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It’s a widely held belief that marketing is obsessed with Gen Y or millennials, if you prefer, as brands, agencies and publishers try to ‘own the demographic’. It puts members of the generation who work in the industry in an interesting position: while they’re in the front seat in the race to reach out to this audience, they’re still finding their way in an industry that’s undergoing rapid change. On the other end of the stick are the leaders of these businesses who largely identify as Gen X.
You wouldn’t know it today but Gen X was once known as the slacker generation, a group that seemingly didn’t give a shit about anything. Now that they’ve made their way to the senior ranks of business, there’s very little in the way of slacking going on. In fact, according to a 2013 study conducted by EY, Gen X make for the most effective managers compared to Baby Boomers and Gen Y. Still, they’re often considered to be micromanagers and cynical to boot.
Gen Y, on the other hand, has been characterised as wanting to focus on making meaning, not money. And while it’s little surprise that the EY study found Gen Y to be the most tech-savvy generation, what might surprise is that they’re seen to be more enthusiastic about their jobs than their superiors.
Of course, all of this comes with the caveat that it’s difficult to tar every person born within a 20-year window with the same brush. Still, experts say the shared experiences of each generation has a defining impact that cannot be ignored.
Based on this, when these two groups with differing values come together in the workplace, it can cause friction. Anecdotally, one of the greatest frustrations for today’s agency leaders is investing in up-and-coming Gen Y talent for less than a year only to have them up and leave for a role they’re not quite ready to fill. This is compounded by the fact Gen X was told it looked bad to have a job on their resume that didn’t last more than a couple of years. That said, for every Gen Y that’s hopped from agency to agency, there’s one that has stayed put for five or more years which takes us full circle to the danger of generalising when it comes to generations.
Technology plays an interesting role in this mix. Gen X’ers were still in school before the internet became a thing which gives millennials an edge on their older cohorts making them well placed to lead the charge in this arena. This could leave some Gen X’ers feeling at odds given they came up the ranks in business learning they had to ‘pay their dues’ before voicing opinions.
Regardless of strengths and weaknesses of each generation, McCrindle Research tells us that by 2020, millennials will dominate employment comprising 42% of the workforce. Baby Boomers will be all but retired leaving Gen X with a lot on their plate. There will be plenty of work to go around and in the absence of the Boomers, Gen X will need a hand from the next generation. In order for that to work, now is the time for Gen X to work out not only how to manage a group of people whose motivations seem completely different to their own but to work with them as equals.
Hear about what it’s like to be a millennial working for Gen X managers in adland today at the Agency Leaders Symposium as a panel of current and former agency staff share their experiences.
Brooke is the former editor of Encore and B&T Magazines. She is a writer, producer and marketing communications consultant.