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4 Generations, One Workplace

Today’s Federal workforce is a diverse and multi-generational one. People from every age, who are at different points in their lives are converging and working in government A recent survey showed that 46 percent of Baby Boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964 – make up the workforce and Generation X and Y-ers—people born 1965 or later—make up about 53 percent.

For millennials entering the workforce, this means that different ideas will emerge, along with some misconceptions. But with a multi-generational workforce, it’s important to understand the different stereotypes and myths that are associated with each generation in order to combat them.

As part of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) Internship Program, GovLoop’s Senior Technology Editor Nicole Blake Johnson and Staff Writer, Francesca El-Attrash led a discussion that addressed the common myths surrounding millennials and gave tips on how to combat these stereotypes.These are some of the top millennial myths:

  • Myth #1: Millennials are entitled. Millennials are often associated with the idea that everything is handed to them on a silver platter and that they are focused only on their own personal success. In reality, millennials want to serve more than ever. To combat this myth, you want to show that you are willing to learn and work hard. “To be valued, demonstrate your value,” El-Attrash said. Reframe your “demands” as potential areas for growth when talking to coworkers and managers. Invite constructive criticism. Once you show you are willing to make an effort, it is easier to make demands.
  • Myth #2: Millennials are “job hoppers.” Millennials are said to not stick around very long when it comes to employment. However, many workers follow this trend—not just millennials. “Everyone’s looking to innovate,” El-Attrash said. “Career development has really changed.” Instead, aim to stay at least two years to provide a feeling of consistency and assure employers you care about your job.
  • Myth #3: Millennials don’t care about performance. Millennials are often associated with putting in the minimal amount of effort. This includes behavior like always being late, showing up underdressed and being too casual. To show that you care, aim for punctuality, overdress and overperform. Help others with projects as much as possible and show a willingness to contribute to the team.
  • Myth #4: Millennials are terrible decision makers. Millennials are often characterized as being needy and dependant on others. In reality, every generation asks for advice. Combat this myth by being proactive about asking what decisions you should make by yourself and what you should consult others on. “It’s not a bad thing to get input,” El-Attrash said. Always aim for clarity and talk to your supervisors. “Establishing a level of clarity helps you move forward and accomplish tasks successfully,” Johnson said. Mentorships also allow for you to have someone you can turn to for advice.
  • Myth #5: Millennials are too inexperienced for government. While there is a skills gap in government, millennials do have experience when it comes to soft skills such as communication and work ethic. Build on hard skills like critical writing, statistics, research analysis and data-driven tasks. “Look at what different agencies are offering and seek out unique certifications and online training,” El-Attrash suggested. These will give you a leg up when it comes to job searching, making you stand out from the crowd.

While these stereotypes apply mostly to millennials, Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers carry a few stigmas. Johnson addressed these myths as well:

  • Myth #1: They are not open to innovation. The older generation has often been viewed as unwilling to make changes whether through modernization or work practices. However, it was found that people are actually more innovative as they get older, where the median age of innovators is 47. To combat this, first understand your agency’s current processes and culture so that you can make suggestions and changes that will end up being beneficial for everyone.
  • Myth #2: They are boring. Boomers and Gen X-ers like to have fun and actually have the money to do it. “Be mindful that everyone is at different places in life,” Johnson said. Find ways to connect with your colleagues, regardless of age and you’ll find there are more similarities than you thought.
  • Myth #3: All they care about is retirement. While the older generation seem like all they want to do is get out of the workforce, many seasoned professionals are delaying retirement. For these professionals, look for opportunities to share knowledge before they leave. Sharing knowledge can be done in many ways, from having coffee with a coworker to exchanging information during meetings.
  • Myth #4: They don’t use technology. Just because people use technology in different ways, doesn’t mean they don’t understand it. “A lot can be misunderstood through tech,” Johnson said. Boomers and Gen X-ers live digitally connected lives. In today’s workforce, digital transformation is a trending topic, where everyone—no matter what generation—is onboard and learning how to transition. Collaborate with colleagues to find ways that tech can enhance projects and boost efficiency.
  • Myth #5: They have all the answers. “No one person has a monopoly on knowledge,” Johnson said. Professional experience and length in the workplace does not equate to knowing everything. Everyone can contribute. Anyone at any age can be mentored and learn new skills.

Across all generations, combatting these myths can lead to a more cohesive and functioning workplace. Remember the mission of your organization and don’t let yourself fall victim to making assumptions about people’s work abilities and knowledge. Being open-minded and willing to learn and connect with others can guarantee a successful multi-generational workforce.

This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.

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Profile Photo richard regan

If just talking about generational differences is hard enough, things just got messier on the generational battlefield. A new category of generational labels has emerged not from some generational thought leader in an academic ivory tower but from the members of that generational grouping themselves-Xennials.

A Xennial is a person sandwiched between Gen X’ers and Millennials. They feel too young to be a Gen X’er and too old to be a Millennial. Most of them were born between 1977-83 with the advent of the original Star Wars trilogy. They are familiar with the computer games Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego. They had a non-digital childhood and a digital adulthood. They can program a video home system and operate a digital vertical disc player. In high school, they walked around with pagers not cell phones. They are comfortable in the world of dialup modems as well as broadband internet. They still know how to use a pay phone. They can find a book in a library using the card catalogue. The first Apple they ever touch was a computer. As one Xennial put it, they are financially secure enough to buy avocados for their favorite dish but not quite ready to put their culinary masterpiece on Instagram.

They carry around within them the glass half empty pessimism of Gen X’ers and the glass half full optimism of Millennials. They are what some in the literature refer to as a micro-generation; tweeners, cuspers or second wavers who represent values of multiple generations.

What to do with this new generation that has been among us all the time. Recognize and embrace their differences in order to understand them the best we can; even if their understanding of themselves is still evolving.

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Mary

What is the post baby boomers between 1960 and 1977?
I fall in there- I am occasionally reminded of simple things my teens have never encountered. My son recently locked himself out of his car with the only key inside and no automated anything. You have NO idea how amazed he was when I grabbed a wire hanger and cabinet shims. Major points for mom! I am also much more able to trouble shoot when the printer won’t connect or the google search doesn’t give the desired answer right away.
on the other hand, they tell me I need to take a class or something to figure out how to navigate the TV and Xbox remotes!

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Jennifer

I belong to that group Mary, born in 1970, child born of the Vietnam vets and hippies of the 60s. My first computer was a Sanyo, the first computer language was BASIC and I learned on a Commodore PET in Jr. High. I remember my parents high end stereo system that included the record player, tuner, 8-track and reel to reel. I can still string those old wheels and play the Super 8 equipment I inherited. My gaming system was an Atari 400, we couldn’t afford the 800. And I played Solitaire with a real deck of cards. But I can also dance my way daily through MS Excel spreadsheet, work my Android Smart Phone and work both VHS and DVD systems. Oh, and my first car I could both open and start with a nail file.

So yes, where does that put me? Gen X or Xennial? It’s an interesting conversation…..We understand both generations enough to speak with both, yet stand on the cusp of the technological advancements that occurred during our youth and the simple hands on comforts our parents understood so well.

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