Different Generations Interacting in the Workplace

The presence of many generations makes today's workplace a challenge.

The presence of many generations makes today's workplace a challenge.

With millennial workers, particularly as more women assume leadership roles in the workplace, companies of all sizes and industries are becoming more aware of the differences in how different generations view careers. While many older workers were raised to see their careers as a straight line to retirement, many of today's young professionals are rejecting traditional work structures.

Many Generations

People are living longer these days, which means they are also working longer. This often creates friction between older workers who see no reason to give up their positions and younger workers hungry to advance in their careers. Different generations also view the idea of work differently. A 2005 report by Fairleigh Dickinson University notes that while Baby Boomers, born between 1945 and 1965, view work as an adventure, Gen-Xers, born between 1965 and 1980, view work as obligation. And the youngest workers, Generation Y, view work as a means to an end.

Perceptions

Baby Boomers tend to view education and work as a birthright, and they are often open to direct interpersonal communication. Generation X workers often favor independence on the job. Members of Generation Y tend to view education as a major expense and career as something that will change. The latter's perception of work as a way to facilitate non-work life is often at odds with older workers' attitudes that success is based on dedication to the job.

Generational Attitudes

The Fairleigh Dickinson University report finds that different generations have very different views on work and career. The report finds that Baby Boomers often view work as competitive, and that success requires paying dues. Workers from Generation X tend to be informal, but cynical about the future. And workers from Generation Y value social interaction and fun in the workplace. This creates the need among managers to be sensitive to many generations at once.

Working Together

Workers from generations X and Y have grown up with -- and are extremely comfortable with -- mobile technology. This gives older workers the chance to learn new technologies from their young counterparts. Younger workers also tend to value work/life balance, which can be a valuable lesson for older workers too. Conversely, older workers can teach younger counterparts about the value of loyalty to companies and the importance of communicating in-person, rather than through mobile and wireless devices.

 

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