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  • Writer's pictureWanda Wallace

Generations at Work with Ryan Jenkins

By Dr. Wanda Wallace

Ryan Jenkins

Managing multiple generations frustrates many of the leaders I speak with. The cause arises from both the perceived differences in expectations of an employer across generations and the sheer number of millennials. To discuss what we need to know about Millennials and Generation Z in order to work well with them as Generation X or Baby Boomers, I turned to Ryan Jenkins, an expert on Millennials (See

Ryan is a speaker, consultant and author of The Millennial Manual: The Complete How To Guide to Manage, Develop and Engage Millennials at Work. My complete interview with Ryan can be found here:


  1. Baby boomers are aged from about 51 to 71

  2. Generation X are ages 37-52.

  3. Millennials are ages 20-36.

  4. Generation Z consists of young high school graduate, aged 20 and younger, entering the workforce now.

Change Agents

“Millennials are a critical mass of change agents,” says Ryan, particularly as they came of age with two game changing elements – technology and the internet. Both are the greatest of equalizers and the greatest of disrupters. Because millennials have always been able to contribute through technology and the internet, they expect to contribute from the first day at work based on knowledge that they might find on the internet or with the aid of a mobile application. People from all walks of life and at all levels have been accessible to them through the internet; thus, millennials expect to be able to access anyone in the company regardless of hierarchy.

“Empowered Not Entitled”

Many managers I talk to say they feel millennials have a sense of entitlement. “I would replace the word entitled with the word ‘empowered’,” says Ryan. They are used to having information or access to whatever they need at their fingertips. This empowerment has created a generation that doesn’t see parents, teachers, managers as authority. They see facts – readily searchable online – as the authority.

Being an Employee versus an Entrepreneur

Another somewhat unique opportunity for millennials involves the ease of being an entrepreneur. You can start a business today in a couple of days with almost no money – just good ideas. For millennials, every job they hold is competing with their real desire to be an entrepreneur. As a result, Ryan sees “energy leaks” as millennials engage in a “side hustle” or part-time entrepreneurial business.

Constant Feedback Not Just Affirmation

Gen X and Baby Boomers managers have noted the millennial the need for positive feedback. What millennials really want, according to Ryan, is regular feedback delivered in real time. They want this information to improve their performance. They don’t want to wait for mid-year performance evaluation to find out what they did wrong five months ago, they want to know immediately so they can improve. This creates pressure on managers, who millennials see as a coach not as an authority.

“Millennials are looking for a manager to be a guide on the side, not a sage on a stage,” says Ryan. The good news for managers is that technology has come to the rescue as a number of mobile apps offer the ability for millennials to perform self-reviews and ask co-workers for feedback. Some companies including GE and AT&T have taken this trend seriously and have adapted their review process to meet the needs of this generation, increasing engagement.

Two tools for self reviews are and Ryan also references a learning platform for millennials to gain additional soft skills.

Communication Modes

As with many things, generations differ in their preferred means of communication. While Baby Boomers prefer phone or face to face conversations, younger generations are more comfortable with text, for example. “Don’t bother leaving a voice mail for a millennial,” Ryan says. They won’t have even set up voice mail and they will never listen to your message, just like they have never listened to the other 100 voice mails on their phone. Ryan says the answer, however, is pretty straightforward: simply use the method of communication the recipient is most comfortable with when needing to discuss something sensitive or important.

Gen Z

Having seen the enormous debt many millennials and Gen Xers have amassed going to university, many high school graduates today are choosing to go straight into the workforce. They are more realistic rather than optimistic. They favor on-demand learning such as YouTube tutorials and find getting along with millennials easier than getting along with older generations. Like Millennials, they demand to be engaged in their work or they will leave it.

“They will seek employers who will offer more robust on the job training,” says Ryan.

To keep great employees, companies have to create organizations where people want, not need, to show up for work. With Gen Z and millennials, they will be on their phone finding a new job before lunch if they feel unengaged.


G.I. Generation: ~1900-1927 Age Range as of 2017: 90 and over

Alternate Names: The Greatest Generation

Shaped By: Great Depression, World Wars

Traits: Hard-working, Patriotism, Respect Authority, Conservative Savers

Silent Generation: ~1928-1945 Age Range as of 2017: ~72-89 Alternate Names: Builders, Traditionalists, Lucky Few, Post-war Cohort Shaped By: World War II, Vietnam War, Korean War

Traits: Veterans, Conformists, Loyal, Follow Rules, Non-protestors

Baby Boomers: ~1946-1964 Age Range as of 2017: ~53-71

Alternate Names: Me Generation, Generation Jones

Shaped By: Woodstock, Civil Rights, Economic Prosperity, Kennedy Assassination, Rock ’n’ Roll

Traits: Driven, Question Authority, Optimistic, Efficient, Team Player, “Great Consumers”

Generation X: ~1965-1980

Age Range as of 2017: ~37-52

Alternate Names: Baby Busters, Gen Bust, The Lost Generation, Latchkey Generation Shaped By: Watergate, Layoffs, Family Instability, Challenger Explosion, MTV

Traits: Latch-key Kids, Self-reliant, Skeptical, Independent

Millennials: ~1981-1997

Age Range as of 2017: ~20-36

Alternate Names: Generation Y, Echo Boomers, Generation Me Shaped By: 9/11, Columbine, Y2K, Internet, Great Recession, Technology

Traits: Ask Why, Creative, Optimistic, Collaborative, Entrepreneurial

Generation Z: ~1998-?

Age Range as of 2017: 19 and younger

Alternate Names: iGen, Centennials, Globals, Homelanders, Post-Millennials, Founders Shaped By: Terrorism, Mobile Technology, Social Media, Cyber Bullying

Traits: Pragmatic, Cautious, Tech Dependent, Individualistic


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