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Leadership

How To Use Your Boss's Generational Bias To Get A Raise (No Matter Your Own Age)

From baby boomers' fire metaphors to millennials' love of sharing, bridging the generation gap could help you get higher pay.

How To Use Your Boss's Generational Bias To Get A Raise (No Matter Your Own Age)
[Photo: Nick Dolding/Getty Images]

You want a raise. Do you deserve one? Of course you do. But your opinion doesn’t count; The challenge is to convince your boss.

In the simplest terms, your value to the company should be significantly greater than your pay. That's an easy concept to understand, but it can be a difficult thing to measure. Talent, high productivity, setting and achieving goals, being a helpful teammate, and predictable performance have always been valuable employee characteristics, and they always will be.

Yet in the past 20 years or so, what it means to be of "high value" to your company has taken on a remarkably generational tone. Can management expectations or, better stated, management "preferences" be tied to a manager’s generation? Absolutely. Odd but true.

In my years studying demographics and generational bias, I’ve learned a thing or two about the thought patterns different generations tend to cling to. So while generations are admittedly an imperfect way of understanding individuals' characteristics, social scientists have found that there may be a kernel of truth to the traits we popularly assign to the major generational blocs.

At any rate, unconscious bias is everywhere and unavoidable. So even if you're committed to not putting yourself or other people into boxes, I can promise this: Knowing your boss’s generational bias will help you prepare your argument for why you’re worth more.

The Baby Boomers: Burning Brightly

Born between 1946 and 1964, the Boomers remain significant influencers in today’s workplace. Their tenure and experience has led them to be, more often than not, the grantors of bonuses, promotions, and raises. They tend to "get" their colleagues—other boomers—and may sometimes struggle to make connections with the younger generations because, per the boomers, the younger generations don’t function in the workplace the same way the boomers did in their own career-building years.

When the boomers came of age in the workplace, it was all about hours and visibility: You arrived before the boss, and you stayed until after the boss left for the day. You had to be seen in order to be considered working. They did not draw attention to themselves. Nose to the grindstone. Back to the wheel. Being seen. Working hard.

There are a lot of characteristics boomers may seek out in their workplace stars, but this one may stand out the most: By and large, the boomers are a generation of consensus builders. They're thought to want buy-in from all team members all the time. And this is done with frequent meetings and frequent desk stop-ins and watercooler chats. They want your updates. They give you their updates. Their meetings use the expression "on the same page" at least a dozen times. It’s important that everyone comes to an agreement, and it’s important that everyone knows what each other is doing so they can offer advice and insights from their own experiences.

Boomer meetings, incidentally, also use heaps of fire-related metaphors:

  • Turn up the heat
  • Burn the candle at both ends
  • Burn the midnight oil
  • Put the skillet on the stove

And so on. Just when you thought you’ve heard them all, out comes another baby boomer hard-work fire metaphor. I collect them like philatelists collect stamps, and have never ceased to be amazed.

The case you make for your raise will be judged on many things, one of which is whether you partake in your office’s consensus-building efforts. Do you share information on what you’re doing? Do you offer your helpful thoughts and ideas?

Be ready to articulate how you do this: See yourself through your boss’s eyes and be ready to list examples. And know that, to a boomer, giving you a raise will also be used as a motivator for others in your workplace. Are you a good consensus-building role model for others to follow? Give some consideration to how the boomer will answer that question. This may take some late-night thought on your part. Be prepared to turn up the flame. (You should be nodding thoughtfully with a stern expression now.)

The Gen Xer: Less Is More

Generation X managers, born roughly between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, are generally imagined as being removed and distant. Doing the best they can for their team means leaving them alone to get the job done. They’ve greatly reduced or altogether eliminated meetings. They communicate primarily via email. They seldom walk their workplace to check in on people to see how they’re doing. When you need their help, they’ll jump up to help you, but they don’t seek engagement with their team like the boomers do. Gen X managers may be less interested in "being on the same page."

The latchkey kid gen Xer became somewhat self-sufficient at an early age. They entered the workplace and learned via trial and error. Making mistakes and fixing them taught the gen Xer critical information about their job and their role in their workplace.

Your message to your gen X manager needs to be along the lines of, "See how much I get done and how well I do it while leaving everyone alone to do their job?" Your approach is that you’re not dependent on him or her at all. You’re an independent contributor to your team. Not needy. Not seeking direction. Nor approval. Nor validation. You’re the Lone Ranger teammate: reliable. There in a pinch. But not needing time and attention.

The Millennial: Inclusive And Supportive

The millennial leader, born between the early 1980s and the 2000s, wants the team together, sharing, and supporting one another. They're thought to be mostly the opposite of gen X, but bear some resemblance to the consensus-building boomer. Doing the job well is important, but just as important is your willingness to share what you’re learning, how you’re executing on your work, and how supportive you are of your teammates who may need your help and a dose of your expertise. Sharing. Caring. Contributing. Supporting. Constantly learning. Raising the bar for yourself and your colleagues.

Raised from kindergarten to be seated facing one another around tables (rather than in neat rows), and by helicopter parents who scheduled playdates, millennials, many believe, have been herd animals since day one. They seek "a rising tide that raises all ships," and that means thorough engagement with each and every teammate. Your self-improvement matters most if you can share your new skills and what you’ve learned with the team.

Approaching your millennial boss for a raise is about how you’re making yourself and the team around you better. How you’re helping everyone. You’re not a loner. You’re not aloof. You have a personal connection with each of your teammates, and your engagement with them makes you a stronger, more crucial member of the organization. Your inclusive attitude has made you indispensable to your colleagues.

It’s normal to assume that your boss should value the same leadership principles that you value, but that's not necessarily the case. When you put in for your next raise, consider your boss’s generation and whether the characteristics illustrated here reflect any of your boss’s workplace preferences. Of course, they might not. These generational traits straddle the realms of stereotype and demographic predisposition, but they may still be useful guideposts for your cause.

But if your boss does seem to fit into one of those clusters, try using these tactics articulate the gap between your value and your pay. Shape your argument based on their biases, not your own. And go forth with a plan. Because no matter what generation you’re from, you’ll never get anything without asking.

Cam Marston is the president of Generational Insights, a consultancy focusing on demographic trends and generational bias. Generational Insights offers half-day training programs, keynote presentations, research and sales support.

related video: do you know the best way to ask for a raise?

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