April 7, 2016 | Written by: Sara P. Weiner, Ph.D.
I’m a workforce scientist. My passion is using data that leads to a better workplace experience for employees and improves business performance. One particularly distracting topic that continues to attract headlines is the perpetuation of the myth around generational differences. So, what does the science (fact-based evidence) say?
Generational differences are actually much ado about very little. Despite the headlines, my colleagues at the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and I have looked at a huge amount of scientific evidence and found very little to suggest that millennials are that different from any other generation at work.
It is easy to be persuaded by the headlines. You may even have had conversations with other people in your organization who are trying to convince you to treat your millennial workers as a special population.
When faced with a supposed millennial difference headline, ask yourselves these questions:
- Does the article actually have any data, or is it just a matter of someone’s opinion? Opinions without evidence risk perpetuating erroneous stereotypes.
- If there are data, was there a comparison across different generational groups, or are they just talking about one group? Millennials may want more work-life balance, but if you would ask the Gen Xers and baby boomers, you would find out that they do to.
- If there are differences in the data, how big are they? Do they matter in a practical sense? Would they really warrant a change in talent management practices?
- Are any differences in the data truly generational, or just about life stage? We do tend to prioritize different things at different times in our lives. Maybe the differences you are reading about are just what young people have always felt, and reflect their life stage much more than a true generational shift.
Try not to be distracted by the headlines, and find the most meaningful groupings for your organization. Focus on employees as individuals, take actions accordingly, and you will surely drive improvements in employees’ workplace experiences leading to better bottom line business results.
Read the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute white paper: Generational differences are much ado about very little