The Generation Game - Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials

Talking about the different generations of workers in employment has become a regular occurance for people across many industries, including video conferencing.

Personally what I have found interesting from reading many articles on the matter is the difference of opinion that some companies and people have; and the pigeon holing that takes place. Of course being human we are always going to have a difference of opinion, and that causes a good deal of debate. At the same time however, I am left questioning some information that seems to leave a lot more questions than answers.

Yesterday on LinkedIn I came across the following infographic and I was simply lost for words:

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Perhaps the infographic was created by an under pressure Gen X manager, or perhaps the person has had a bad experience with Millennials? Maybe it was a clever piece of marketing that was designed to cause debate, and has? No matter, stating that they are lazy, unproductive and self-obsessed seems more than a little unfair as a list of cons.

Born in the late 1970s I am technically a Gen X myself, but I am proud to have a number of Millennial traits. The same could be said for many other Gen X’ers that I know and even some Baby Boomers who aspire to take the best traits from each generation. The point of not tarring everyone with the same brush is of course obvious, but the angle that I would like to open up for debate is the fact that the three generations tend to work in a different way to each other, and this has caused companies to think and adapt and to put in place best practices.

I will explain.

In the UK, the post WWII years saw a boom that went into an economic malaise in the 70s. The UK was still an industrial powerhouse and as such many people worked in factories. Baby Boomers that didn’t work in manufacturing or factories worked in buildings with individual offices scaling from small for the less important staff to large, top floor corner offices for the senior management team. There was a real chain of command, and meetings and ideas nearly always came from the top down. People spoke in face-to-face meetings as a rule, or by telephone when they really had to.  

Generation X saw the ‘industrial holocaust’ and privatisation of the nation, as well as a recession and depression. Companies and the people they employed unsurprisingly changed. There was an advancement in technology – the personal computer for all workers and email. This changed the way people worked (whether it was for the better is another debate), often making people spend less time talking and in particular spending time face-to-face. A natural and important part of human interaction. Messages were sent from computer to computer, still following the chain of command from the biggest office to the newly introduced ‘pod’ space. Smaller than the office, and allowing more people to be squeezed in to a floor. Perhaps slightly more sociable, but still restrictive on creativity.

Today technology has flourished and the Millennials have been the generation most influenced by it. Baby Boomers and Gen X look at the technology in a different way (in general) to Millennials, in that the majority of these two generations use certain technology and workflows at work, and different technology and workflows in their private lives. This is caused by the fact that the technology was not always available, was expensive at first and work and private lives had a clear separation.

Millennials have grown up in the world with lower cost hardware, improving processing power and capability, and an ever increasing connectivity that blurs the lines between work time and private time. Electronics have become increasingly smaller, so that a PC that might have taken up half a room now fits on a small desk, and the old desktop computer has less power than the smartwatch on your wrist today. Oh and of course a small thing called the cloud.

All of this has led to a generation of people who expect and do use the same technology in their work and private lives. They want to be distinctive in the work that they do. There is a lot more creativity, and the chain of command in a company has become a lot less formal. Yes of course the CEO or MD is still in charge and makes the majority of the day to day decisions; however, it is now not unheard of for junior staff and lower level management leading teams that contain a senior manager or two. Collaboration is key, especially if you are trying to get products to market against the clock. Millennials can challenge themselves to become boss in lot less time than previous generations. The corporate ladder is no longer a mountain to climb.

CEO’s and Directors seem to be quick in realising this and have been putting many modern working practices into place: Flexible working, room stratification and BYOD are just three that we see regularly. Of course video conferencing has a huge role to play in this – why else would I be writing this blog? You can find out how from our blog series and white paper called “does the perfect office exist?

But the question remains. Is it the generation or the technology that are changing the way that companies look at working? Or both? Whatever the answer, the workplace is changing and it is not just coincidence that Millennials now make up over a third of the workforce with that number set to reach almost 50% in the next 4 years.

All the generations will have to adapt to new styles and ideas if they want to remain successful and at the top of their game. Those that desire it most – Baby Boomer, Gen X or Millennial will, no matter their ‘supposed’ differences and cons.  

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