iGen at Work: Understanding Risk-Taking, Motivation and More Across Generations
Wednesdays with Woodward webinar
February 10, 2021
In this session of the Wednesdays with Woodward webinar series, Dr. Jean M. Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, joined the conversation to discuss generational differences in the workplace, focusing on a group she calls “iGen.” Born between 1995 and 2012, iGen is the first generation to spend their entire adolescence in the age of the smartphone.
- iGen (born 1995-2012)
- Millennial (born 1980-1994)
- Generation X (born 1965-1979)
- Baby Boomer (born 1946-1964)
Millennials and iGen
Millennials tend to be known as confident, optimistic, having high expectations and willing to take risks, Dr. Twenge shared. She described the culture of the 2000s, which set the backdrop for many in this generation, as one of optimism and even overconfidence, recalling television shows that flaunted wealth and even a rise in plastic surgery. “What was really going on in the culture was individualism and a cultural system that placed more focus on the self,” she said.
She shared that iGen, by comparison, tends to be less confident and more risk averse than their millennial predecessors. They grew up in a time when parents and society placed a high value on safety, especially for children, she said. iGen also grew up against a backdrop of income inequality, and they worry about being able to “make it,” even when the economy is strong. “They've heard since they were very young that you either ‘make it’ or you don't.”
In addition, she pointed to the impact of social media. The fun that millennials found on those platforms was viewed as mandatory by iGen, setting crippling expectations and contributing to a feeling of disconnectedness, she said. “Everybody else’s life looks much more glamourous on Instagram than ours.”
iGen in the workplace
Digging into her research, Dr. Twenge detailed practical applications for employers and managers.
- Taking risks: As part of their risk aversion, Dr. Twenge finds that iGen is more likely to want a defined career path and less likely than previous generations to want to own their own business. “It’s a riskier move, and iGen is not as interested in that,” she said.
- Finding the right fit: According to Dr. Twenge, iGen places a high value on work-life balance and does not see their work as the center of their lives. They also care more about having a good job and helping others than working in a specific industry or in an interesting job.
- Making a contribution: That said, iGen wants to make real contributions at work. “That can be hard in organizations where things have always been done a certain way,” she said, acknowledging that while change is not always possible, listening to new ideas could ultimately benefit organizations.
- Leadership style: iGen has also come to appreciate more casual, democratic leadership rather than a traditional top-down style, according to Dr. Twenge. “That has really come into fashion in business in the last 10 years or so, and I think that will continue,” she said, giving an example of 360 reviews, where employees also review their managers.
- Career advancement: Twenge emphasized that mentorship is important for this generation, noting they have a close relationship with their parents and are comfortable getting advice from people who are more experienced than they are. In addition, she shared that iGen starts thinking about promotions and career-building opportunities sooner.
- Making friends at work: When employers think about offering social perks or bonding experiences, Dr. Twenge cautioned that making friends at work is much less important for both millennials and iGen compared to previous generations. “It’s just not as much of a focus now, maybe because of social media helping people keep up with friends from high school, college and elsewhere.”
- Reassurance and feedback: Finally, Dr. Twenge also provided this advice: whereas millennials needed praise, iGen needs reassurance. Phrases like, “I want you to be successful” are well received, she said. This group expects frequent feedback, meaning “an annual review feels like forever.”
In closing, Dr. Twenge posed the question of how much the world will change for iGen versus iGen adapting to the world around them.
“Sometimes we have to give this generation what they need rather than what they want, but sometimes we can find the solutions that are what this generation wants and that are good for the organization in the long run,” she said. “Organizations that can find that balance will be the most successful now and in the future.”
Presented by the Travelers Institute, National Association of Colleges and Employers and the Young Risk Professionals