee in any situation.

Career maturity is not a generational difference

One of my favourite statistics is that millennials and generation Z do not change jobs more often than previous generations. This has been confirmed and validated by numerous pieces of research. The truth is, that those who are a bit older, and further along in their careers have forgotten what they wanted early on in their careers. In fact, Deloitte found that the retention rates of graduates now, is almost identical to what it was 30 years ago. Employees who are early in their careers naturally want to gain more experience and progress and grow a lot faster than people who have been doing the same job for 10/15/20+ years.

This has always been a fact of life and it continues to be so. The same types of leaders and organisations currently complaining about those millennials, would have been complaining about the kids starting their careers in the 1960s or 1970s as well. If organisations and leaders provide true learning and development opportunities to its staff, they retain talent better than their peers. They always have and always will, regardless of generation. This is also universally true, whether for a more junior member of staff or an older more experienced professional.

Think in terms of life stages and not age groups

Older workers want stability and younger workers want broader experiences, right? It’s very possible that you could have two employees in a team. One could be 25 and one could be 45. Which one would want more stability and have a more cautious approach to their career? Do you think the 45-year-old might? Now, let’s imagine the 25-year-old got married at 18 and has 3 kids, while the 45-year-old is still single and just changed careers for the third time. Which one will want more job security and is likely to take less risks with their career now?

There can be no blanket generational approach because there is no blanket generational rule. By tailoring an approach based on a person’s own circumstances, it becomes significantly easier to keep them engaged, because you are providing them with what they need based on their own personal situation. But again, this should have been universally true, long before we even knew what a millennial was. Good HR, has and will always be good HR.