Careers: Millennials, Gen X-ers, and Baby Boomers Come Together

Is there a generation gap? IT pros of every generation share a surprising amount of common ground.

Forget most of what you've been told about Generation Millennial. Generation Y, it seems, isn't so different after all.

That's one conclusion of a new study from IT staffing specialist Robert Half Technology, which finds that Millennials, Gen X-ers, and Baby Boomers are all looking for pretty much the same thing in the current economic climate: stability.

The conventional wisdom-defying upshot, according to Robert Half, is that IT pros of every generation share a surprising amount of common ground.

"There has been considerable focus on the differences among various generations, but our research confirms many similarities," said Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International, in a statement.

This doesn't mean that IT pros are content to stand still, however. Stability isn't the same thing as stasis: in fact, two in five respondents told Robert Half that a desire for stability might impel them to pursue opportunities with other employers.

Nor will IT pros -- Millennials, Gen X-ers, or Baby Boomers -- gladly trade compensation for stability. If anything, Robert Half suggests, they'll bite the bullet while times are tough; if and when things improve, however, they won't hesitate to spring into action. More than one-third (37 percent) feel that their compensation is not commensurate with their workloads; many indicate that they've been asked to take on more work (as a consequence of budget cutbacks and job layoffs) without receiving an attendant increase in compensation.

Although Gen Y (or Millennial) employees will opt out of underpaying positions more rapidly than will employees from other generations, this isn't so much a reflection of generational difference as of economic reality: Gen Y employees tend to earn less than their more-established peers.

The lesson, Robert Half stresses, is to reach out to at-risk employees now by identifying post-recovery career paths that will appeal to strong performers.

"Many employees, particularly Gen Y professionals, are biding their time in their current employment situations and plan to make a move when they feel the economy is on firmer footing," said Brett Good, a district president with Robert Half International, in a prepared release. "Now is the time for employers to take action and outline career paths within their company for strong performers."

Across all generations, preferences associated with stability (e.g., job security, a company's financial security) trumped other popular preferences, such as a faster commute or a desire to work for a "socially responsible" company.

IT pros of every generation likewise listed salary, benefits, and company stability as the three most important employment criteria. Similarly, Millennials, Gen X-ers, and Baby Boomers alike expressed a preference for a quartet of popular benefits: improved health-care coverage and/or dental coverage, expanded vacation time, and better 401(k) matching.

Similarities abound -- but so do differences. Millennials are much more likely than Baby Boomers -- and significantly more likely than Gen X-ers, for that matter -- to seek out newer, more attractive post-recovery jobs. 36 percent of Millennials say that they plan to look for new job opportunities, compared to just 24 percent of Baby Boomers and 30 percent of Gen X-ers.

Conversely, Gen X-ers were most likely to seek to enhance their skill sets (cited by 38 percent of Gen X respondents) as well as "build tenure" with their employers (cited by 33 percent) once the economy rights itself. In addition more Gen X-ers than Baby Boomers worked to increase their retirement savings during the economic downturn: more than one-third (34 percent) of Gen X respondents said that they'd boosted their retirement savings, compared to just over a quarter (27 percent) of Baby Boomers.

More than half (54 percent) of Baby Boomers expect to work past their retirement age compared to 46 percent of Gen X-ers and 39 percent of Millennials. Perhaps not surprisingly, Baby Boomers were also more likely to cite a perceived generation gap -- e.g., different attitudes with respect to work ethic or a life/work balance -- than were Gen X or Gen Y employees. More than half (54 percent) of Baby Boomers cited lifestyle differences, compared to 45 percent of Gen X IT pros and 35 percent of Gen Y-ers.

Conversely, Gen Y professionals tend to attribute cross-generational difficulties to communications problems (cited by 29 percent of Gen Y-ers) than were Gen X or Baby Boomer respondents (cited by 16 percent of respondents in both groups).

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.