How Generation X managers can excel with millennial teams

A senior employee at the office with young colleague. Net.

A millennial is someone born between 1980 and 2000. Generation X were born between 1967 and 1979. However, some slight variations on start and end dates exist in the data provided. Most millennials have lived in the digital era most of their lives.

They are highly stereotyped and a lot of biases exist around this generation. Common misperceptions are that they seek ‘instant gratification’ and have a poor work ethic. Some dynamics driving misunderstanding between the two generations include:

Economic Environments

Generation X joined the workplace when there was a major financial crunch in Kenya. You were lucky to get a job and the fact that you were not tarmacking (a term used to describe going door-to-door dropping your hard copy resume and application letter) was a complete blessing.

Many would get lengthy internships before securing employment. Once employed, you ensured you worked on being as indispensable to your employer as possible. It is not unusual for Generation X to have spent 10 years with the same employer.

Millennials on the other hand joined the workforce when the economy provided more opportunities in entrepreneurship, freelancing on a global scale through platforms like Upwork, and creation of new jobs such as uber drivers, digital content managers, YouTubers among others. In addition, entrepreneurship is an attractive option and generally perceived as prestigious.

Different Mindsets with an eye for Opportunity

Working for a start-up probably meant you were not successful in securing employment with a blue-chip company if you are from Generation X. It was considered a stepping stone as you looked for a ‘real job’ with a brand that everyone was familiar with, so you did not have to go through the agony of spelling the name of the company and explaining in detail what it does, only to receive a blank stare.

On the other hand, many millennials want to work for start-ups, viewing them as providing opportunities for limitless growth with little or no bureaucracy. They would be equally excited to join a start-up with a clear vision, as they would be to set off on their own venture or work for a corporate that will provide them with global mobility opportunities.

Work Environments in Relation to Learning

The ‘high achieving’ Generation X professional most likely joined a work environment that was structured, possibly a blue-chip corporation with well-defined world class Graduate Trainee programmes involving a structured learning approach, departmental rotation assignments and defined milestones.

More often than not, they had a well- structured approach that eased them into the workplace and set them up for success. As Generation X rose up the ranks at work, business dynamics changed and there was an increased need to make quicker decisions, move faster and be more innovative.

Simultaneously, millennials were completing university and joining the workplace with reporting lines to Generation X individuals who shoulder the burden of incredibly high targets and expectations.

The exhausted Generation X leader, working in a competitive work environment may not always make the time to provide their millennial teams with the structured landing they received on their first job. However, a wealth of information also exists online that proactive millennials can tap into and effectively ramp up their technical expertise without too much hand holding.

The focused millennial is talented, passionate, hungry and yearning for mentorship and guidance. They are keen to make a positive impact on their communities. They are free spirited, uninhibited and willing to try new things, which is why many are making a mark in their countries, the continent and beyond.

Many millennial professionals have fascinating lives and it is not unusual to find a doctor, engineer, banker or lawyer who doubles up as a professional musician, artist or story teller.

The relationship between the two generations needs to be anchored on mutual understanding, the right mix of leadership direction and a hands-off approach to encourage an entrepreneurship culture.

If you are a Generation X manager and a millennial from your team asks why they should stay 8am — 5pm when they complete the work assigned at the right level of quality by 1pm, fight the thoughts in your mind on how lazy this millennial is and how proactive you were in seeking more work when you were their age. Step back and breathe. That’s a topic for another day.

Business Daily