4 generations at work: Keys to keeping the peace

Soft SkillsMuch is made of the generation gap – gaps really – and how they impact communication at work, and ultimately morale.

But at the end of the day, people really are just people, right? I mean, are we making too much of it?

Perhaps not, the experts tell us.

Today’s workplace is more diverse than ever with differing genders, sexual orientation, nationalities, political ideologies, religious backgrounds, you pick one.

4 generations at work

Along with that, this is the first time that four distinct generations, each with their own very different characteristics, are working side-by-side.

We do want to be very careful here not to stereotype. Still, it’s useful for managers to be aware of some of the general characteristics of the different generations.

Freud (am I dating myself here with Freud?) tells us people make sense of the world around them in accordance with the world that they see themselves in.

I Dare You
So clearly then, these four generations do have their own expectations of their employers, their co-workers and themselves when it comes to work/life balance, motivations, rewards, punishments and what it means to be fulfilled.

Traditionalists are those born prior to 1946. Some never left work, others retired and returned after realizing they need more money to live out their extended lives.

In recent surveys, traditionalists rate recognition as their most important value at work. The personal touch matters to them. They’ve seen a lot and done a lot. They’ve compiled a life of successes small and  large. They want to know others value that.

Boomers are the 1946 to 1964 folks. Achievement-oriented, trained by traditionalist parents, and know for their loyalty to both their profession first, employer second. A traditionalist might have said, “I work for GE .” A boomer might say, “I’m an engineer at GE.” They were the first generation to value a family friendly work environment, and they are motivated by growth opportunities.

Generation X is the 1965 to 1980 crowd now flowing into the supervisory ranks. Traditionalists hate that Gen-Xers often don’t respect their elders.

Surveys confirm their top three desires are positive peer relationships, interesting work and continuous opportunities to learn. They are motivated by independence, and struggle to realize the people they supervise often need closer supervision.

Millennials, or Generation Y, were born after 1980 are fickle (they need two terms to describe them) and tech-savy as a birthright. They have far more confidence in themselves than is warranted and don’t like to stay long in any one assignment. They do best with short-term goals and deadlines. They want to make an impact right away and can be impatient, which can make it challenging to manage.

So what does all this mean to leadership?

Here are the top four ways to communicate your messages so they are heard clearly and unequivocally by all age groups.

  • It important that communication gets to everyone, so use multiple formats: written documents, bulletin boards, email, tweets, instant messages, intranets, podcasts and every other medium available that your people have a tendency to prefer.
  • Treat all employees with respect. It’s far too easy for managers to unwittingly send subtle messages that certain age groups are more important than others. To avoid it, remember face-to-face is still the best. Get up and walk over there. Though not always practical, your older employees crave it. Younger folks learn to like it, too. Avoid emailing a positive message you could have delivered personally, with triple impact!
  • Encourage interaction between all age groups. Healthy interaction across all lines prevents unintended miscommunication and misunderstandings that can blow up into discrimination or harassment charges.
  • Appeal to the commonalities. While the differences between the characteristics of the generations are real, they are dwarfed by the commonalities between all employees – and people. Everyone is motivated by doing the right thing, being perceived as important and critical to the operation, and needing to be in the know.

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