Allen Baler: Forget Generational Stereotypes

Allen Baler Forget Generational Stereotypes

Everywhere you look online these days, there’s another pseudo-article on “How to Attract Millennial Workers” or “How Gen-Xers Relate to Boomers.” These are just made up examples, but they are representative of the kind of fluffy content I regularly see pop up in my email and social news feeds.

While the articles themselves might seem rather benign, there is a disturbing aspect to them that bugs me as a business owner with employees. Putting people in “generational boxes” reeks of stereotyping and is just another way to make someone an “other” than part of the team.

In a recent piece written for Fast Company, Jessica Kriegel, PhD describes how her quest to write her doctoral dissertation on the “unique attributes of Millennials” left her sadly disappointed, because she couldn’t find data-driven proof. This realization led her to believe that much of the media hype we hear these days is fueled by anecdotal evidence, small studies that draw big conclusions despite the lack of real data to back them up, and society’s obsession with labels.

Ms. Kriegel says, “When we use language about millennials and gen Xers and baby boomers, it can be very off-putting, regardless of what you’re saying, even if you’re saying something complimentary. You may be putting them in a bucket they don’t want to be in.”

Think about it for a minute. Would you want to be limited to a generational stereotype? Why is it okay to label someone or draw hypothetical conclusions about them based on their age? If we were talking about gender or race, those same practices would be considered highly offensive. And yet, some people (and companies) still engage in it.

Take the experience of Dan Lyons, a 50 something writer who got a job working at HubSpot – an overwhelmingly “young” company where the average aged employee is 26. He documented his fascinating yet disturbing experience in his bestselling book, “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Startup Bubble.” His barely out of college cohorts soon engage in overt ageism by calling him “Grandpa Buzz.” While he tries to adapt to the corporate culture shock as best he can, he reaches a point when he knows he has to leave (what HubSpot employees saccharinely refer to as “graduation”).

Most troubling to me, however, is the way he describes HubSpot’s unabashed desire to hire mostly Millennials for their perceived advantages over older people. I find little difference in this attitude than in discriminating against people for all sorts of wrong (and illegal) reasons.

Here at my company, 4Patriots, we have people of all ages working together harmoniously and efficiently, co-creating a very supportive and special culture. Companies would be best, in my estimation, at ditching the generational nonsense and evaluating individual employees on their own merits. Skills, background, attitude, and cultural fit should be determining factors in employment, not a person’s birthday.

Curiosity, a desire to sharpen skills, and work ethic are not values that increase or decrease with age. People either have them or they don’t. In the end, we should be considering each person as unique, and avoid slapping hype-driven, unscientific and potentially damaging labels on them. Because by making undeserved assumptions, we could be missing out on extremely talented team members that could propel our businesses forward.

Allen Baler is a leading entrepreneur and Harvard grad. Allen Baler is a Partner in 4Patriots LLC, based in Nashville.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not a substitute for the sound advice of a business professional with expertise in the subject matter discussed. Please seek appropriate counsel on what strategies make sense for your business.