The gen-X/millennial conundrum

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The Washington Post reports that the number of baby boomers now retiring daily is up to 10,000. It was 6,000 during the recession. The number of Americans aged 65 or older that aren't in the labor force rose by 800,000 in the fourth quarter of 2016, marking the resumption of a long-standing trend: the exodus of the baby boomer (1946-1964) generation from the work force. The exiting of their legacy, loyalty and long strategic thinking that has defined the American economy for the last 50 years will leave a massive hole of talent and competency in many organizations and economic development.

We need to prepare our economy for a huge transfer of leadership and knowledge to new leaders that are ready and competent to close the gap.

The gen-x (1965-1979; approx. 35-50 years old) worker needs to be ready to take on those key strategic roles left by boomers. Older millennials (approx. 25-35 years old) need to be able to take on the managerial and operational roles vacated by gen-x. Newer millennials (approx. 18-24 years old), now entering the workforce, need to take on the tasks and tactical work left by many of the older millennials. If only it was that easy. Unfortunately, it can be a bit more challenging.

The challenge for this new combined workforce is that gen-x and millennials struggle to see eye to eye on many things and that's where a lot of conflict arises between the two groups. Over 60 percent of employers say that they are experiencing tension among employees from different generations. Seventy percent of older employees dismiss younger workers' talents and capabilities, while 50 percent of younger employees dismiss the talents and capabilities of their older coworkers. Gen-x is benchmarked for leadership growth, being the future skill bearers and knowledge experts in many organizations. Gen-x will define much of the competitive advantage of business and companies in the coming decades and are at the prime of their careers, ready and willing to lead. Unfortunately, their career progress has been threatened by the "leapfrogging," highly collaborative, multi-tasking, technologically acute millennial generation. In some instances, millennials think they can do a better, faster, and more efficient job than their predecessor generation leading them to become restless when told to slow down or "earn their stripes." Some gen-xers may take offense at the notion and audacity of the younger generation, having been known to even stall millennial career progression for the safety and security of their own career.

Gen-x and millennials also communicate differently. One communicates in a direct, get-it-done, and sometimes critical way. The other wants reasons why, needs to collaborate, and has a tendency to be dramatic in their speech.

We need to get our gen-x leaders to a place where they can provide the `what' and the `why' of an organization, community or region. Equally, we must be working with our millennial leaders and workers to provide the `how' and the execution of the tasks. If gen-x leaders remain too much in the weeds, having it out with every millennial on the `how' it should be done, gen-x will never "level up" to where they should be leading: benching marking for tomorrow, handling global challenges, and helping their communities plan for the future.

The challenge for us in the next 10-20 years is to not get into a rivalry mentality that can occur between generations (and quite frankly, between any type of persons). A rivalry mentality slows our ability to progress and wastes time. When we conflict as generations, we're not spending the appropriate time on defining a common goal and approach and letting our best workers do what they need to do. We need to level up, partner together and move forward.

I like this quote from the article "Gen-X vs. Millennials: I Don't Think So" describing a multi-generational concept, "Having the tough, capable and pragmatic Gen-X'ers working alongside the idealistic, team-oriented and enthusiastic Millennial is just the right recipe. We both have lots to teach each other."

We need a Shires team with the smarts, innovation, creativity and experience to succeed, a team designed to win. This team of enthusiastic and committed stakeholders in southern Vermont's economy will be a combination of gen-x and millennials. I'm encouraged by the collaborative efforts of our current gen-x leadership: Jonah Spivak of the Chamber, Dr. David Evans and Dr. Mariko Silver of Southern Vermont College and Bennington College, Dan Monks of the Town of Bennington, Jeannie Jenkins, Jeanne Conners and Don Cambell of the Bennington Select Board. Jim Sullivan and Bill Colvin of Bennington County Regional Commission and Bennington County Industrial Commission, John Shannahan of Bennington Downtown Alliance, Dimitri Garder of The Lightning Jar, Paul Carroccio and Chris Marrow of the Manchester Business Association. I'm encourage by our millennial leadership as well: Johnathan Cooper and Michelle Marrocco of BCRC/BCIC, the ongoing leaders of our Americorp Vistas program, Forest Weyen of the Bennington Rescue Squad, Kate Pace and Riley Moore of ManchesterVermont.com, Kelly Clarke of the Park at 366, Chris Oldham of the Bennington county Coalition for the Homeless, Carson Thurber and Chad Gordon of the Bennington Select Board, Dan Strohl of the Bennington Young Professionals. The list goes on. I mentioned a few names here (I'm sure I haven't mentioned all the amazing leaders) just to show you we have this multigenerational mixture already happening.

We need these leaders to pull together fast and work together towards the common goal of building a brighter future for the next batch of generations.

Always Onward,

— Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce

The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.



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