Playing Scrabulous on Facebook, text messaging friends during meetings and updating their MySpace profiles at work are only a few of the things that separate the Millenials (Generation Y) from Generation X and baby boomers. Despite challenges in relating to each other in the workplace, X and Y definitely share a desire for work-life balance and flexibility in a 24-hour-workday world.
The first wave of Millenials are roughly 17-25 and just entering the workforce, with high expectations for meaningful work. Mostly in their 30s and 40s, Xers have worked hard to climb the career ladder. Their strengths, while different from those of Generation Y, could prove invaluable to their younger counterparts, experts say-and Generation Y would do well to make mentors of them.
And as they learn to work together, the generations just might usher in the age of the flexible workforce.
Watch and Learn
Among Generation X’s most defining traits are efficiency and independence: They’re skilled at managing and finishing tasks solo. Generation Y, more accustomed to group work, can learn from X to be more self-reliant, experts say.
“That’s one big skill that Generation X can pass on to Y, which isn’t a self-sufficient generation at all. [They can learn] how to meet deadlines, do work on their own, how to be self-sufficient,” said Anna Ivey, a Boston-based career and admissions counselor.
Ryan Healy, cofounder of Employee Evolution, a Web site about Millenials, agreed.
“I think Millenials’ biggest strength is that we’re team players, almost to a fault. I think that’s a trait that most Generation Xers don’t really share with us,” said Healy, 23. “On the flip side, people my age can definitely learn from Generation X how to be independent and take control of situations on their own.”
Also in X’s bag of tricks are excellent organizational skills, according to Karen Cates, adjunct associate professor of management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
“I look at Generation X as the work horses of the workforce, they’re the ones that get the most work done. So Generation Y could learn some really great work habits from X,” she explained.
Cam Marston, a Mobile, Ala.-based consultant specializing in multigenerational communications, said Y should watch X to learn how to navigate work settings.
“Xers have been there long enough to know what to do, the politics, what systems are in place,” he said. “Xers right now reflect more of a recent entry into the workplace and can give a young employee a better idea of how to behave and guide themselves through the workplace.”
Generations X and Y: Unlike, Yet Alike
Ideally, experts say, learning also should go the other way, with Generation X drawing on the strengths of younger peers.
“In a perfect world, you have Generation X managing Y and coaching them in the good traits: self-sufficiency, getting things done, not doing everything by committee. Coaching can go in the other direction, too, if Generation X can be open to what Generation Y brings to the table,” Ivey said. “I think everyone benefits [from that], and the organization benefits.”
Ivey cited Y’s strong networking skills as an example.
“Facebook, MySpace, this is second nature to Generation Y… the upside is they are such good networkers, and that’s a great skill to have in the working world. Anyone to harness that will benefit,” she said.
Cates said while Y is skilled at building relationships, X sometimes needs help with people skills-so in a team environment, X could manage tasks as Y focuses on relationships. Making this work may take significant amounts of time and effort, she said, but the results are worth it: a more effective workplace and higher productivity.
X and Y also share similarities. Both are tech-savvy, want fulfilling work and work-life balance-which some say will bring about a new generation of flexibility and change the workplace for the better.
“If you allow these people to work together with common goals, they’re going to come up with an even better workforce,” said Ruth Storrings, director of human resources at the AlphaStaff Group, an HR outsourcing firm.