Millennials vs. Gen-X in the workplace: differences and similarities

What’s so different between millennials and Gen-Xs?

For starters, Gen-Xs—born between 1965-1980—came in on the cusp of cell phones, the Internet, and social media, while most millennials—born between 1981-1997—grew up when these things were a regular part of daily life.

The experiences of growing up in dissimilar environments have produced generations of employees who vary greatly from the other. And yet, they share certain similarities that are worth understanding in more detail.

Throughout this article we’ll review key findings on millennials vs. Gen-X employees and explore how their relative similarities and differences impact the ways that your organization should treat them.

Their presence in the workplace is now greater than any other generation. According to the Pew Research Center, the population of American Millennials in the workplace has steadily increased since 1995 and since Q1 of 2015, they’ve been the most populous generation in American companies.

Given their consistently increasing presence in the office, understanding who these employees are and what they want from your organization is crucial. To help you tackle this question, we ran a recent study with The Ladders, focusing on Millennials vs. Gen-X employees. Here are some key insights based on our research, in addition to other data points in the market:

78% of Millennials use Linkedin for job hunting, which is 20% higher than the second most popular option, networking through friends and family. As this generation is comfortable in using the latest technology and leads the pack in mobile adoption—over 97% own a smartphone according to Nielsen—using a site that often demands research and constant updates isn’t an issue.

Another reason why LinkedIn and social media—ranked third in job hunting for millennials, at 44%— are such popular platforms for networking is because of the social and communal ties they offer. Millennials want to feel as though they are part of something bigger than themselves and given their constant reliance on the web, these platforms provide them with that opportunity.

So what does this mean for your organization? Put a focus on making your LinkedIn page and social channels engaging and up to date, with clear descriptions of the roles that your organization is currently hiring for.

Daunted by the prospect of working for a new manager, having new responsibilities, and switching employers?

Millennials aren’t. A study done by the Education Advisory board, found that millennials change jobs up to 20 times in their career! This figure is significantly more than any other generation and twice as much as baby boomers.

Looking to stem turnover? Try helping your millennial employees by promoting the possibility of transferring into other roles internally.

To identify how many of your employees are looking to change jobs and what they are looking to transfer into, send them an engagement survey on a quarterly cadence. The survey should be anonymous to let them answer with candor and should include a few questions around their happiness in their current role and other opportunities they’d be interested in pursuing. The latter question can be free response as we don’t want to limit the respondent’s options.

Once the responses come back, make sure to review them at the team, department and organizational level. Depending on the level of demand, it may be worth communicating your internal transfer policies and letting the appropriate segments know which positions are currently open.

With 66% of employees looking to transfer internally first, prioritizing and promoting your internal transfer policies will ultimately benefit your entire base of employees.

Why would they want to work at your company? Demonstrating that you care for the overall well being of your employees goes a long way in attracting Millennials. Research by the Pew Center found that Millennials prioritize being a good parent, having a successful marriage, and helping others over work related agendas.

To accommodate these preferences and become a desirable place to work, organizations need to effectively communicate and demonstrate their commitment to work-life balance through flexible work hours and generous paid time off.

For the sake of making things less complicated when attracting and retaining workers, we’re fortunate that there aren’t significant differences when looking at millennials vs. Gen-X employees. For example, Gen-Xs also rely on the Internet when job hunting and change jobs more often than older generations. However, there are a few key differences worth mentioning for millennials vs. Gen-X employees:

Gen-X employees are approximately 25% more eager than millennials to know in advance, what’s expected of them before they go on to tackle their problems.

To meet their demands and align on expectations, it may be worth scheduling a meeting and/or sharing a document before they begin time consuming projects.

Is your company really helping its customers?

Hopefully the answer to this question is a resounding yes, and if it is, make sure that your Gen-X employees know. With only 40% of Gen-X employees confident that their company is effectively addressing their customer experience—50% less than millennials—their motivation in their role is at risk of dwindling until they find a new job.

Prevent and identify Gen-X’s who take this viewpoint by adding a question or two in your employee survey/s. The questions can look as follows:

1a) On a scale of 0-10 (with 0 being lowest impact and 10 being highest), how would you rate the impact that our solution/service provides to our customers?

1b) In a sentence or two, please explain why you chose that rating.

As much as we’d like to assume that everything we’ve said about millennials vs. Gen-X employees is accurate, we can’t. Individuals ultimately vary from each other and forcing generalizations among groups of employees can lead to negative consequences for any organization.

Make sure that you truly understand who your employees are at the individual level. This may require more face time, walks around the office, and employee surveys that ask questions about who they are and what they are hoping to accomplish at work. Ultimately, the time invested in understanding your employees will allow your organization to improve engagement and retention over the long run.

Looking to understand employee engagement in depth? Survey your team today and find out. Get started →

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