In 2011, this blog featured an article that posed the question: Would you hire your own kid?
And now, just three years later, the question has become: Could you work for your kid or someone your kid’s age?
What on earth happened between 2011 and 2014? And how on earth is it possible for someone who is 50-something to be managed by someone who is 20-something?
We can blame economics and demographics for this major change-up. By 2015, Generation Y (1982-1995) will be 39% of the U.S. workforce. This is the largest generation in history, wielding tremendous power and influence. Within the next decade, Gen Ys could comprise as much as 75% of the global workplace.
If you’re a Boomer (1946-1964), you might be thinking that’s not a real concern because by 2025 you will be happily retired, sipping on pina coladas by the pool.
But let’s face it. Our nation’s economy isn’t booming and retirement is gosh-darned expensive. As a result, economists predict more than 80% of Boomers will have to work past the age of 65 because they don’t have enough money to retire.
What does this mean? It means at some point you’ll probably find yourself working for a younger boss.
It will be a reality similar to the plot portrayed in the 2004 movie, In Good Company, about a middle-aged executive (Dennis Quaid) answering to a new boss who is half his age (Topher Grace).
Functioning in a workplace dominated by Gen Y will be a very different experience for Boomers and Gen Xers (1965-1981) who both tend to be success-driven, strong individualists, and independent thinkers. In contrast, Ys are driven to make a difference, function well in teams, and are highly social creatures.
As more Ys move into management, we can expect some major changes to occur, such as more women promoted to leadership, redesigned offices to allow for open-concept work spaces, telecommuting as the norm, and social platforms used to manage daily employee performance.
In the meantime, here are a few tips for getting in good graces with your younger boss:
Avoid the good ol’ days. No one appreciates being told the workplace was better 30 years ago, given the ‘I was working when you were in diapers’ shtick, or the ‘been there done that’ excuse. If you are referencing the past, also be complimentary and respectful of today’s standards and a new boss’s methods.
Abandon stereotypes. You might think your young boss doesn’t know enough to be in a position of authority. Meanwhile, your boss is thinking you’re going to be difficult to manage and resistant to change. (Are you?) Try to abandon the stereotypes and keep an open mind.
Share ideas. Ys have a collaborative spirit. They will be receptive to your input if it’s framed as an innovative idea, not a condescending complaint. Rather than saying, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing,’ draw from your experiences and try saying, ‘When I’ve done things this way, I’ve been successful.’
Compromise. Ys like to work together, but Boomers and Xers are independent workers. If your younger boss tries to accommodate your preferred working style, then you should return the favor and adopt some collaborative practices. It’s important to be flexible, compromise, and complement each other’s strengths.
Be patient. Ys sometimes struggle to make executive decisions and they may involve others in the process. This approach to decision-making contradicts the styles of Boomers and Xers. Remember: neither approach is right or wrong. They are simply different.
Explain why. Gen Y managers feel that to be successful, they must share ‘the why’ behind what they’re doing as a manager. Not only will Y managers openly and frequently communicate with their employees, they will expect their employees to openly and frequently communicate with them, too.
Be an employee. Your boss wants to see you as an employee, not a stand-in parent. Avoid mentioning your children as if they’re relevant to your boss’ situation or treating your boss like your own child. Doing so can strike your boss as inappropriate or a desperate act to try to forge a relationship.
In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.
Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.
Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.
In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.
With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.
Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.
Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.
Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.
Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.
In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.
While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.
The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.
Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results. Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.
When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.
Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.
Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.
Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.
Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.
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