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  • Writer's pictureSteph Rey

Employee Frustrations - How do you manage Gen X and Gen Y in the same workplace?

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

Whether you’re an established business or a business planning to hire staff in the future – staff are in every top ten list of Business Frustrations the world over. Frustrations include:

  • Lack of engagement

  • Lack of loyalty

  • Needing too much support

  • Low productivity

  • Lack of initiative

  • Not living up to expectations

So why is this a recurring theme the world over? Surely not everyone is terrible at their job?

While studies show that the majority of people overestimate their abilities and skill level, usually this isn’t the problem. The problem usually lies with management style, communication, business culture and dare I say it – generational differences.

Generation X

While generational differences aren’t the be all and end all of employee issues, how each generation grew up has a profound effect on how they act in their social circles, how they run their businesses, and how they like to work and be managed in their jobs.

Social Science looks at generational differences from a Social Identity perspective – that is people who grew up during a certain time frame tend to have similar influences and therefore a similar social identity.

For Gen X, our social identity is an interesting one. Our childhoods were filled with adventure, exploring outside with little fear of what might happen to us. Most of us experienced very hands-off parenting with memories filled with leaving our houses on a Saturday morning, with the only rule to be home before the street lights came on. We had no homework to speak of until High School, and no internet either. We used our imaginations, were very social with other children in our neighbourhoods, and created our own soccer leagues and games of dare that when we look back on we cringe with horror at the danger we put ourselves in. TV only had a few channels, and we all watched the same cartoons which were usually littered with moral messages. Our books were fantasy-based with more moral messages laced through storylines. Our connection with the outdoors was deeply embedded in our psyche because we spent so much time outside.

Gen X in Early Adulthood

When we got to our teens and early adulthood we were described in the media as disaffected and cynical. Feeling dissatisfied with politicians and society rules that we felt shouldn’t apply to us - we simply opted out. The rise of grunge, heavy metal and politically focused rock music during the late 80’s and 90’s was Gen X’s way of saying ‘we don’t like the rules’.

Despite our personal feelings most of Gen X still played the corporate game in the workforce, feeling generally annoyed that there didn’t seem to be another option. Work hard – play hard was our motto and most of us led double lives – the corporate life and the home life. At the weekends we went to rock concerts, and complained with friends about how the system was broken and that something’s got to change. Over in the UK, Gen X were the largest generation to opt out of political voting in general elections – why? Because we all thought – what’s the point – nothing changes anyway. Being cynical is just what we do.

Despite the Angst – Gen X emerge as Leaders

The strange thing about our generation, is that despite our angst, in the workforce we were actually good employees. To sustain our weekend lifestyles, we worked hard (but not necessarily with the big smiles our bosses might have wished) and were highly independent.

Our hands-off parenting upbringing meant we became a highly autonomous workforce. Due to us getting ourselves into questionable situations as children, we emerged as excellent leaders and problem solvers who think outside the box. We became logical thinkers with high levels of initiative. The teenage anti-system attitude gave way to entrepreneurial thinking, and we began to use our skills to foster the fastest growth in technology the world has ever seen.

As adults, we realised we actually do care about our environment and others in our society, and decided to opt back in. When in our teens we felt we could never change our society, some 20 - 30 years on we’re now in positions of power – either high level positions in corporate workforces, or owning our own businesses. Many of us are now using our power to make societal change as we still are unable to shake our cynical attitudes toward politics. Companies with Gen Xers in high positions are now publicly starting to take an ethical stand – Nike with Black Lives Matter, Facebook against the Alt-Right Media, and Apple against the FBI trying to access personal information. Gen X has finally found its feet and it’s having a very interesting effect on the workforce, branding and social issues.

Gen X as Workers

With all the above information in mind, it’s no surprise that Gen X as workers like to be autonomous. A manager who micro-manages us is not our friend, and working in a team with social loafers – well that’s even worse. We like to do what we do, and do it well and to a fast-pace. We like to work with other like-minded high-performing individuals, and want to do our job well. We know what we need to do, and want to be left to get on with it. Because we are self-motivated, we value flexibility and highly value being able to work from home or have flexible working hours. After all, it’s going to be obvious who isn’t pulling their weight.

Gen X as Managers

We expect our employees to understand their roles and do it to the best of their ability without being constantly checked on. The reality is, that many Gen Xers don’t think their employees are actually that good, and resent them for making us feel like we’re running an adult day care. Why can’t they just do their job? We ask ourselves daily.

We want initiative. We want forward thinking staff, and we want them to know their stuff and get on with it. We don’t like micromanaging but because our staff don’t perform we end up having to do it anyway. We probably don’t give enough constructive feedback, because what’s the point – they won’t listen anyway (here’s our disaffected cynical nature creeping in again). When hiring staff, we are so cynical that we hire the best of a bad bunch safe in the knowledge we’ll be running that adult day care regardless, so why bother trying that hard. Despite all of this internal monologue, we are very friendly to our staff and they probably will never know our frustrations. Sound familiar?

Enter Gen Y (or the Millennials)

The youngest of Gen Y are the children of the older Gen Xers, and are born mid 1980’s to 1995.

When Gen X became adults, many of us looked back at our childhoods and had something to say about our upbringing. Thinking about all the dangerous things we did as kids, and wondering how we’re still alive has created a generation of parents who are a little over the top. Gen X’s kids have been told they’re fabulous since day one to make up for Gen X’s parents making us all feel a little unimportant and neglected. Gen X’s cynical nature and value for high achievement has created a parental generation who have micromanaged their children to the next level.

Helicopter Parenting

Gen Y’s parents have butted into every aspect of their lives from micromanaging their homework to enrolling them into what seems like hundreds of after-school clubs and activities. Gen Y’s parents have been so frightened of neglecting their kids they’ve told them daily they can be anything they want to be, and that they are fabulous. Gen Y are Gen X’s passion projects and are the centre of their parent’s universe.

The Result?

Gen Y are often highly narcissistic. They truly believe they are wonderful, and are oozing in self-confidence. Growing up with technology, their phones and computers are an extension of themselves, and pick up new technology quickly. Their attention span is much shorter and as a result don’t get as immersed in tasks as Gen X. They struggle to make decisions alone, and require much more support when going through life.

Having said that, the Google age has meant they have an uncanny ability to grasp information and run with it, although it is usually high level.

Not needing to think for themselves in any aspect of their lives, Gen Y can easily get off task. They need much more communication from their colleagues and managers, and this can seem to onlookers like they constantly only care about themselves, whereas in reality, they just need clear direction.

Gen Y in the Workplace

When applying for jobs, Gen Y care about what the company is going to do for them, not what they can do for the company. Their parents have told them they’re going to great things, and most jobs they work in are just a stepping stone to their future life in the spotlight. Because of this narcissistic viewpoint, they job-hop and lack the company loyalty that Gen X have.

They are good multitaskers, but this can result in frustration for Gen X bosses, as it seems like nothing is ever getting completed because they are doing several jobs at once. Their attention spans are short and they are easily distracted, thus taking much longer to complete a task.

They are technology focused which is a massive advantage to most businesses. If your business is doing something in an unproductive way, Gen Y will find you an App that makes your life easier. Moreover, you likely won’t need to train them on new computer or cloud systems as they just intuitively know how to use technology.

They see the workplace as somewhere they will need to spend a lot of time at. They know they won’t be able to retire until their mid 70’s and therefore require different things from the workplace. Where Gen X are all about doing as much work in a short time-frame and taking work home to finish the job, Gen Y want to be at work, as they don’t have the self-motivation to work from home alone.

They know they take longer to complete tasks, and they know they are easily distracted, get bored easily and therefore are willing to be in the office longer hours. To accommodate those longer hours, and frequent pangs of boredom they want some luxuries. They want their office space to be inviting and intuitive with different areas for them to sit depending on their state of mind. They want time-out spaces and places to socialise and chat with their team.

They value their company culture over money and feel this is the most important thing. If they’re going to spend their entire adult life working – it’s got to be for something meaningful.

Watch out for them – they sing their own praises and don’t give credit to others. They will get to the top one way or another, and it certainly won’t be through quiet achieving.

How do you attract Gen Y and Gen X to work in your business?

Start with your branding and website. Does it look like what you are trying to say? If you were Google, would you have photos of people in suits looking like they’re at a funeral, or would you have photos of staff in casual clothes laughing and looking approachable?

Define your company values and ethics. All talent these days check out the companies they apply to online before making an application. Showcase what you offer your employees – your culture, opportunities and vision.

Hiring and Managing Gen X

If you want to attract Gen X to your business, then stating the role is autonomous with flexible working hours and / or working from home options will usually attract them. Gen X want recognition more than anything and they want that in the form of salary, so a good salary is important. With Gen X you get what you pay for.

Gen X want to know the companies they work for are ethical. They have given up on the government to make real change, and therefore want to put their knowledge and effort into a company that cares about what they do. They particularly care about social ethics and sustainability – remember this is the generation behind marriage equality and banning the plastic bag.

Gen X want a culture of trust and flexibility, and a good team of like-minded intellect with strong work ethics to work with. They want to work for a company that recognises good work and high achievers – nothing is more frustrating to Gen X than working with loafers.

Although they like to work with people, they prefer their role to be autonomous for the most part. To a Gen Xer, not getting recognition for their work, or working in a team with slow moving people and low achievers is a no-no. If put in this situation they will tend to assume the workload and then resent the other team members for getting credit.

Tell them every now and then that you appreciate all they do, and take them for the odd lunch or drink, but keep in mind a salary increase is always the best form of flattery. Whatever you do – don’t give someone else recognition for their work. Once you get Gen X offside you’ll never get them back.

Management Style – HANDS OFF. They like to be left alone to do their job.

  • Weekly 30 min meetings to see where they are with everything is more than enough

  • Give them flexibility – if they want to work from home or need flexible hours then provide it

  • Because they value hard work so highly, it’s unlikely they won’t perform when not in the office – it’s usually the opposite

  • Leave them to do what they do best

  • Ask for their input on company or department decisions – this is highly valuable to them

Gen X are generally logical and methodical. Because they value knowledge so highly they can get bogged down with theory and models which perhaps aren’t as relevant in today’s global market. In marketing they frequently miss the value of social inclusion, fads and trends because they are cynical and think people will see through it…

Note that Gen X will get annoyed with Gen Y if put in a team environment with them as they see them as lazy, unmotivated and distracting. The worst thing you can do is force them into a Gen Y management style so if you have both generations in your office manage them differently and give them both what they need – don’t force one into working the way the other does.

Hiring and Managing Gen Y

If you want to attract Gen Y, then stating the role will have a great team, great office space, work-life balance, great social activities and that they will be coached and mentored is a sure-fire way to get them applying.

Culture to Gen Y means several things. They want gimmicks and perks to combat boredom, procrastination and to assist with their short attention span. A great space to work, and a meaningful vision for the company.

They need a team to work with, and working autonomously is a no-no. They want mentors and coaches and want to learn as much as they can. Make sure their team work well together and that they have a good support system around them. As a general rule they’ll sit on a problem and don’t follow Gen X’s problem-solving processes, so you must be available and on top of their workload to pick up any issues.

They need tech – they want automation for mundane tasks and won’t tolerate manual processes well. If your business has boring manual processes, Gen Y will probably omit them all together.

They care about your brand and the message it sends. Because they’ve grown up with technology and the internet, their social identity is closely linked with brands and what they stand for. If your brand and message isn’t modern and aligned, they won’t apply for a job.

If your brand is aligned with your message, and your culture spot on, Gen Y will be your brand ambassadors, even after they leave your company. Don’t underestimate the value of Gen Y in this area. If they fully understand your vision and get onboard with your ethical values and believe in it, they will go above and beyond for your company. I can’t stress this enough – getting them onboard with your vision is absolute gold for a company.

Management style – SUPPORTIVE – they need A LOT of communication and feedback

  • Daily morning meetings are best for Gen Y to keep them on track

  • They need VERY CLEAR and defined job descriptions and task roles. Using cloud apps that allow them to see all their tasks, the time they should take and when they should do them by are very effective. This allows you to manage them in a way that they don’t see as micromanaging

  • Note that if they don’t fully understand their tasks and their role in the business (bigger picture perspective) they will become disengaged. Allowing Gen Y to understand how their role impacts the business from a cultural or branding perspective (remember money is not a motivator to them as it is with Gen X) will engage them massively

  • They want frequent and immediate feedback. If they do something wrong they want to know then and there what they did, how they should have done it, and what to do in the future. They won’t be offended and they won’t make the same mistake twice – provided you have fully explained why and they understand their error

  • Expect them to take longer to do their jobs – in return you’ll have good quality work with a modern perspective – again don’t underestimate how valuable this perspective is to businesses

  • Keep them interested – ask them what they want and give them what they need. A bored Gen Yer is procrastination central.

Gen Y are very valuable effective employees if you give them what they need. It’s common to think that they are slow and unproductive workers, whereas they just work differently to the Gen Xers before them. They think differently with a more global mindset and are intuitive with the market. Gen X are very methodical and logical, whereas Gen Y are emotional and have access to the online social world in a way Gen X never did. This is crucial and valuable for a business of today.

Be mindful that Gen X finds them distracting and lazy so make sure you allow them to have what they need without annoying the hell out of everyone else in the office.

The moral of the story is that when it comes to managing generations in the workforce, it is often the lack of understanding of the generational history and their needs that is the problem.

If you need in-depth advice, training or guidance on issues such as this, get in touch with us at .


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