Do these comments sound familiar in your dealership?

Gen X manager about a Millennial employee: “Why doesn’t he wait his turn, work hard and earn my trust?”

Millennial employee about a Gen X manager: “I deserve a bigger job now. Why don’t you trust me? I work hard and do good work. And no, I’m not interested in working overtime, thank you.”

Differences of perspective and conflicts between generations are a fact of life in any organization, including a dealership. In a recent article, we described managing Millennials from the perspective of a Baby Boomer.

This time we’ll focus on the generation in between — Generation X whose very name means unknown, as in “X = Unknown Quantity.” They are often described as independent, skeptical and driven by a need for having a position of authority. Of course these are stereotypes and there are always exceptions.

As a reminder and without hard lines, Baby Boomers are over 50 years old, Gen Xers are 35-50 and Millennials are under 30. So many Gen X managers are hiring and trying to manage Millennials, and neither understands the other.

Understanding Gen Xers & Millennials

To understand a Gen Xer, the first thing to know is they grew up in a largely hands-off culture. They are often called “latchkey” kids. Every generation for the past century has grown up with less and less self-autonomy. Boomers and Gen Xers had pretty similar levels of freedom growing up. Kids could safely be out of sight of their parents for long periods of time.

In contrast, Millennials, due to the technological ease of staying in contact, and changing parenting norms, often weren’t out of their parents’ sight until their teenage years. Their Boomer parents were often accused of being “Helicopter Parents” because of their deep involvement (hovering) in every part of their children’s daily lives.

The consequence of their parenting is that Millennials often have difficulty structuring their own work since their parents may have done that for them. So, a Gen Xer managing a Millennial may get frustrated by having to described how best to do a job. In their early years, Gen Xers learned themselves because of their autonomy.

On the other hand, while Millennials are criticized for their constant need to be communicating with others, they collaborate and network much better than Gen Xers. They are more used to a freewheeling, constantly changing, real-time environment where ideas, people and roles change quickly.

Gen Xers do best in structured hierarchical environments, and they tend to excel in positions of authority. Millennials (and Boomers), on the other hand, tend to prefer less structured environments, and they don’t necessarily excel in positions of authority.

Gen Xers view the boss as an expert — someone whose hard-earned experience and skill demand consideration and deference. Access to authority is limited and must be earned. Millennials feel that they don’t need to earn respect, so trust them until they give you a reason not to.

Millennials grew up with a lot more encouragement than Gen Xers. As a result, Millennials aren’t afraid to speak up, even as a newbie on the job. Gen Xers tend to believe people need to “pay their dues” before voicing opinions.

A few other tips for working with Gen Xers from the perspective of a Millennial or a Boomer:

  • Gen Xers tend to be more independent than the more collaborative Millennials. So, when working with an Gen Xer, don’t be surprised or offended if they choose to work alone.
  • A Gen X manager is not going to act like a helicopter parent. They tend to be entrepreneurial thinkers and results-oriented, so they may not tell you how to do every step of the job.
  • Gen Xers tend to be hands-off, low face-time managers. So when working for them, ask them to clearly define their expectations.
  • Millennials are often criticized as the “Everybody Gets A Trophy” generation. Many Gen Xers will not have received this level of support, and feel they had to earn everything. So, when working with a Gen X manager, don’t expect a lot of praise.
  • When you do receive a compliment from a Gen Xer, you’ve done a great job.
  • Don’t take Gen Xers skepticism personally. They grew up questioning everything. Expect them to give the pros and the cons to even the best of ideas.