It seems that almost every time I scroll through my LinkedIn feed I see an article about millennials — whether it is about what industry they are seemingly “ruining” or how to manage them differently in the workforce.

While yes, millennials are different from earlier generations in that they were raised with ever-changing technological advances and they are more connected than earlier generations, they’re much more similar to other generations than most people believe (see Todd Link’s article in the May 2019 issue of the bizTimes.biz).

While the exact years vary a bit from source to source, the Pew Research Center states that millennials are those born somewhere between 1981 and 1996 (somewhere between ages 23 and 38 in 2019). Generation Z follows this group, being those born between 1997 and 2012 (between ages 7 and 22).

Good leaders manage individual people, not broad generational groups. Organizations should focus less on trying to half-heartedly implement the latest trends or what they believe younger employees want in a company, and shift to a more holistic perspective about what employees in general value in a company.

Millennials want competitive benefit packages. What employee in your company is going to say that isn’t something they would appreciate?

A study done by Jennifer Deal, of the Center for Creative Leadership, assessed employee values and boiled it down to this — every generation generally values the same things: Family, integrity, love, etc. The difference is in how people manifest these values.

Two employees might say they value their family. One employee might see working 50-hour weeks to provide as much money as he or she possibly can for his or her family as a way to embody this value. However, another employee could see flextime or telecommuting as a way to show his or her commitment to his or her family by physically being there for them.

The underlying value is the same, it is simply how people manifest their values that is different. Once we understand this, the conversation becomes a lot easier.

Here are a few suggestions for generation-related situations you might face in your organization:

As an organizational leader, what can I do to break down generational gaps?

• Help your employees get to know each other. Host events where employees can interact with each other on a more personal level. They will likely have more in common than they originally thought.

• Recognize and lead your employees as individuals, not generational groups. What unique talent or perspective does each employee bring to your organization? Find ways to use this.

• Offer learning and development opportunities for all employees. Have more senior employees mentor younger employees. Are some of your older employees anxious about technology? Have some of the more tech-savvy employees lead a social media workshop. All of these are good ways to promote skill development and employee relations.

I am managing someone who is much older than I am. How can I gain his or her respect?

• Lead with your credentials. Make sure that your employees recognize your experience and why you are an asset as a leader.

• Get to know your team members and help them grow in their roles. Respect is universal — if you are a good leader your employees will value your insights regardless of age.

• Ask yourself why you believe this employee doesn’t respect you? Is this just something you are assuming? Once again, developing a good relationship with your followers might be the answer here.

I am leading a team of interns who seem more interested in their phones than work. What can I do?

• Assess your company policies. Do you have clear guidelines on cellphone/social media usage during work? If you have policies, are they enforced? Are you on your phone or browsing the internet during work? Your newer employees are likely to follow whatever appears to be the norm in the organization, so if they see that you or other employees are on their phones at work, they are likely to follow suit.

• As mentioned before, get to know your team members. Treat your interns or younger employees as you would any other employee so that they feel embedded into the organization and want to be there working. People who are treated well are generally more productive and more committed to the organization.

It all comes down to leading people as individuals, not broad groups. All employees want to feel like they are respected, treated well, accomplishing something and working toward a greater goal.

If you can work on achieving this for all of your employees, I bet you will see some of these supposed generational issues fade away.

Allison Tringale is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration in the Loras College Noonan School of Business.

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