In today’s workplace there are often four generations represented. Each one has its own values, preferences, and working styles that reflect the influence of the events and culture which they experienced during the time in which they grew up. One of the greatest challenges that managers and employees have today is coping with what is called “the clash of the generations” and how to bridge that gap.
As the nation’s work force continues to age the notion that a 30-year-old and 65-year-old can work well together is one that’s going to have to be developed. Both the young and the old are going to have to think much less about age differences and much more about what each can contribute.
As we are seeing more seniors, on top of fewer young people, this situation is causing a labour crunch as well as a seismic change for the workplace in everything from labour laws, employee relations, and company policies. This issue could also prompt a rethinking of the very definition of what is an appropriate retirement age. In fact many Baby Boomers are continuing to work long past the “accepted” retirement age, either because financially they need to, or because they just enjoy their work and do not want to give it up. This can cause problems for the ensuing generations as it means that many positions are not opening up as expected so job availability is more limited for younger generations. This is another factor that can cause friction.
When the generations do not understand how the others think and behave, it can cause divisiveness, conflict, and ultimately a reduction in successful business outcomes. Many people fail to realize that those very differences can actually be leveraged as strengths to draw upon when they are all working together on a team.
To adopt this perspective, individuals must be willing to see beyond the “accepted” stereotypes, recognize the role that history played in the development of the attitudes and work ethic of each generation, identify the positives of each group, and then leverage those skills and gifts for the achievement of the collaboratively developed goals and projects for the team.
For example, the multi-generational team will benefit from new and different problem solving approaches and perspectives, innovation and creativity, and a mix of strengths and skills from each cohort.
There are many strategies that can be employed which can result in strong teamwork, even if the team is composed of members who are 26, 36, 46, 56, and 66!
A generation is about a 15-20-year period.
Let’s look at the 4 generations……
A Veteran or Traditionalist, born before 1945, would most likely prefer to listen to music that was written during World War II or the fifties than songs by to Brittany Spears or Madonna. They likely still write letters to family, even if they now can use email. They may or may not have a cell phone.
This group was obviously greatly influenced by the Great Depression and World War II. They partnered with institutions to build our country and grow the economic boom that followed WWII. They tend to be very patriotic and loyal; and a have long-term commitment to the organizations to which they belong. This generation has a very strong work ethic, they believe in “duty before pleasure,” respect authority, and are dedicated to the success of the organization where they work. Finally, they are good team players, carry their weight, and don’t let others down.
A Baby Boomer, born from 1946-1964, would prefer to watch television than be on an online chat room late at night. They like music from the sixties and although they have likely learned to use a computer and have a cell phone, they probably learned to type on a typewriter in high school….a device that most Gen Y are would never have seen.
As they were born during the economic growth after World War II they have strong work ethic; are prepared to put in long hours; are results driven. They believe in “paying your dues” and making sacrifices for promised rewards; however, they now realize that “loyalty is dead.” This cohort likes to follow the rules and a traditional career path. They accept authority figures, prefer to follow strong leaders, and actually enjoy leadership roles. In addition, they believe they can make things better, are optimistic and idealistic, as well as change masters. This cohort is very competitive, they want to shine! They are seasoned with much experience and knowledge and enjoy being recognized for their wisdom. They definitely care about social equality, involvement, and service. This group had to adjust to technology as it became popular later in their lives. They tend to like luxurious living: such as regular vacations, second homes, and other expensive items. They will likely re-invent the concept of retirement as they plan on working in some manner after retirement age. Finally, they are interested in a healthy lifestyle, wellness, and spirituality and are involved in social issues and volunteer work.
A GenXer, born from 1965- 1980, is probably quite skeptical about organizations, but trusts him/herself since he/she most likely was a latchkey child and had to learn to be independent. This cohort also likely learned to type on a typewriter in high school, but are computer savvy and use their cell phones with comfort.
This cohort has seen lots of scandals in business, government, and the stock market during their generation. They learn quickly and are eager to put that learning into action. They want a good work/life balance and lots of flexibility. They believe in work to live vs. live to work but don’t define selves by their jobs and regularly assess career progress. They do not rely on their organization to take of them, rather they trust themselves and are somewhat skeptical of many situations. They like to have autonomy at work, but do invite honest feedback. This group embraces diversity, good working relationships, and are not afraid of change. They prefer informality in team work and in dress code. They are tech savvy, don’t expect job or pension security and are actually prepared to leave a job if their needs are not being met. They value exciting experiences, opportunities, challenges, financial rewards, and self-empowerment. They are innovative, creative, fun-loving, and entrepreneurial. Finally, they enjoy multi-tasking and multiple work assignments.
A GenYer or Millennial, born1980-1998, would probably be on his/her cell phone or computer most of the day, staying very connected with friends and family, but most likely wouldn’t write and mail letters to those people. They likely could not imagine a world without the internet and all the technology available to them today. This generation has witnessed many terrorist attacks, therefore, generally feels that the world is unsafe. They place a very high value on self-fulfillment. They are very technically savvy with computers, cell phones, and iPods. They are excellent multi-taskers and have the capacity to learn quickly. This generation has a global perspective and value diversity. They are very pragmatic, realistic, well organized, confident, resilient, independent, and achievement oriented. They highly value a work/life balance and want flexibility in their jobs which allows them to keep their options open. They prefer informality in dress and other aspects of their lives. They are definitely good team players as they prefer to work collaboratively and enjoy learning from others. They often require a lot of support and supervision so are rather high maintenance. They expect their managers to be direct and fair in feedback and encouraging and supportive in their professional development. They like to have creative challenges, but prefer small goals with deadlines in order to have task ownership. They seem to change careers and jobs quickly, especially when they do not feel appreciated and supported. They are skeptical about loyalty. They are high performers and have a “speak-your-mind” approach to work, which seems to be why they sometimes challenge the status quo.
People in all the generations want and need to be respected, valued, and treated fairly and with dignity. They all want to have an opportunity to contribute to the organization. Finally they all want to belong and fit in.
It also requires making an effort to work inclusively and collaboratively. It means seeking out mentoring opportunities at work. It requires that you talk about these generational issues with your co-workers. Additionally, it means that you should be looking for what you can learn and gain from older and younger co-workers. It also requires you to be willing to sometimes give up control. It means that you should help each other out, especially during times of pressure and stress. It requires that you turn traditional roles upside down. It helps to use humour to those bridge gaps. Finally it is helpful to show your appreciation to each other.
In order for this generational gap to be overcome you need to look beyond your own perspective to understand the events, conditions, values, and behaviors that make each generation unique so you can bridge that generation gap.
If you are willing to open your mind to the great possibilities available when melding the 4 generations the high performance and great achievements of your team will be boundless. It just takes some patience, understanding and appreciation for the skills of each group to be leveraged to the advantage of the team’s outcomes. Learn to enjoy each other and appreciate what each group brings to the table!