So much has been made of the contrast between Baby Boomers and Millennials; how they don’t get along in the workplace; how different they are to manage. But have any of you ever considered just how similar the generations are?
Case in point: I found an article recently that talks about improving employee retention, a topic that interests me. The advice it gave is to improve the “business environment” and focus on employee satisfaction. Sound familiar? I thought so too. The article, entitled Why Employees Stay, is actually from a 1973 edition of the Harvard Business Review.
The main difference between the 1973 article and more current versions was simply the jargon. It spoke of “environment” where today, we talk about “culture.” It discussed ways to improve employee satisfaction whereas we might term it “employee experience.” The pain points employers were facing in 1973 are eerily similar to today’s challenges. How to manage a vast idealistic generation, who have turned against traditional capitalist norms and are restless in their youth. Furthermore, how do we make them happy, keep them happy? How do we turn them into managers and leaders? The answers may surprise you; let nature take its course, allow change to happen. It will happen.
Hippies, Boomers, Millennials, and Change
“Hippies declared their willingness to question authority and distanced themselves from the conformist segments of society. Personality traits and values that hippies tend to be associated with are altruism and mysticism, honesty, joy, and nonviolence. – Wikipedia
“Millennials are idealists, who appreciate ‘meaning.’ They value honesty and authenticity. They’re benevolent, civic-minded, purpose-driven, non-religious, non-violent, peace-loving, seekers of work/life balance.” Forbes
Many self-identified hippies continued their lifestyle, even if a bit more subdued. But most, somewhere along the way, stopped identifying with counter culture and assimilated. A significant portion of Hippies became Yuppies (young upwardly mobile professionals) and actually ushered in one of the most prosperous times in American history: the 1980s. I don’t know the catalyst for the change, or precisely when it happened. But I do know that it illustrates how perfectly impractical it is to label an entire generation. It doesn’t allow for change. Change is inevitable.
I could give you five tips on managing a multi-generational workforce, or five tips on leading Millennials. But instead, I will just encourage you to take a few minutes and read the article from 1973.
“Why do employees stay? The brief answer is “inertia.” Employees tend to remain with a company until some force causes them to leave. The concept here is very like the idea of inertia in the physical sciences: a body will remain as it is until acted on by a force.” Flowers & Hughes, Why Employees Stay (1973) HBR
It isn’t that the article offers some extraordinary piece of advice that will solve all your problems and make your job simpler. On the contrary, it offers the same advice as every article written on the topic currently. However, I hope that you do take from it a sense of solace that 44 years ago, there was a manager just like you, who faced similar challenges and uncertainties. Yet here you are today — and it all worked out.
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