Is Your Generation the Most Valuable at Work?
From willingness to learn to creative thinking, here's how millennials, gen Xers and boomers stack up.
All the tech savvy in the world can’t help millennials shake their reputation of being unreliable, unproductive and lazy. And all of the wisdom baby boomers have amassed in their 50-plus years only goes so far in a work environment that requires new skills.
Tension between these two generations often leaves gen Xers ignored when, in fact, adults in their late 30s to early 50s are the most valuable members of the workforce, according to a survey by LendingTree.com. In 2015, millennials surpassed gen Xers to become the largest cohort in the labor force in America, but by 2024, 42 will be the median age for a worker in the country (people born in 1982, when the time comes).
In the LendingTree.com survey of more than 1,000 Americans, respondents rated their colleagues from other generations on 10 positive traits such as communication skills, creativity, friendliness, productivity, reliability and more. Each respondent gave each generation (including their own) a score between 1 and 7 for each of these categories, with 7 representing the best score.
The average score across categories for gen X is 5.6, while boomers earned an average of 5.4 and millennials came in last with 5.2. Millennials rank last in seven of the 10 trait categories.
It seems people believe that gen X, the oft-forgotten middle child of today’s adult generations, keeps things running: gen X received its highest rating of all in the reliability category. That said, they also seem to be the most modest, given that gen X respondents tended to rate themselves lower for the various traits than boomers or millennials did. Baby boomers even gave higher ratings to gen X workers than gen X gave themselves.
One caveat to these glowing reviews is the industry in which old-reliable gen X’s strengths lie: manufacturing. LendingTree notes that although gen Xers are best suited to excel in these positions, the number of positions in manufacturing is has decreased by 5 million in the past 30 years.
Back to the real rivalry, though: boomers vs. millennials. These groups tended to give each other low ratings in the survey.
The younger a generation is, the more creative survey respondents perceived its members to be. Similarly, millennials are perceived to be the most skilled with technology, averaging a score of 6.2 in the survey, while baby boomers averaged 4. This doesn’t tell the whole story, though -- respondents viewed boomer and millennial workers as nearly equal performers in the tech industry. This tracks with existing research that has showed boomers enjoy using technology, even if they don’t use new tech right when it debuts. Meanwhile, high levels of tech use may be linked to in-person communication skills.
While boomers and millennials are neck-and-neck for their tech industry performance, the types of jobs that millennials are perceived to be more suited for are education, finance and insurance and arts and entertainment, according to the survey.
As generations age and tech evolves, a willingness to learn is arguably one of the most crucial characteristics for a valuable worker. Survey respondents perceived gen X as being the most willing to learn, followed by millennials. They perceived late-career boomers as least willing to learn.
All of these rankings are based on perceptions, of course, and generational bias likely played a role in the three groups’ scores. Still, generalizations do influence hiring and interpersonal relationships, and seemingly minor decisions and interactions add up to productivity and culture in the long term.
While a hiring manager may have an preconceived, age-based idea about how an employee might perform, it’s important not to limit workers’ advancement opportunities based on these stereotypes. Let a person’s skills, and their work, speak for itself. And don’t take for granted your reliable, middle-aged workers who keep the machine well oiled.
Related video: The Single Reason Most Millennials Fail at Business