The biggest difference I can find between GenXers (born 1965-1979) and my Millennial peers (born 1980-2000) is our overall level of self-reliance and resourcefulness (the kind that goes beyond Googling the answer). Many managers, GenX ones in particular, have no trouble sharing their frustrations about new hires who have an inability to figure out problems on their own or start a project without a template. They feel the younger staff need way more handholding than the GenXers ever received in their 20s. I believe this huge difference derives from a key pre-teen experience the GenXers had – the latchkey years!
Many GenXers were latchkey kids at age ten, twelve, or even earlier, getting themselves home safely after school, making a snack (without a microwave), finishing their homework (without Google), and getting their list of chores finished without burning down the house. They learned at a very early age how to figure things out on their own and solve most problems they faced alone. This became an incredibly valuable skill set for GenXers in the workplace later.
Unfortunately for employers, according to US Census data, the number of latchkey kids plunged 40% from 1997 to 2013, which means today’s younger workers did not have that learning opportunity. This was largely due to a growing fear of “stranger danger” among parents in the 1980s followed by an increase in federal aid for after-school care programs in the 1990s.
When CNN launched in 1980 as the first 24-hour news channel in the US, it changed our country. Before this expansion of coverage, most criminal incidents were only covered by local media. But with a full day of CNN programming to fill, people from Denver would now become aware of small-town Maryland news, such as the kidnapping of 6-year-old Michelle Dorr from her own front yard. The 1980s also brought a tremendous rise in “true crime” news shows such as “Unsolved Mysteries” in 1986 and “America’s Most Wanted” in 1988, both playing a part in scaring parents to death about leaving their younger children unsupervised.
Since most Millennial kids did not have that latchkey kid learning experience during their early years, we must learn it elsewhere – most often in the workplace. Today, most new hires cannot “hit the ground running” or are not able to handle the “sink or swim” onboarding method once used for GenX new hires. Many younger workers do not have the tools to be successful in that type of situation. That means a “throw-them-to-the-wolves” training strategy is not as effective today as it once was. You will lose several great workers within a year or two with these approaches because new hires will claim you “didn’t have their back” or you "set them up to fail."
Rather than blaming Millennials for the way they were raised, which was much different than previous generations, it is critical that organizations and leaders provide more access to resources and greater mentorship to build staff members’ confidence and help them meet your expectations.
Workforce thought leader Cara Silletto, MBA, is the President & Chief Retention Officer at Crescendo Strategies, a firm committed to reducing unnecessary employee turnover by bridging generational gaps and making leaders more effective in their roles. Cara is a highly-sought-after national speaker and trainer. Workforce Magazine named her a “Game Changer,” Recruiter.com listed her in their 2016 “Top 10 Company Culture Experts to Watch” list, and she is a co-author of the book, "What’s Next in HR."