posted November 19, 2015

Debunking Generational Stereotypes at the Office

by James Shankland, CPA, Senior Associate

We’ve all heard them before. Millennials are entitled and would gladly endure a root canal if it meant not having to answer the telephone. Baby boomers are unwilling to embrace change and work too many hours. Generation X members are cynical and work poorly in teams. The list of unfavorable, sweeping generalizations goes on. While you might be tempted to think that these stereotypes must be rooted at least somewhat in reality, studies have shown that, though there are a few true generational differences, most can be narrowed down to differences in life cycle stages. Here are some of the most common stereotypes lobbed at people in the workplace, and how you can avoid them affecting you.

Baby boomers are out of sync with technology. While some people believe the majority of baby boomers can barely navigate an Excel spreadsheet, the reality is that boomers have been adapting to change their entire lives. If you’re worried about falling prey to the “technophobe” stereotype, demonstrate your commitment by pitching a new process that removes an antiquated technology from the picture. It could be as simple as suggesting a post idea for your organization’s social media accounts. Don’t be afraid to ask younger colleagues for advice on technical items, as it shows a willingness to adapt.

Gen Xers are slackers. Members of this generation are now poised to dominate the senior-management landscape, but it was just a few decades ago that they were coined as “the slacker generation.” Now, many employees in their thirties and forties are heavily tied down with personal and familial obligations. To avoid being labeled as an employee who ditches work on the regular for your family, ask your colleagues if you can assist them with a project outside of your normal duties. Communicate deadlines with your boss, and provide regular updates, to show that you still share the same priorities.

Millennials always think they deserve better. It’s one of the worst complaints against millennials: that they believe they can walk into an executive-level job with no experience and demand promotions year after year. Managers want to work with employees who are willing to put in the time it takes to move up within an organization, not twenty-somethings that grumble about so-called “gruntwork” between meetings. If you are a millennial, avoid this stereotype by being punctual, moving quickly between tasks, and being open to new projects. When asking for a promotion, ask what steps you can take to make it to the next level. Frame the question in a way that indicates you want to help the organization, not that you want the organization to help you.


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