A balanced mix of baby boomers, Generation Xers and millennials made up the attendees Friday during an MTSU-hosted conference aimed at helping business leaders understand how to productively bridge generational differences in the workplace.
The 21st Century Generations@Work conference was held Friday, Oct. 30, at Embassy Suites Conference Center off Medical Center Parkway in Murfreesboro. This year’s conference expanded on last year’s theme of millennials in the workplace by exploring the traits of boomers and Gen Xers in more depth, while still recognizing that the twenty-something millennials will make up 40 percent of the workforce by 2025.
Keynote speakers were John Martin and Matt Thornhill of GenerationsMatter, a research-driven firm that is a national leader in advising major companies — Walmart, Google, Procter & Gamble, Lincoln Financial and others — about how to approach business decisions using a generational lens.
Thornhill moderated the first part of the half-day conference, which drew more than 150 attendees. Thornhill started things by asking the audience to pick various words that they believe describe each generation. Boomers were given words such as dependable, goal-driven and workaholics, while Gen Xers were called independent, innovative and cynical and millennials self-oriented, entitled and multi-taskers.
David Urban, dean of the Jones College of Business, was pleased with the “tremendous” turnout for the event and the opportunity for attendees to get cross-generational perspectives. There was also a handful of members from the “silent generation” that was born just before boomers.
“It shows that people are genuinely aware of the challenges and opportunities associated with generational dynamics,” Urban said. “We wanted people to be able to learn from each other, and so we do have a very nice mix of people. … We tried to structure the program so that there was something in it for all three generations.”
In pointing out the need for business leaders to better understand generational differences, Thornhill noted a common misconception people have about millennials being the most tech savvy generation. Actually, it’s Gen Xers that better understands technology, Thornhill said, while millennials are actually “more tech dependent” than tech savvy.
“Generational mindsets show up in the workplace,” Thornhill said, while cautioning against over generalizing and not treating people as individuals. “They show up in terms of what you’re looking for in a job, what you’re looking for from your manager, what you’re looking for in terms of motivation.”
Thornhill noted that because millennials and boomers are much larger than Generation X and draw the bulk of attention from media and researchers, “people don’t know Gen Xers.” And because boomers still hold a lot of the leadership positions within workplaces and aren’t in any hurry to leave, Gen Xers can sometimes feel trapped. That may mean managers need to be more creative about providing new opportunities and positions.
All attendees were given handouts that outlined things they need to know about how the different generations approach workplace issues and things they need to do to make the workplace better. They were also given a list of 10 ideas that could be implemented at their workplaces to take advantage of generational dynamics.
“The ultimate is to create a workplace for any age,” he said.
Hosted by the Jones College and the Jennings. A. Jones Chair of Excellence in Free Enterprise, the conference also included a panel composed of a mix of successful boomers, Gen Xers and millennials. The panel addressed how workplaces are adapting to the influx of millennials, who generally want to know the “why” behind their work and thrive in more collaborative environments.
Panelist Rick Perry, executive director of human resources for finance guru Dave Ramsey’s Ramsey Solutions, said the influx of millennials into that company in recent years led to a number of changes. Perry gave examples of the company starting a “battle of the bands” contest in response to millennials’ deep love of music. Millennials also seek a sense of purpose in their work, so the company established a designated time for new employees to meet and chat directly with Ramsey himself.
MTSU student Cardell Davis, a junior marketing major from Chattanooga, Tennessee, said he learned a lot about how his millennial generation is perceived by others and also gained a better understanding of the other generations as far as “why they are who they are.”
“It was really interesting finding out about all three generations,” Davis said. “With millennials being the main thing in the future, this gives me an understanding of what I need to do in the workplace.”
— Jimmy Hart (firstname.lastname@example.org)