Generational Differences: A Millennial’s Take
By Jacob Fahl, VP Funding & Portfolio Services, Hitachi Capital America Corp. Editor: Camtu Vo, Digital Consultant, DLL Financial Solutions Partner.
Hi! I am a Millennial, in the middle of my career and in my early 40s. I find myself in the precarious position of working with large groups both younger and older than me. I am noticing differences in these groups and even my own. It never occurred to me until recently that we have some habitually different value sets and ways we respectively see the world. When we are young, we mostly feel that “parents just don’t understand” (as Will Smith rapped). And in that same vein, elders complain about the non-compliant nature of “youth these days.” The career landscape tends to have these same markers – youth that feel misunderstood and an older crowd who’s “been there, done that” and wonder why the younger generation doesn’t follow direction. We all have differences, and it seems generationally there are signs that point in different directions. These generational differences need to be understood better, and so I set off to learn a bit more. I want—no, I need—to understand so I can navigate the middle-of-my-career waters with some clarity.
There is a phrase I have been hearing for the past few years called “the graying of the industry.” The industry has gotten older, and right along with it the folks who have built it to what it is today. Our industry is massive, a trillion-dollar behemoth touching everything from railcars to iPhones. The “Traditionalists” and the “Baby Boomers” are the ones we might say are “graying.” They are also the ones we might say are “giants,” having done the heavy lifting to create such a strong foundation for our industry. No wonder they say it was “uphill both ways.” It probably felt like it!
Foundation laid; but exciting parts are still unchartered: our industry is still growing! We’re evolving and creating new ways of doing things that have never been done before. And yet, we can’t see that one day we’ll be the gray ones. Paul Menzel wrote an insightful article on succession planning and how this leadership transfer is changing hands—the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers are retiring and the Gen X’ers and Millennials are taking the reins. And then we have the Gen Z crowd ruffling all sorts of feathers and showing us what technology can really do! What we could call a power-struggle I like to just call change—a little bit of “out with the old, in with the new.” This is constantly happening no matter what stage of life or what industry we work in. Buddhists call it impermanence.
I see a huge opportunity. And a ginormous challenge. How does one work and communicate with different generations—who speak differently, have different connections and possess different values? As a millennial I’ve heard the phrase “you gotta pay your dues” countless times. And honestly, I’ve struggled with hearing that. I didn’t want to be told to wait my turn accepting some forlorn promise that my time will come. What I missed hearing though, in that thoughtful advice, is that “paying your dues” was a source of pride; it helped form their identity. To dismiss that advice is callous on my part. So, I find myself searching for questions to the right answers. If the answer is to work hard and pay dues, then why does one believe it so? If change is imminent, if impermanence is constant, what can we pass from one generation to another?
What I’d like to do for this article is not offer a list of “how-to’s” on working with different generations but give perspective and maybe some thoughts on what might be going through the minds of each generation. Purdue University provides an interesting infographic on the generations and a unique “worldview” category on generational descriptors. Let’s meander through each and ponder some deeper insights on the generations—who they are and how they think.
“How does one work and communicate with different generations—who speak differently, have different connections and possess different values?”