Their Perceptions vs. Your Reality



Recently Pew Research Center reported on how Americans today view conflict along racial, class, generational, and geographic lines. One interesting, but unexplained, difference they found was the perceptions of younger vs. older adults on the level of conflict in the nation today on racial and age differences.

Millennials, those under age 35 in 2018, report significantly higher levels of conflict today related to race (73 percent) and age differences (46 percent), than older generations. If the reality is the same for all ages, why would Millennials perceive it worse off?

From what we know from our decades in the trends analysis business, a person’s reality depends entirely on his or her point of reference. Boomers experienced the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The Rodney King race riots of the early 1990s shaped perceptions of Gen Xers. Millennials only know about those events from history books. We suspect that the perspective of those experiences impacts how older generations perceive race relations today. The same can be said for how they perceive any old/young conflict.

Here’s why this matters: Leaders should be sensitive to perceived conflict, and leaders from older generations should recognize that their perceptions aren’t shared by workers from younger generations.

Millennial workers, the largest generation and the one shaping society and culture going forward, think race relations are a point of conflict in the nation. That means as a leader you need to be sensitive to it in the workplace. You may think racial conflict is not any worse off than in the 1960s or 1990s, but that’s not how younger people are seeing it. They think it’s bad and needs attention today.

Bridging the Gap

Fortunately, you can use this Pew report to your advantage to set your organization apart in the market, as well as help build stronger, more productive workforces. Even if your senior leaders or managers don’t see racial or age differences as a problem in the workplace, you should still invest in efforts to foster a more diverse and inclusive culture. Younger workers likely think it’s needed.

One way to bridge the gaps between workers is to look for ways to celebrate what makes a team similar, in addition to recognizing their differences.  Sure, the best programs start with teaching organizations how to value diverse ideas and benefit from inclusive policies. But then they help workers see similarities as well. For example, they create affinity groups that go beyond typical demographic breakdowns, in interest areas like entrepreneurship, gaming, parenting, foodie culture, and volunteerism. Connecting people through interests is the best way to dispel siloes.

An interesting team-building idea for larger organizations might be to replicate what a TV network did in Denmark recently. Take a look:

Leaders need to recognize that their own perceptions may not be aligned with those of the majority of their workers, especially if the workforce is considerably younger. Their perceptions are your reality. The best leaders can help their organizations win tomorrow by keeping their work culture aligned with modern culture, which is being shaped by Millennials.

The result will be a more productive, engaged workforce with people of different ages and backgrounds — all contributing to your bottom line.

Photo by Jerónimo Bernot on Unsplash