Baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials and Gen Zers all have a lot to learn from each other, panelists from each generation agreed at the Inman Connect San Francisco conference on Thursday.
Baby boomer and Factory OS CEO Rick Holliday, Gen Xer and Realogy CEO John Peyton, millennial and Landed co-founder Jesse Vaughan and Gen Zer and Jamocha Media co-founder Mehak Vohra discussed the distinctive qualities of their respective generations and how those qualities collide in the workplace with moderator Clelia Peters.
“In my daily interactions, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about generational divides,” Vaughan, the millennial, said. “I truly believe what we’re building is built on the shoulders of generations who have come before me.”
Vohra, the youngest member of the panel, dropped out of college to start her career — a decision Peyton said was foreign to his experience as a college student in the late 1980s.
“Success for me at 22 years old was doing what my dad told me I should be doing,” Peyton said.
But generations with different formative experiences and worldviews found plenty of common ground. Millennials who are digital natives and Gen Zers whose entire lives have been spent around the internet have found that the internet has presented more opportunities and choices in their career paths.
“It makes it easier for us to go out and find new things, start companies, find our own path and not go to college,” Vohra said.
But some of the hallmarks of the internet era — startups that put their energy into making work fun and an element of their employees’ entire lives — are stale to Gen Z.
The flip side to that, Vohra said, is that she’s seen a lot of startups out there that put the culture first, before the actual work. And what ends up happening with a lot of those companies is that their workers put so much of their life into their work that they actually forget what life at home is like.
Older members of the workforce, including some millennials, however, don’t find those elements of startup culture totally useless just yet.
“We want to work on things that we feel like matter,” Vaughan said. “What currency we utilize to attract people and to bring them to this really intensive work environment is that what we do is consistent with their values.”
And from Peyton’s perspective, as a member of Gen X leading a company that’s part of a very traditional industry, those startup characteristics are still essential.
“We think we’ve got a really great business, we’ve got really strong brands, we love the real estate industry. But to attract the highest potential new employees in North Jersey near Manhattan, you’ve got to be relevant with everything, including your physical space, the services you offer, the hours you allow, where people get to work,” Peyton said. “That’s a new way of thinking for companies like ours who are run by people over 50 and 60.”
Peters, the moderator, made sure to clarify that the four panelists weren’t speaking on behalf of their entire generations. And panelists said the commonalities between them in large part were thanks to a changing world and a changing workforce, rather than their dates of birth.
“My mother-in-law and my father-in-law are on their phones all day long, the same as my kids. The world has changed. The world that we live in today requires us to be connected,” Peyton said.
“What transcends what influences generations is if you’re going to work in the world today, you have to embrace the technology and the speed and the agility that’s required.”