July 4, 2016. Independence Day in the US.
As I scrolled through the various celebratory postings on social media last Monday, I started to think about the meaning of the word “Independent”.
According to one of the online dictionaries, the word means “to be free of dependence, reliance on or control by others as well as the direction of one’s own affairs without interference.”
This made me ponder how the different generations in the modern workplace seem to understand the concept of being independent.
For the more seasoned Baby Boomer folks, true independence—the “baby bird pushed from the nest” type—happened at an early age. This meant that once they graduated high school or college, they were out on their own and fending for themselves. They landed a job—any job that would pay the rent—and figured it out as they went.
The only way to learn the ways of the professional world was to fall on their faces at times, pick themselves up and learn from their mistakes. There was an overall “eat what you kill” mentality and suffering a terrible boss was often just part of the process. There was no substitute for hard work and long hours.
There was no plan B.
Boomers did what they had to do to make their way and never asked for [gasp] help.
Generation X’s definition of independence was not so different from that of their parents’ generation. This group graduated college and entered an arid job market. They scrambled for work, often tending bar or serving coffee to pay the rent that they split with four other roommates.
The thought of moving back home with their parents was nonexistent and eventually their hard work paid off and they landed decent jobs (and a thickened skin). Gen X’ers were not too proud to seek guidance in order to get ahead, but they were also used to their superiors turning their noses up as a way of hazing their subordinates into learning the same way they did—a la school of hard knocks.
It’s no secret that Millennials’ conception of independence occupies the feed of most social media outlets. It is something that is still being studied and is often misunderstood.
Pundits will have you believe that every mid-20-something to mid-30-something living in the US has at least considered moving back home with their parents. The “trophy for everyone” image is one that plagues most younger professionals when they have to report to a Gen X’er or Boomer manager.
The older generations assume that their definition of independence is lost on their MILLENNIAL COLLEAGUES
They often believe that these younger workers are still carrying their umbilical cords around, self-sabotaging any semblance of real independence. This stereotype is a slippery one and it does little to unite a multi-generational team.
The only way to ensure that crew members of every age are rowing in the same direction is to open up the lines of communication, starting with sharing their own individual interpretations of what independence looks like.
If the Millennial employees fail to understand their more seasoned colleagues’ belief in the “self-taught, dues-paying, bad-boss-suffering” form of independence, they will struggle to earn their respect.
The ability to earn this respect is critical to enlisting the valuable guidance that is essential to Millennials’ professional development.
Conversely, if the Boomers and X’ers mistake their Millennial colleagues’ hunger for a constant flow of communication as aloofness or entitlement, their Millennial employee retention rate plummets.
A firm can only achieve smart growth through the clear presentation and understanding of all parties’ expectations. These expectations must be spelled out in a multi-generational dialogue conducted in a judgement-free manner.
It is this steady flow of open communication between the generations that becomes the recipe for any company to grow smart. For more business and entrepreneurship tips, check our