Jessica Kriegel, Ed.D., Author, Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit From Ditching Generational Stereotypes
Generational labelling is meaningless and counter-productive in the workplace. Not only does such labelling create unfair biases and lead to inappropriate reactions, but in fact, there is no clear evidence to support the messages that the stereotypes convey.
Yet CEOs, managers and supervisors consistently use these stereotypes to make decisions, presuming to understand the collective tastes, ambitions, values and work habits of millions of people born in the same 20-year time span. The result is miscommunication among team members and lower productivity.
Rather than buying into popular stereotypes, managers, led by their CEO, must learn to understand employees as individuals, getting to know what drives each one while recognizing his or her unique talents, preferences, strengths and weaknesses. Whether working with Millennials, Generation X, or Baby Boomers, age should not be the issue—it’s the interpersonal dynamics that matter most.
Here are four tips to help CEOs eliminate generational labelling in their organizations:
1. Check your bias: Step one is awareness. Start to notice how much generational stereotyping exists in the media. Do some self-reflection on whether or not you have become influenced by “common knowledge” about the generations. Have you closed your mind to the possibility that the stereotypes may be wrong? Because most of them are. Remember that millennials are a diverse group of complex people (so are all the generations for that matter).
2. Do your own research: Do not apply faulty generational stereotypes to your own organization. This can mean employee engagement surveys, organizational assessments, stay interviews, or exit interviews. You may be surprised with what you learn.
For example, I was once hired to design a learning program that was customized three different ways for three different generations. The business leader assumed that technology preferences were different for each generation based on commonly held beliefs. My first step was to conduct an analysis of learner preferences and found there were zero difference between the three generations. The business leader was shocked and the organization saved thousands in unnecessary customizations.
3. Be careful with language: As the leader of an organization, you set the tone. If you spew generational stereotypes, you risk alienating some or all of your employees. I once heard a CEO talk about his love for the millennials in his workforce. He said, “Millennials have it right. It turns out that they value work/life balance more than compensation.” The next day, HR received numerous calls from Millennials asking if they were being underpaid. Baby boomers in the company also shared uneasiness stating, “he knows that I value work/life balance too right? I wouldn’t mind some more vacation time.”
It is easy to turn a statistic about generational preferences into a judgement which places millions of people into a box they may not want to be in.
4. Don’t market to the generations: While generational labels may be useful in identifying markets and marketing plans behind the scenes, they should never be used in public marketing materials. Take a lesson from Whole Foods’ failed marketing campaign for the new “millennial store.” Branded as a less expensive, less cluttered and more techy store,, Whole Foods unexpectedly received considerable backlash. Baby boomers spoke up asking “Do you think we prefer cluttered and expensive stores? Why is that just a millennial store?”
About the Author
Top organizational development and talent management pro Jessica Kriegel, Ed.D., (www.JessicaKriegel.com) explores generational labelling in her new book, Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit From Ditching Generational Stereotypes (Wiley, 2016).
Kriegel serves as an organizational development consultant for Oracle Corporation, where she provides strategic advice about organizational development, change management and talent development. Valedictorian of her doctoral program at Drexel University, she has served as an adjunct faculty member at Drexel’s Masters in Human Resources Development program. Kriegel has been named one of Sacramento’s “40 under 40” by the Sacramento Business Journal. Her civic engagement includes a seat on the board of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera and the Nehemiah Emerging Leaders Alumni Association. She is a regular contributor to Forbes.com and a frequent speaker about intergenerational issues at conferences nationwide.