Cementing Generational Gaps

February 10, 2010

It’s inevitable…the workforce consists of multiple generations who are working together despite the difference in age group ideals. Today, in the new millennia we can see up to four completely different generations co-existing in the workplace to what it seems like in a civilised manner but in reality we are working in a strenuous environment. Conflict tends to arise between the different age groups due to a diverse way of thinking, provoked by the distinct era in which they were born in. “One of the biggest struggles companies have is with people who are not playing well in the sandbox,” says Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing for Yoh, an IT talent and outsourcing services firm.

Imagine what companies can accomplish if we have a broad understanding of the ‘generation factor’. Companies could therefore have the building material to create a corporate culture whereby the strengths of each generation can be fully utilized. Thus we are able to ensure and maintain productivity – constructing a winning team!

But first we have to understand the characteristics of each generation in order to manufacture the blocks of success. We have to discover WHO is determined in which generation class and WHAT makes each generation uniquely different?

The Silent Generation

People born during WWII (1930 to1945) are classically known as the silent generation or veterans as they bring a traditional, heroic attitude to work. This generation is practical, respectful and accustomed to hierarchical leadership. They are a reliable and steadfast presence, but somewhat uncomfortable with the wild blender of technology and age/gender/ethnic diversity in today’s workplace.

The Baby Boomers

Boomers born between the years of 1946 to1958 are typically driven and optimistic—and somewhat self-centered. They grew up the center of attention and enjoyed the progress of television, the Space Age, and modern suburbia. While they hold some of the Veterans’ duty-driven work habits, they were also the originators of collaborative work and consensus-based leadership. They’re cautiously pro-technology and interested in helping younger generations learn, but can be frustrated by what looks to them like a less ambitious approach to work.

Generation X

This group sprung between the years 1959 to 1979 and is influenced by sweeping social change and sandwiched between the optimism of the post-WWII generation and the complexity of a globalised world. Often children of divorce, they grew up self-reliant and not nearly as trusting as the Boomers. They have a tendency to be skeptical and anti-personal commitment, however, given work that is meaningful to them, colleagues they respect, and schedules with work-life balance, they are highly creative and productive.

Generation Y

People born within the years 1980 to present are known as generation Y or Millennials. This age group has lived with unprecedented economic prosperity and the optimistic influence of “make-the-world-a-better-place” Baby Boomers like Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey. Raised by parents determined to provide them the best life experiences, they are smart and sophisticated, yet keep very close ties to their parents. This generation only knows a world with DVDs, iPods, wireless access, multiple cell phone families and homework done over the web. After years in play groups and organized after-school activities, they are natural collaborators.

Authenticity, foresight, resilience and efficiency are some of the examples that define the history of employment. However, in the corporate environment we lack one key element that could navigate us into a productive lifestyle and that is – communication. Each generation brings in a different work ethic which is essential in the corporate environment. Nevertheless, older and younger generations are constantly bombarded with the stereotypical age difference which causes conflict due to a diverse generational living principle that underlines basic thinking. This conflict is the cause to the lack of communication within our work surroundings and the main setback to a company who cannot achieve their full potential. Co-workers need to understand that the difference in each of us helps brings clarity to our businesses.

“If employers don’t help break down communication barriers now, they will find themselves short of talented workers when they are really needed.” – Unknown author.

5 Tips Employers Can Implement to Narrow the Generational Communication Gap.
1. Be aware! Consider your workforce make up and needs over the next several years – even decades – including costs due to turnover. Do you have multiple generations currently… will you in the near future?  The remainder of the tips assume the answer is yes.
2. Be enlightening! Educate your employees, including your managers, regarding the differences amongst the generations, and show this as a strength. Diversity of thought and approach makes an organization stronger and more appealing to more people and to more customers. If we all thought the same way, we would never develop new ideas, embrace change, and move our organizations forward.
3. Be open! Talk about generational issues in a friendly environment. Let employees share their experiences and viewpoints in a safe atmosphere. It’s ok to have these differences – but you need to know how to manage them. Listen to all viewpoints and don’t just talk once – engage in frequent discussions about the topic.
4. Be a good example. Model respect and understanding from the top down. Create a flexible cultural environment. For example, if a Generation Y employee works from home on projects that do not require interaction with others, do not downplay the importance of the employee or that employee’s contribution to the project. If a 20 year employee had the flexibility to work from home, imagine how the 50 year old employees will feel? In fact, take the opportunity to highlight how contributions can be made from anywhere.
5. Be creative. Establish multiple incentive programs tailored to your company’s various generations. Toss out the idea that one benefit package fits all. For example, an employer may entice a Generation Y employee to increase customer satisfaction by rewarding the employee with free Internet access for a month after a specified number of customers complete an online (favourable) evaluation of the employee. Determine what employees want and reward them with it.

Reference:

  1. http://www.insightintodiversity.com/aarjobs/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=123:four-generations–one-workplace–can-we-all-work-together&catid=50:april-2009-issue&Itemid=109
  2. http://www.skillsportal.co.za/human_resource_management/091021-workplace-generation-gap-article-quotes.htm
  3. http://www.workinfo.com/free/Downloads/202.htm 
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