Limited Generations Melinda Lacke

Age 20-31. Age 53-71. These are the current age ranges of the baby boomer and millennial generations. Both generations have dealt, and continue to deal with, substantial stereotypes placed upon them. It can be argued that the reason we divide age ranges into generations is because there are some general truths about the common traits these individuals share. These traits are usually due to influences from society or certain worldwide events that occur during the lifetime of said generations and have the ability to “change life as we know it.” But this does not justify the discrimination and stereotypes society has placed on these generations simply because of some assumed general truths.

When an entire generation is stereotyped, the preconceived ideas concerning these groups manifest into assumed limitations of the competency of individuals in them. The stereotypical millennial was raised in an environment overflowing with love and support. He was given participation medals and told he could have or become anything he wanted simply because he wanted it. This has made him a lazy and entitled worker. This stereotype has the ability to influence a millennial’s value in the workforce. Setting a low bar for the quantity and quality of work output from a millennial because of a stereotype that he is lazy comes with consequences. Some people will only perform to the level that is required of them–this is not a millennial trait, it is a human trait. If asked to complete a task that is well within their capabilities, they will complete the task with ease but do no more than asked. While this may serve to confirm the stereotype, consider the occasion where assumptions were not made of the individual. The same task was given with the same results, but now he is considered reliable because he got the job done and did it well. Next time a task is assigned to him it may be a larger or harder task because he has proved himself capable. The possibility of this progression for an assumed “lazy millennial,” while present, is slim at best.

Thus is the situation for the stereotypical baby boomer. He is living in the past and cannot get on board with the company’s new technological capabilities or business model. We see baby boomers forced into early retirement because employers fear the backlash from experienced workers for embracing new ideas. Millennials are graduating from college and eager to step into a position left behind by a retiree. With this new generation pushing in, baby boomers have begun to resent the current job market for “a strong preference…for youthful ‘energy’ and ‘innovation.’” Per The Washington Post writer Lydia DePillis, “Older workers have the misfortune of wanting to work longer just as a new generation is trying to get an economic foothold.” However, through no fault of their own, they are finding it more and more difficult to remain indispensable to companies that seem to crave change and excitement. This is due to the perceived limitations of older people in the workforce. They are dismissed as dead weight once change occurs because it is assumed that they cannot–or would be unwilling–to adapt, without the chance to prove otherwise.

There are a few reasons why baby boomers choose to remain in the workforce despite nearing retirement age. One reason an older worker may not want to retire is that he simply loves his job. Many baby boomers have worked for the same company for 25 to 30 years; maybe even in the same position. These individuals are the cornerstone on which many departments and companies are built. They keep coming back because they truly love what they do every day at work. It gets them up and out of the house, gives them a place to go and friends to visit with, and with that much work experience, it is most likely a job they are very good at. In addition, many older workers are in good enough health to continue working well into their ‘70s. If an individual has had the same job for 30-some years and still loves going to work every day, why wouldn’t he continue to work that job if he is more than capable? Retirement age these days is merely a suggestion.

Another big reason that baby boomers have yet to throw in the towel could be their need for more money to retire. At the age of 65, the suggested retirement age, many baby boomers have not yet reached their financial goals for retirement. Remaining in the workforce past retirement age is a necessity for individuals who do not have enough money saved up to live off or maintain a certain lifestyle for the rest of their life.

While it may seem that every millennial should be reaping the rewards of an economic climate yearning for fresh ideas, another article written by Scott Wooldridge for BenefitsPRO appears to tell a different tale. Wooldridge claims, “[…]persistent myths and stereotypes about millennials are dampening the appetite for hiring younger people.” He goes on to say that many companies fear a high turnover rate among new hires. Employers find millennials to be fickle, always looking for a more interesting job or higher paycheck. Few companies want to invest time and money in someone that has the potential to leave without a second thought when something better comes along. This stereotype can really scare hiring managers and discredit a lot of good people looking for work who just happen to be millennials.

Wooldridge attributes the “millennial attitude” to youth, not a generation. In fact, he claims that these same fears seem to crop up with each new generation of workers. The reality is that young people fresh out of college often do take a couple years to figure out what they want, regardless of their generation. They have been thrust out into the real world after spending four years surrounded by a community of peers with the same knowledge, expectations, and life experience that they have. It is a wake-up call. In the midst of the confusion and fear, they must hope there is a company out there who throws them a lifeline and gives them the opportunity to grow into an independent, self-reliant, fully-functioning adult with a stable job. With this growth also comes a greater sense of comfort with their place in society and with the company. Sometimes, this is the point where a new employee will choose to venture out to explore new opportunities. Employers are encouraged not to fear hiring millennials, but to simply give them time to grow up and into a position. After that, they will soon settle in just like everyone else.

This BenefitsPRO article seems to directly oppose the findings of The Washington Post’s article. While DePillis makes a case for the baby boomer generation’s hardships in the workplace, Wooldridge believes that it is the millennials who are suffering most at the hands of hiring managers. However, in both cases, there is evidence of discrimination based solely on an individual’s age and the stereotypes associated with it. Both generations are faced with fewer options when it comes to work because hiring managers have a preconceived notion about them.

There are businesses developing as we speak with the sole purpose of capitalizing on employers’ fears of this “generation war”. Cam Marston and the Generational Insights firm he founded is Wooldridge’s source for the information regarding hiring managers’ hesitations with millennials. Marston claims to help companies overcome “generational issues.” What he really does is create a problem that isn’t there, make it seem like an impossible thing to overcome–the end of any company that doesn’t take it seriously–and then offer “solutions” to the companies for a wad of cash. More and more companies are being struck with the fake realization that all their employee miscommunications can be solved so easily. All it takes is a few sessions of a 3rd party company of professionals confirming the worst generational stereotypes about all your employees. Of course the professionals are going to provide plenty of ways to overcome and talk through these invisible barriers separating us, but all your employees are going to hear is a person you hired–which gives them immediate credibility–confirming that there are in fact some inherent issues with every generation.

We need to stop allowing employers to use age as an excuse to hire or not to hire someone. We need to change the script so that the young and the old are no longer stereotyped or pitted against one another, but seen as individuals who all bring value to a company in different ways. There is no proof that an older worker can’t catch on to new technological advances and remain a valuable employee. Assuming that this is the case before even giving someone the opportunity to try is what makes limiting people because of their generational stereotypes so scary. Every person has the ability to react in their own unique way to any given situation. Those who look to separate each individual by his age are looking for something that isn’t there. In fact, research done by the IBM Institute for Business Value in 2015 shows that millennials, baby boomers, and Gen X (the generation in between) actually have much more in common than anyone would have guessed. For example, let’s look at the stereotype mentioned above concerning millennials’ likelihood to leave a company the minute something better comes along. The author of the study, Carolyn Heller Baird, explains that millennials “are no more inclined than older colleagues to gallivant from one job to the next.” In fact, it can be argued that a millennial should pounce on an opportunity that could advance his career or make a positive impact, and it seems that baby boomers and Gen X would agree. All three generations were equally as likely to take the new job offer, proving that millennials are no more fickle and no less loyal to a company than anyone else.

Those who look for connections between people will drive themselves insane. Aside from the obvious connection–we are all human–we are all completely and utterly unique. Limiting someone’s potential because of their age discredits them as a person. It takes away their past experiences and how those shaped their life. It takes away their hopes and dreams for the future, and it diminishes their innermost self that makes them who they are.

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