Boomers Can’t Learn, Millennials Are Lazy, and 6 Other Myths About the Multigenerational Workforce

March 10, 2020

Cartoon of young people entering tent of village elders. It reads: "The village wants to add some younger elders."

By now, most talent acquisition and HR professionals know stone-cold the business case for diversity. They understand the value that comes when a company is able to tap into the perspectives and life experiences of people of different genders, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.

But what about age? Do you work for a tech company loaded with young digital natives or a manufacturing firm overindexed with older Baby Boomers? 

In LinkedIn’s recently released Global Talent Trends 2020 report, the multigenerational workforce was cited as one of the chief issues that will shape talent acquisition in the coming years. The different generations are endlessly fascinating and loaded with both opportunities and challenges for recruiters and hiring managers. The topic is fraught with the potential for stereotyping and misunderstanding.

So, we’re here to offer some myth-understanding. Here are eight myths about the multigenerational workforce that TA professionals can dismiss:

Myth 1: Millennials are job-hoppers

According to LinkedIn data, the current average job tenure of a Millennial is half that of a Gen Xer. But that has more to do with where they are in their career than a generational inclination to be flighty or uncommitted.

The Pew Research Center examined historical data in the United States and found that, when adjusted for age, Millennial workers were just as likely to stay at their jobs as their counterparts in Gen X had been when they were in their 20s and 30s. Further, Pew discovered that among college-educated workers, Millennials actually had longer tenures than Gen X employees had had.

The Pew findings buttressed the earlier conclusion of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers that “contrary to popular perceptions, Millennials actually stay with their employers longer than Generation X workers did at the same age.”

To some extent, the additional movement between jobs earlier in someone’s career just makes sense. More experienced workers have had more time to find their ideal fitting job and the pool of jobs that they’re suited for may have shrunk relative to when they were searching for entry-level jobs.

For recruiters and hiring managers, this is a bonus. You don’t have to steer clear of Millennials; you just want to understand what makes them tick.

Myth 2: Millennials and Gen Zers are more driven by purpose than earlier generations

Study after study show that the generations share more similarities than differences when it comes to what they’re looking for in a job. They all want reasonable compensation and benefits, work-life balance, inspirational colleagues and culture, and a feeling that they’re making an impact.

And while all the generations value companies with purposeful missions, a LinkedIn survey shows that Boomers are actually more likely to call it a priority than any of the younger cohorts.

Companies rated highly for having a purposeful mission have 49% lower attrition than companies rated poorly on this dimension, according to LinkedIn data. Creating inspirational vision and mission statements — and then really using them as your true North Stars — will help you attract and retain talent across the ages.

Myth 3: Boomers can’t learn new skills (or don’t want to)

To the notion that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, Boomers say, “Grrrr.”

According to an AARP Work and Career Study survey, 74% of workers age 45 to 74 said the opportunity to learn something new is critical to their view of the ideal job.

That desire creates an opportunity for companies that is going largely unmet. According to a U.S. Department of Labor Task Force on the Aging of the American Workforce, workers between 25 and 34 receive 37 hours of training annually while workers over 55 get just nine hours.

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Related: The 3 Most Common Reasons Generations Clash at Work

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And Boomers aren’t just looking to learn how to golf or tend a garden; Python Essential Training was one of the top four courses taken by professionals 55 and older last year on LinkedIn Learning.

“This kind of blows up the narrative that Boomers — and workers over 50 generally — are ‘done’ and set in their ways,” says John Tarnoff, a reinvention career coach and LinkedIn Learning instructor. “Hiring managers take note: Likely some of your best hires in 2020 and beyond will be older workers like these who stay current, learn the latest skills, and bring their wisdom and experience to create bottom-line value.”

Myth 4: Millennials are lazy and entitled

If one stereotype of Millennials has them shifting jobs relentlessly, another has them as shiftless — lazy and desperate for praise. And yet a meta-analysis in 2016 by a researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit that was published in the Journal of Business and Psychology found no difference in the work ethics of the different generations.

And Millennials are OK if everyone doesn’t get a trophy. In a seminal study on Millennials published by IBM in 2014, the company’s Institute for Business Value found that it was more important for Millennials to have a boss who was ethical and fair, transparent, and consistent than one who recognized their accomplishments.

Myth 5: Millennials and Gen Zers are addicted to technology

The youngest two generations are, of course, fluent in today’s technology and can quickly adapt to evolving software and systems. But they don’t necessarily want to use tech for everything.

In a survey done by Randstad and Future Workplace, 39% of Millennials and Gen Zers said they prefer face-to-face communication with coworkers over email (16%), instant messaging (10%), texting (7%), and videoconferencing (6%). In its workplace survey, IBM found that Gen Xers were more likely than Millennials to use their personal social media to communicate with colleagues or business partners, get information about their industry, or market their organization’s products and services.

So, bring younger candidates in for an interview — they’ll embrace the chance to talk to you face-to-face.

Myth 6: Gen Xers aren’t prepared to lead

Gen X has found it hard to shake the X — the notion that they’re a generational placeholder, a mere link between the larger and more meaningful generations of Boomers and Millennials.

As a passionate defense of Gen X in The New York Times points out, this small but mighty age cohort has produced Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and original Googlers Sergey Brin and Larry Page. On the international stage, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, French president Emmanuel Macron, and Icelandic prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who was recently named chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, are all card-carrying members of Gen X.

But Gen X’s claim to leadership isn’t just about the headliners. The Global Leadership Forecast 2018 looked at more than 25,000 leaders in 54 countries and 26 major industry sectors and found that Gen X was filling 51% of global leadership roles.

So, the next time you’re looking to fill a leadership role, don’t pass over your Gen X candidates. They may be X-actly what you need.

Myth 7: Gen Zers and Millennials are nearly identical

No, Gen Z is not a Mini-Me of the Millennial Generation. While the two cohorts share many similarities, they also have notable differences. A yearlong study by father-son generational consultants David and Jonah Stillman found that Gen Z is more independent and competitive than their Millennial counterparts and less enthusiastic about collaborating.

David and Jonah found the Gen Zers they studied were shaped by being the first generation of digital natives and noted their penchant for hypercustomization (personal playlists, clothing, and education, designing their own course and majors). Some 56% told the Stillmans they’d even like to write their own job descriptions.

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Related: 6 Gen Z Traits You Need to Know to Attract, Hire, and Retain Them

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Other research indicates that Gen Z is more pragmatic and money-conscious than its Millennial counterpart and less educated and less focused.

The differences between Gen Zers and Millennials present both a challenge and an opportunity for recruiters: You will have to account for their differences when you reach out and entice them; if you’re successful, you’ll benefit from their varied perspectives and approaches.

Myth 8: Companies can’t afford to hire Boomers

Many Boomers understand that unlike how it was for their parents’ generation, their peak earnings are often going to be midcareer rather than right before retirement.

And that’s OK. Older workers are typically more interested in reduced hours or flexible scheduling than in a huge paycheck. Research done at the Stanford Graduate School of Business reinforces this idea: When researchers asked retired U.S. workers (mostly professionals) if they would return to their old job if it offered flexible scheduling, 60% said they would. Further, 40% of those respondents said they would take a 10% wage cut under those circumstances and 20% said they would take a 20% wage cut.

Two other cost considerations companies should keep in mind when weighing whether to hire Boomer candidates: Lower turnover in this cohort reduces the cost of employing them, as does the lower health costs due to them typically having fewer dependents.

Final thoughts: There are fewer barriers to hiring a multi-generational workforce than you might think

Each of the generational myths above can potentially narrow your field of candidates — if you subscribe to it.

Fortunately, after debunking each of these pernicious — or comical — stereotypes, recruiters and hiring managers should be left with a bigger, richer pool of talent. The path has been cleared to build a cross-generational team that will take your organization to the next level.

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