Real Ghost Stories: Each Generation's Workplace Fear

As children, we all had very real, albeit irrational, fears. Maybe you feared the boogey man, the vampire in the dark that was more bloodthirsty Dracula than glittering Edward, the dolls that too closely resembled Chucky, or—in my case—that every storyline from Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? would come true.

When confronted by our childhood nightmares, we hid under the covers or turned to mom and dad for protection. Now that we’ve grown up and become working professionals, different fears have supplanted the old ones—and in most cases, we can't turn to our parents for help.

Our list of fears might include worrying that we haven't saved enough for retirement, fretting that we're not moving up the career ladder fast enough, or that sinking feeling that burnout will get us in the end. Unlike those childhood monsters under the bed, these fears are very rational and very real, and if we don't protect ourselves against them, they can have equally real consequences.

Though financial concerns almost always top the list of generational worries, there are some workplace fears that are distinct to each generation.

We'll look at each of those generational fears and offer a soothing lullaby/garlic/defense spell to remedy the worry and hopefully help put some of those fears to bed.


The Boomer Fear
Boomers are the most experienced generation in today’s workforce, but other generations don’t necessarily view them as supreme experts to learn from. Too often, we speak to Boomers who feel obsolete and throw around jokes of being “ancient,” a “dinosaur,” etc. They worry that younger generations are waiting for them to retire, step-aside, git-outta-the-way. The truth is while, yes, Boomers have many years of work behind them, they still have a lot to contribute. A recent survey found that most Boomers view 63 as middle-aged, and far from old and greying. They’re not slowing down the progression of their careers, but they are feeling anxiety that other generations might be dismissing them as stale, outdated, and dried up.

Settling the fear

  • Traditionally, career development programs have been reserved for employees 40 and below. Why this age cap when Boomers are still thriving, hungry to grow their skills, and continue to want to make an impact in your organization? These program requirements shouldn't be cut off by age - 'cause for Boomers, age ain't nothin' but a number.
  • For the leaders and managers of Boomers—ask them to share their wisdom and institutional knowledge via mentorship opportunities. Encourage two-way sharing of information, so that Boomers can share their wealth of knowledge, but also receive something valuable in return. These reverse mentorship programs lead to cross-generational retention and happiness.


The Xer Fear
The hyper-independent generation of grown-up latchkey kids fear two elements of their working day: the micromanager boss who is like a creeping cat that you know is there but tries to hide itself, and a day of uninterrupted, back-to-back meetings. Never forget that Gen Xers value their independence (aka people leaving them alone to do solo work) more than any other generation. Sure, many of us would prefer fewer interruptions and less meetings, but for Gen Xers these two fears actively disengage them from their work. Wanna test this out? Just try telling an Xer colleague that you added five meetings to tomorrow's docket, then stand back and watch them shrink away in horror.

Settling the fear

  • Try to build in time for Gen Xers to have some solid independent working time. If a deadline is in two weeks, try your hardest to leave them be for most of that time to complete the task at hand with very limited check-ins. And don't forget the importance of working space! A open floor layout without flex rooms for quiet, independent work is basically an Xer's nightmare.
  • Opt for a “less is more” meetings mindset. Check out Kayak's benefits and perks (bottom right-hand side)—included in the list of perks is “no stupid meetings.” Adopt this motto, and listen as the Xers on your team sing Celebration and rejoice.


The Millennial Fear
What’s in a name? For Millennials, it's a source of really awful stereotypes, scorn, and derision. In case you haven't noticed, Millennials really dislike their given moniker. Sixty percent say they don’t identify with it, and that’s much higher than the comparison of 42% of Gen Xers and 31% of Boomers. Why the hatred? Simply put, "Millennials" is synonymous with: entitled, lazy, narcissistic, sensitive, impatient workers who are the-worst-generation-to-work-with-of-all-time-ever. Oh and also, they’re obsessed with craft beer and their parents. Entering any new working environment, Millennials are afraid that just by nature of the generation they belong to, they're going to be fighting an uphill battle against all the negative perceptions assigned to them before they've even opened their mouths.

In a recent BridgeWorks survey, we asked Millennials to talk about their fears. Unsurprisingly they mentioned financial insecurity and lack of career growth, but we were shocked at how many said something along the following:

“I just don’t want people to assume that they know who I am before actually getting to know me. I’m in my early 30s, I’m responsible, and I want career growth. I fear that being a ‘Millennial’ tarnishes my reputation.”

Settling the fear

  • While there's power in viewing Millennials as a collective, stop short of venturing into the land of harmful stereotypes. The media does much to poison our minds... but by taking the time to get to know the Millennials you work with, you're likely to find a much different story than the nightmare tale that's been woven.
  • Whatever you do, don’t say “Oh, you Millennials! You all fill in the blank .”