By Tyrone Burke
Photos by Chris Roussakis

A fresh-faced CEO slides into the lobby for the televisions cameras, two programmers are shooting pool on break and the communications staff are meeting over lattes brewed by on-staff baristas.

Companies have pulled out all the stops in the race to attract millennial talent, but have they alienated other demographics in the process? Is any of it what workers really want?

Well, that depends.

What we value most changes as we age. Plus the three generations currently in our workplaces have had vastly different career trajectories and value different things.

“Everybody wants meaningful work,” says Linda Schweitzer, associate professor and interim dean at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.

Schweitzer co-authored Generational Career Shifts: How Veterans, Boomers, Xers and Millennials View Work, with Dalhousie’s Eddy S. Ng and Guelph’s Sean T. Lyons. The book examines career trajectories and workplace values of current workers and “veterans” (older retired workers) over the first 10 years of their careers, considering the first 25 years of the latter three.

“Everybody wants information to do their jobs, and to be doing the job they expected. It’s about managing expectations and being transparent. “

And they want work-life balance, but what exactly that means varies.

Linda Schweitzer Tracks Generational Career Shifts

Work-Life Balance

“Everybody wants a life. It’s just that we define it differently. When I’m 26, work-life balance means time for my hobbies, vacation time, to hang out with my friends, to volunteer. When I’m 35, it might mean time for my family.  Arriving and leaving work at the same time each day. When I’m 50, it might mean time with my parents. What flexibility means, changes.”

Each generation’s workplace experience – and perception – is impacted by economic and cultural trends.  Baby boomers began their careers during an economic boom and advanced rapidly, Millennials were told they’d step into a leadership vacuum left by retiring  boomers, and generation X got caught in an intergenerational squeeze play with lingering ramifications.

“They’re the unhappiest generation,” Schweitzer says. “Generation X is getting pushed from both sides. They didn’t advance quickly because baby boomers took all the jobs and kept them, and now millennials are going to lap them. If you have two candidates for one job, and one is a generation Xer who has had that job for 20 years and the other a millennial who’s been working for five years, you’re going to choose the millennial. They seem more ambitious. It’s only taken them five years to get to the same point.

“The truth is that it was a numbers game. The gen Xer couldn’t get the job because there were no jobs. There’s a lot of attention on millennials, but employers have to be careful about overemphasizing them. Recognize who are the gen Xers in your company, and don’t piss them off. You still need them.”

The generational experience of millennials also presents unique challenges. Their narrative was that they’d step into a leadership void left by retiring boomers. Except that boomers haven’t retired, and that hasn’t happened.

“Millennials have unrealistic expectations. They want to make a lot or money, and advance quickly, but they’re not willing to sacrifice their lives for it. Employers can use the carrot — if you do this, you’ll get ahead — but young people won’t do it forever. They need to see that advancement. They need to feel like they’re moving ahead, or they’ll leave.”

Frequent Job Changes

On average, millennials expect to be promoted within a year of graduation and when reality fails to meet expectations, they’re prepared to jump ship. Generational Career Shifts found they changed jobs more than their predecessors.

“It wasn’t just money,” Schweitzer says. “It was ideology. This isn’t quite the job that I thought it was going to be. When I talk to employers I tell them, you need to be honest with people. Don’t upsell the job; they aren’t going to stick around if it’s not what they thought it would be. They’ll quit.

“Thirty years ago, if you suckered someone into a job, they wouldn’t quit, because they’d be afraid of what that looks like on their resume. These days, they’ll just walk away.”

But Schweitzer cautions against overcompensating. Millennials’ expectations will likely come back to Earth as they gain experience, and it can alienate other generations to focus too heavily on them. Besides, the next generation is already waiting in the wings, and they don’t necessarily have the same values.

“Everybody is starting to talk about generation Z,” Schweitzer says, “who we’re saying are born after 1995. The oldest of them just graduated university.

“They’ll still want meaning in their work, work-life balance, advancement, recognition, autonomy and independence. Everybody wants that, but generation Z hasn’t been told they’ll inherit the Earth. They’ve come up with a narrative of a lack of jobs, precarious work and difficulty getting ahead. They don’t have the same expectations and that will make all the difference in the world.”

Monday, May 28, 2018 in ,
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