Comparing Past and Future Generations with Millennials

Part of Managing Millennials For Dummies Cheat Sheet

It’s impossible to learn about any generation in a vacuum. If you want to know how to better manage Millennials, it’s important to know a little bit about the generations before and after them. Take a quick peak at the chart below to acquaint yourself with the other folks in the generational melting pot of today’s work world.

Birth Year Generation Traits
Born prior to 1946 Traditionalist Loyal Fiscally conservative Faith in institutions Self-sacrificing
1946–1964 Baby Boomer Competitive Optimistic Professional Eager to put their stamp on the world
1965–1979 Generation X Independent Resourceful Skeptical Entrepreneurial
1980–1995 Millennial Collaborative Tech-savvy Diverse Adaptive
1996–2010* Generation Edge Pragmatic Resilient Self-reliant Tech-innate

*Because Gen Edgers are still in the midst of their formative years (roughly their teenage years), 2010 is an informed estimate of the last year in the Gen Edge birth year bracket. As they move through their formative years and more research emerges, this number may change.

Now that you know your place on the generational timeline, your managerial brain could be pondering just how your traits both help and hinder you with the Millennial generation. Assuming that nearly every manager falls into one of three generational categories (seeing that Traditionalists make up less than 2% of the workforce and older Gen Edgers are newbies to the working world), take a look at how you may be similar or different to the Millennials you manage:

  • If you’re a Baby Boomer managing a Millennial:
    • Why you’ll jive: You’re both optimists. Boomers are known for rallying behind big ideas, and Millennials are much the same. These two generations can connect over possibilities and dreaming up what could be, favoring brainstorming sessions and working for a mission-driven organization.
    • Why you’ll clash: You define hard work differently. Whereas Boomers are known for their work ethic of arriving early, dressing for success, and staying late, Millennials are stereotyped as being lazy. To a Millennial, hard work is defined by results, even if that means arriving late and opting to work late into the night from a coffee shop.
  • If you’re a Generation Xer managing a Millennial:
    • Why you’ll jive: You both seek transparency. Millennials and Generation Xers value honesty above almost all else from their leadership. Xers and Millennials saw institutions crumble in their youth, so to build trust with them it takes extra effort, and a heavy dose of transparency, on the part of leaders and managers.
    • Why you’ll clash: One of you grew up with the motto “There is no ‘I’ in team.” While Xers take pride in completing a project alone, Millennials take pride in team wins. They both respect independent and collaborative work, but Millennials are more prone to brainstorming meetings, frequent check-ins, and group projects.
  • If you’re a Millennial managing a Millennial:
    • Why you’ll jive: You both value the #workfamily. Every Millennial knows that a great workplace is one where you can (for the most part) be comfortable being yourself. This makes for an environment where it’s easy for Millennial managers to bond with their Millennial employees.
    • Why you’ll clash: You both value #workfamily, but you’re the boss. When Millennials step into leadership, they have to take on a new persona. Suddenly, conversations that go too far into the informal (for example, a play-by-play of a direct report’s crazy weekend) start feeling inappropriate, and a line now has to be drawn that might not have been necessary before. Pulling that boss card, especially the first time, can be a challenge.