So how are all of those generations getting along these days?
Experts say some of the chasms that divide the matures, the boomers, the Gen Xers and the millennials are being bridged, albeit slowly. Still, there's enough concern floating around that CPAs in Maryland and across the nation have cited generational issues as one of the top trends facing the profession today.
We know the characteristics that the divide the generations; we've been talking about generational issues for so long, we know them by heart.
What we don't know is what to do about them.
Cam Marston has a few ideas, though.
Cam is president of Generational Insights, a best-selling author, a frequent speaker on the conference circuit, and a pretty smart guy when it comes to workplace demographics. In a recent phone interview, he said there's plenty that each generation can do to build harmony in the office.
We've all heard the stereotypes: They're impetuous, shortsighted, demanding, unreasonable. Accurate or not, Marston said the oldest millennials are showing signs of putting some of those stereotypes to rest, and that's a good thing.
“Any predictable positive behavior they can exhibit in the workplace — anything that benefits the company, the customer or client — will find a welcome audience from their employers,” he said.
Communication is a particularly huge challenge — and opportunity — for millennials.
“One of great challenges for matures and boomers is to find a millennial who can communicate clearly, verbally, interpersonally, with their employers, their teams, and most importantly with their clients,” he said. “(Millennials) will find themselves in leadership positions if they do that, and they will find their peers lining up behind them (in support).”
Marston said they cling to “tribal knowledge” — all the stuff they know that can't be printed or learned in a book. Boomers need to focus on transitioning this wisdom to the next generations. The first step, said Marston, is mentoring.
“(Boomers) need to begin mentoring the next generations — not focusing on skills but rather on knowledge and wisdom,” he said. “They need to be thinking of the legacy of their practice, and that will be gained through mentoring.”
I had dinner the other night with a friend who complained that we Gen Xers are largely being ignored. Marston said it's easy to see why: At only 45 million members, the relatively tiny Generation X is sandwiched between 80 million boomers and 85 million millennials. Marston said it's time for Gen Xers to make some noise.
“Gen Xers will create their success by becoming interpreters between the generations on either side of them,” he said. “They need to be focused on getting out of their office and making eye contact with both the boomers and millennials. Boomers and millennials love interaction with other people, while Xers tend to be loners; their bias is to not engage the people in their workplace. Generation X's success in the workplace will depend on how well they engage these two massive generations on either side of them.”
Marston had lots more to say about the opportunities facing each generation — and about why CPAs might want to think about a marketing plan that's focused on generation-specific messages. Pretty interesting stuff — and given the results of the CPA Horizons 2025 work, it's hugely relevant, too. Listen to my interview with Marston in its entirety.
Want to learn more?
These Business Learning Institute programs offer terrific insights into the generational dilemma:
- Are Generational Differences Helping or Hindering Your Team?
- Leadership and Generations: What Are They Thinking? (also available as a four-hour webcast)
- Leadership and Retaining Talent: How the Generational Shift is Changing Leadership
- Managing Multiple Generations: Next Steps and New Surprises (also available as a keynote)
- The New Workforce: New Data, New Ideas, Aging Baby Boomers
- Sharing Skills Between Generations