When you come to work each day, you may be greeted by a Millennial born between 1977 and 1997 with a tattoo on her wrist and a diamond stud in her nose, while you report to a workaholic baby boomer in a designer suit. The man in the next office has white hair and age-spotted hands while the one across the hall has teenage children. Each of those individuals brings a different perspective to the workplace.
In a nutshell, the stereotypes of each generation are just that – stereotypes. The most elderly employees, or Silent Generation, lived through WWII and Korea; they generally play by the rules and are conservative. Baby Boomers were born during and just after WWII; they are usually willing to work long hours and like clear goals. Gen-Xers, born after 1965, tend to be independent and value work-life balance. Millennials, the youngest group of workers, aged 35 or younger, are often multitasking techno-geeks who always have a finger on an electronic gadget of some sort. Although stereotypes can be helpful in illustrating the generations, each person is still an individual who can differ considerably from the stereotype.
Communication styles may vary between the generations, simply because Millennials have tools that didn’t exist for older generations. A Silent worker is much less likely to communicate via text messages because she came to maturity when the telephone was becoming the norm. A Boomer may have a foot in each camp, and will use texting while preferring the telephone. Gen-Xers and Millenials may consider texting the norm, even if they work a few feet away from one another. As you work with people you will begin to identify their preferences – if you’re not sure, ask them. You might be surprised when your older colleague asks you to send her a text -- or the recent college grad in the cubicle next door asks for a face-to-face meeting.
Supporting All Generations
In a supportive environment, each generation brings its unique strengths to the table to benefit of the entire organization. This sort of cross-generational fertilization requires an adroit manager who recognizes the talents of each group and is skilled at helping them learn from each other. Meetings may be less about jumping into a particular project and more about conversations that bring out the knowledge and experience of each generation as it relates to the project before each member of the team is assigned her piece.
Generational differences can lead to conflict because of the different perspectives and work styles of each generation. A Silent or Boomer who always works long hours may feel the “younger generation” isn’t committed to the job, because Millennials often prefer to work hard, get the task completed, and then get some downtime before leaping into the next step. To reduce conflict, each must learn to value the accomplishments of the team and focus on the goals rather than the work hours.
Complexity has its Benefits
A multigenerational workplace increases the complexity of managing people and can present major challenges to the organization. For example, older workers may feel they are no longer valued due to an influx of Millennials or Gen-Xers. However, if you can keep all of your workers engaged, give each a voice, honor their contributions and promote innovation through diversity, you can develop a considerable business advantage -- and you might even have quite a bit of fun in the process.
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