"Retiring the Generation Gap"

There may not be as much difference as you think in the work values of Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials, at least if you don't count the number of text messages each sends and receives.It has become a cocktail party sport to malign Millennial work habits, but a psychologist has examined preferences of Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials and discovered they want mostly the same things out of a job.

All three want meaningful, challenging jobs that pay enough to support themselves and their families and offer an ability to earn respect, forge significant relationships and make a difference.

In "Retiring the Generation Gap," psychologist Jennifer Deal says different age groups share common values, but may express them differently on account of their age. 

Adam Grant, who holds a Ph.D. in organizational psychology and authored "Give and Take," cites research by psychologist Jean Twenge that shows young people tend to hold the same overall work values as their older peers. They rate intrinsic values (interesting work, learning opportunities, being challenged) over extrinsic values (pay, promotions and status.) They also reflect similar perspectives and ratings on altruistic values (helping others, contributing to society), leisure (vacation time, work-life balance) and social (interacting with others, making friends), Grant says.

Writing in a blog post for LinkedIn, Grant says there is some evidence Millennials are more disobedient and veer more toward narcissism. But even that evidence is disputed. Grant cites work by psychologists Kali Trzesniewski and Brent Donnellan who found "little evidence of meaningful change in egotism, self-enhancement, individualism, self-esteem…time spent working or…the importance of social status over the last 30 years."

So what does it all mean for managing a workplace or reaching out to segments of a target audience? "When it comes to generations," Grant suggests, "we might want to stop making mountains out of molehills." 

Keep your eye on the fundamentals and stop worrying as much about how to treat different generations, though it wouldn't be a bad idea to brush up on your text messaging skills so you actually can reach your younger workers.