A 30,000ft Look at Generational Differences

We’ve seen many examples of the interesting interplay between Millennials and the older generations recently. A recent story about how Millennials aren’t interested in their parents (and grandparents) old stuff, for example. We’ve also discussed how conventional wisdom on millennials often fails to match reality. Much of what is said about them is pejorative in nature and borders on hyperbole.

But regardless of the trends that identify or slander each generation, one thing is inescapably true. At some point soon Baby Boomers will age out of the workforce.

A terrific example of how culture clashes exist in a pressure cooker workforce comes from Flying Magazine, where they look at how old airline captains don’t always see eye to eye with the Millennial pilots who are now reaching the flight decks of major airlines.

After a “lost decade” of bankruptcy, recession and career stagnation, the majors are suddenly hiring by the thousands — and we’re still on the leading edge of a massive wave of retirements.

This isn’t a situation unique to the airlines. Many industries have the problem of a coming wave of retirees, but many have not yet hired to replace them. Not only are companies having to deal with a gap between the Boomers and the Millennials, they are also facing the need for workforce transformation after several decades of not hiring much.

Today, the employee experience matters nearly as much as the customer experience. As the U.S. unemployment rate dips to 50 year lows, the reality is that organizations must pay attention to their employee’s experience. The alternative is a revolving employee door that has a direct impact on customers and the bottom line, never mind the millions invested in repeated onboarding and training. 

It’s critical that employers take the time to ensure their employee experience and corporate culture matches their brand and delivers on their promises for both their customers and the employees. In the case of the airlines, the most essential promise - a safe trip 30,000 feet above the ground - is paramount.

So while there are myriad demographic differences between the seasoned captains and their new first officers - everything from marital status, gender, ethnicity, political views, and military service - these differences are not leading to fights in the cockpit and unsafe skies.

The reality is that for all the demographic and ideological differences, airline pilots of every age and stripe have a great deal in common, not just in job description but in temperament and ethic. The boomer airline pilots are much more like the youngsters than they’d like to admit.