Generational differences? Pattie Hunt Sinacole offers a possible explanation

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Q:  I am in my mid 50s and feel like I am out of touch with my employees.  They complain about our workplace, often times not the work on their desks.  They ask if what I am doing about the earth.  They ask me what our policy is around DEI.  They ask me who can guide and mentor them.  They don’t seem to respect hierarchy and will walk into my office at any time, with any complaint (instead of their supervisor’s office).  They don’t seem to want to talk on the phone, but yet they all carry one around with them.  They ask me for a customized map for their success, one that values who they are as a person.  Please comment.

A:  My guess is that these employees are probably younger than you.  I don’t know that but it sure sounds like it.

Each generation is shaped by the events around them.  Of course, each person is an individual but there are certainly trends and many shared characteristics.

Many employees in their 20s and 30s value different perks, than maybe a baby boomer does.  There have been events in an employee’s lifetime which have had a major impact.  Many of the people in these generations share concerns about climate change and how humans are impacting our planet.  Many are looking for more than money.  Instead, they may be looking for their employers to share similar concerns for their environment, diversity, and social justice.  Employees in their 20s may have been shaped by events like George Floyd or Breonna Taylor.  You and I may have been more affected by September 11th.

Many have their eyes focused on their phones, but many text vs. using the phone to call someone.  A phone on a desk may be an unusual concept to them.  Some offices are now use cell phones almost 100% for business communications. They will often seek answers on their internet.   However, to someone in their 50s, this may be a difficult concept to grasp.

Employees, especially in their 20s and 30s, care less about hierarchy. A title or promotion may be less important to them.  Many want to be treated like a person, not just an employee.  Flexibility is also important to this generation.  I recently interviewed a candidate who quit his job and backpacked through Europe over the summer.  Our client was aghast.  How could he leave a job without another job lined up?  What was he hiding?  Was he fired?  Would he be committed to work or would he take off next summer to backpack?  The reality is we don’t know.  Every hire is a risk.  Our clients shudder when they hear this, but it is true.  A baby boomer could have a heart attack tomorrow.  A 20-something could suffer a horrific automobile accident. We just can’t predict the future.

Many of us in our 50s received the Boston Globe at the end of our driveway.  Employees in their 20s and 30s read or other sites.  Change is a double-edged sword, with some positives and some negatives.

Of course, these are generalizations.  I know 60-year-olds who are passionate about the environment or flexibility in the workplace.  I know 20-year-olds who are focused on their earning potential.  Most generations have a mix of career-related motivators. Make sure to treat all employees equally because having a favorite may lead to a worker confronting bias against a co-worker.

One recommendation I have is fairly simple: ask your employees what is meaningful to them.  It may help you focus on how you can attract and retain talent.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.