Let's sidestep the dinner party conversation about which generation you might hail from for a moment and think about this - young people and old people are different - and they're especially different when it comes to the workplace. That's the subject of a new study I helped steer that was administered by my co-author Per Sjofors and his company Atenga. More on that in a minute.
Next for some generational basics. Generally speaking - Baby Boomers are considered to have been born between the end of WWII and the advent of the birth control pill (1946-1964), Generation X are the folks born roughly during the Vietnam era (1965-1979) and the much talked about Millennials (or Generation Y) are thought to have come into the world from 1980-2000. (Now you can quibble about whether you're really more of a Gen Y'er stuck with a Gen X birthdate or vice versa).
Back to the workplace study. According to the Future Workplace "Multiple Generations @ Work" Millennials will hold between 15-16 jobs over the course of their careers. This is opposed to the 2-3 jobs that Boomers would have typically held (past tense because about 10,000 Baby Boomers reach the retirement age of 65 every single day in the United States). Even Obama says that the key to staying relevant in the new economy is to remain "flexible...to learn new skills". The message here is clear. The new workforce is all about turnover.
But turnover is expensive. Specifically,.....
In 27 case studies, the typical (median) cost of turnover is 21 percent of an employee's annual salary. But the cost can be higher. For example, at Apple, the turnover cost is 61 percent of each employee's salary; Microsoft's estimated annual cost for turnover is $681 million- not cheap.
The consensus is that we're now in the job market equivalent of rinse-lather-repeat. But what if there was another way - what if we could find the "disconnects" between the generations in the workplace and find a way to build some intergenerational "bridges?"
When asked about the importance of "life choices" including being close to family, selecting a "good" neighborhood, being close to work, etc. Millennials and Baby Boomers responses were extremely similar. Interestingly, respondents from both generations almost equally valued a fast Internet connection and living close to friends. It seems that the modern world has fostered an equal desire to be online and to be physically close to those we care about.
Both Millennials and Baby Boomers felt that "making work fun" is important. (However the definition of "fun" may vary between the two groups - a subject for a future survey).
There was a significant divide however on the issue of "mentoring." Millennial respondents, 67% more than Baby Boomer respondents, reported that "having a great mentor" is important. This makes sense, given that many working age Millennials grew up with parents who "mentored." Formal mentorship programs have sprung up in a number of fortune 500 companies as part of their onboarding process, so this should not be a surprise. However, the views are divergent. A workplace in which the generation with experience and knowledge fails to provide mentoring may be a rocky place to work for young hires. This can cause turnover.
The survey gave Baby Boomers and Millennials a chance to weigh the importance of "doing good" (purpose or mission-driven work) versus making more money. The results indicate a substantial divide in attitudes between the two generations. Respondents from the Baby Boomer generation said they were 67% more interested in making more money than doing good.
On the other hand, Millennial respondents weighed making more money on par with "doing good." Whether this is attributable to life status (lack of financial obligations such as children and long-term home loans) or a true value difference is yet to be determined. (Although there is a lot of conjecture that Generation Y as a whole really does care more deeply about the mission and meaning of work. For now, it is safe to say that Millennials entering the workforce are significantly more purpose-driven than members of their parents' generation.
Perhaps the greatest area of divergence in generation responses was around the concept of self-expression. Respondents were asked "In your opinion, what's the single best way to express your personality?" Across the board, Millennial respondents weighted everything from tattoos to their cars and even where they live are significantly more important than their Baby Boomer counterparts as forms of self-expression. In nine separate categories of items that could express individuality, Millennials showed they value self-expression up to eight times more than Baby Boomers.
If you own, manage or operate a company and you work with young employees, the data suggests that mentoring, creating a clear purpose for your operation and allowing a broader range of self-expression in the workplace are important for long-term retention.
Employee turnover costs in the United States alone run in the hundreds of millions. Companies that have adopted honorable social purposes range from Costco to Ford. The trend is clear and those who wish to reduce employee turnover and thereby costs, would be wise to find a way to adopt purpose-driven practices.
Many successful companies that cater to Millennial workers have relaxed policies on tattoos, piercings and other means of outward self expression. These companies range from Facebook to Chipotle. Companies managed by those in the Baby Boomer or Generation X generations may find it difficult to imagine a workplace in which tight jeans and nose rings are the norm, but the data (and popular social imagery) of the Millennial generation suggests that it is only a matter of time before the dress code of the modern American workplace is altered. Adopting policies that allow Millennials to express themselves could foster acceptance and engender loyalty.
In order for the modern workplace to function more effectively and in order to reduce turnover (if you're a Boomer/Gen X manager type) and keep your job (if you're from Generation Y) that both generations are going to need to be a little less rigid and a little more flexible. There's a lot of experience that the older generations have and some valuable business lessons. And while they may represent the worst fears of many an aging businessperson, Millennials are also our future. That's a good thing to keep in mind - no matter how you define your bottom line.