The story of a Gen-Xer in a sea of Millennials

Alison Leishman, Spitfire Inbound's Strategist, digs into the challenges of working with Millennials.

Alison Leishman, Spitfire Inbound’s Strategist, digs into her thoughts on working with Millennials.

That’s me – the Gen-Xer surrounded by a team of Millennials – and even the odd Generation Z (also known as the iGeneration), keeping my head above the water.

In the last six months our team has doubled in size, and with that the Millennial energy that surrounds me. My inspiration for this article was some of the useful nuggets of insight I gained while working with this incredible team.

Firstly – being a Generation Xer, I need to put in a disclaimer. When researching the theory behind Millennials, I was struck by the necessity to understand Millennials and Generation X in the context of South Africa; not only through the online literature available, but also through my own experience. As a South African Generation Xer, we grew up in a society that upheld laws that were unjust. We were not encouraged to question – but we did. We have this commonality with our international generation: we ask questions, we are cynical and we take nothing at face value. We had to fight for South Africa – just as Generation Z are doing today.

Secondly – we have the ability to embrace change. As Generation Xers we are known for our ability to embrace change; we lived through times of great turbulence and societal upheaval. But as people age, they become resistant to change. It’s a conflict of two theories but as a generation we need to continue to embrace change and to encourage and support diversity.

Thirdly – put on your headphones when you need to be alone. Millennials are often said to prefer working in a group; collaboration is the key to their growth. A traditional Gen Xer, however, prefers to put their head down and get the job done alone. So when you need your quiet time, put on your headphones as a “do not disturb” sign.

Fourthly – give feedback... and deadlines. As a Gen Xer, we like to know what is going on, we expect feedback and once we’ve given an instruction we expect a job to be done. We don’t give the details on the how and sometimes not even the why. When working with a team of Millennial staff, you need to give the how – the reason, the steps at times and the deadlines. And don’t forget the why. You will be asked.

Number 5 - Give praise for a job well done. As a Gen Xer we expect our work to speak for itselfMillennials expect to be told they are doing a good job. As Gen Xers we get to blame this on the Boomers who brought up the Millennials to expect more than they had; while us poor middle children had to figure it out for ourselves.

Which brings me to the next point, number 6 – as a Generation Xer, we expect people to problem solve. We expect them to get the job done and work out the problem. And sometimes we forget that we have to equip people with the skills to be able to do this – to show them where the place to get assistance is and when it is ok to go ahead and when you need to check.

Number 7: Let them deal with the tech for you! Shelve your pride. As much as we are tech savvy, we were just not born into it to the same degree. I always swore I would never be that person... but it’s okay to be that person.

Number 8: Millennials have a different level of confidence to what we had when entering the workforce. We were expected to do our time, not to voice our opinion to our superiors too soon and to establish ourselves before we put ourselves forward. Millennials have a different level of self confidence, born from both their education and parenting, as well as the technology they have available. They expect to ask and get an answer. (Hence the importance of the ‘why’ in point number 4.) The world in which you have to wait for a response is foreign to them. They grew up with Google, while we only met Google as adults.

Number 9: As a generation, the X-ers are skeptical. So often when asked a question by a Millennial I give both sides of the coin – and I see them glaze over – they just wanted an answer, not a lesson, an opinion or a lecture. I need to remember that.

The Centre for Generational Kinetics says the three key influencers that shape generations are parenting, economics and technology. In a country as diverse as South Africa we need to keep this in mind. Our generations are not created equal – so be careful of putting each in a box.

The joy and challenges of working with a diverse group of people only leads to greater productivity and creativity. As much as it scares me, I am looking forward to Generation Y hitting the workplace with full force in the years to come – remember, we are the Generation that embraces change.

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