Generation Confused

Question:  I recently got my dream job being the Executive Director for a nonprofit whose mission is very dear to my heart.  I am excited about leading an organization with such a worthy cause.  My problem is that I have never managed so many young workers before.  As a nonprofit, our pay scale is not the best and we tend to hire recent college grads that are looking to get experience in lieu of the big salaries of corporate jobs.  Our age gap is causing me problems communicating and relating to them.  I am reading books on the different generations at work.  Can you give me some tips on how to lead the different generations?

Alice Waagen says:  Gen X, Gen Y, Millennial, I get such heartburn when I read the blather on generational differences.  Most, if not all of this stuff is little more than stereotyping a very large age cohort with a lot of negative qualities.  Here is a short list of descriptors I’ve read about Millennial employees: lazy, entitled, poor communicators, web-obsessed.  I’ll bet you that list was not written by a Millennial but probably by someone from an older cohort group.

That is not to say there are differences in how employees communicate, are motivated and view their career.  I see these differences largely driven not by generation but by where they are in their employment lifecycle.  If I am new to my career, I will aspire to be gaining as much experience as possible, to grow my tools and talents and advance my career.  If I am midcareer, I may still seek advancement and growth but I may also be looking for more stability, especially if I have out of work issues like a growing family.  If I am at a mature phase of my career, I may be more driven to give back, to mentor, and to be examining the legacy I will be leaving behind when I retire.

My big tip for you:  stop reading generational differences books and start talking to your staff individually. Ask them what excites them about the work they do, what bores them to tears.  Learn about each one as a unique person with their own style of work and their own motivators.  Use this knowledge to lead and avoid any advice that says you can use age-based stereotypes and you will do just fine.