Are You Afraid?

Each generation’s worries affect what they want, and need, in the workplace. Learn 4 key employee fears—and get ways to overcome them to build a stronger consumer-facing staff

Hannah Ubl is research director, consultant, and keynote speaker at BridgeWorks, a Wayzata, MN-based company that was founded in 1998 to study generational differences. Just last month, she gave a keynote presentation to attendees at The Vision Council’s Executive Summit in Orlando, FL.

Here, she shares specifics about three generations—boomers, gen Xers, and millennials—focusing on each group’s key fear and delivering specifics on the ways employers can address those anxieties in the workplace.

“There are some workplace fears that are distinct to each generation,” explains Ubl. “The point,” she says, “is to put those fears to bed.”


Boomer: Don’t Call Me A Dinosaur

Too often, we speak to boomers who feel obsolete and throw around jokes of being “ancient,” a “dinosaur,” etc. The truth is while, yes, boomers have many years of work behind them, they still have a lot to contribute. A recent survey found that most boomers view 63 as middle-aged, and far from old and graying. They’re not slowing down the progression of their careers, but they are feeling anxiety that other generations might be dismissing them as stale, outdated, and dried up.

MAKE THE CONNECTION: Traditionally, career development programs have been reserved for employees age 40 and below. But why this age cap?

For the leaders and managers of boomers—ask them to share their wisdom and institutional knowledge via mentorship opportunities. Encourage two-way sharing of information, so that boomers can share their wealth of knowledge, but also receive something valuable in return. These reverse mentorship programs lead to cross-generational retention—and happiness.


Gen Xer: Don’t Micromanage Me

The hyper-independent generation of grown-up latchkey kids fears two elements of the working day: the micromanager boss and back-to-back meetings. Gen Xers value their independence (aka people leaving them alone to do solo work) more than any other generation.

MAKE THE CONNECTION: Opt for a “less is more” meetings mindset, and try to build in time for gen Xers to have some solid independent working time. If a deadline is in two weeks, try your hardest to leave them be for most of that time to complete the task at hand with limited check-ins.

And don’t forget the importance of working space. An open floor layout without flex rooms for quiet, independent work is basically an Xer’s nightmare.


Millennial: Don’t Pigeonhole Me

Many millennials dislike their given moniker. Why?

Because “millennial” can be synonymous with “entitled, lazy, narcissistic, sensitive, and impatient workers who are the-worst-generation-to-work-with-of-all-time…ever.” When entering any new working environment, millennials are afraid that just by the nature of the generation they belong to, they’re going to be fighting an uphill battle.

MAKE THE CONNECTION: Millennials are the generation championing the phrase instilled in them by their boomer parents, “Do something that matters.” One way to introduce meaning into your work culture is to demonstrate how your millennial employee’s duties specifically help the greater good of the team and, thus, the company.

The truth is, there are dozens of factors that motivate millennials in the workplace: encouragement, a sense of work/life balance or integration, trendy office amenities, freedom to express new ideas, a six-figure salary…the list goes on.


All Generations: How Do I Fit In?

The melting pot is swirling faster and faster. In 1960, the United States was 85% white. In just over 20 years from now, the U.S. is projected to be 43% white. This demographic shift has huge implications—and workplace considerations. It affects how citizens vote, what fields of study are pursued, what the demographic expectations of companies will be, and much more.

MAKE THE CONNECTION: The bottom line? If we’re to venture a guess, this means that the traditional organization still living and breathing by its 120-year-old mission could face challenges when recruiting—and managing—the incredibly diverse workforce of the future.