Talkin’ About My Generation

Lately everyone has been talking about the different generations in the workplace and everyone has an opinion about who is the worst group to work with. Like it or not, there are currently four generations working together and they don’t always see eye to eye.

How do you motivate people with conflicting ethics and/or work styles? What do you need to know to get everyone working toward the same goal?

Let’s start by defining the generations.  Keep in mind that dates may vary by source and for this purpose we will use the following:

Traditionalist- Born 1920’s -Mid 1940’s

Baby Boomers- Born Mid 1940’s – Mid 1960’s

Generation X- Born Mid 1960’s -Mid 1980’s

Millennial/Generation Y- Born Mid 1980’s – Mid 1990’s

Research shows that organizations with high levels of generational diversity have worse employee engagement and satisfaction scores than organizations where people fall into similar age categories.  Are we in trouble?

The group that seems to get the most flack is the Millennial group also known as Generation Y. In my business life, I enjoy the fresh-faced Millennials with their grand ideas and their tenacity, but not everyone does.

I set out to see if what research says about the challenges from generation to generation hold true in how the groups think about each other.  This is not scientific research but merely a recap of a focus group of people I have direct exposure to.  If you are one of those science people hold your thoughts and commentary until the end and I will note it!

The Millennials shared that the Generation X leaders they report to are: bitter, jaded, aloof, and unable to delegate tasks. The Generation X folks told me the Millennials were needy, demanding overly confident job hoppers who were entitled and incapable of a good work ethic. Interestingly enough, the Traditionalists had the same thoughts about Millennials but they added that kids today are too focused on social media and that they have a blatant disregard for corporate structure and hierarchy. A few of the Traditionalists mentioned Attention Deficit Disorder. The Baby Boomers had similar sentiments but added that kids today are so eager to rise to the top that they want a checklist and think they should be promoted once the boxes are all checked. All groups agreed on the technological expertise of the Millennial group.

What did the Millennials think of the other groups? They said Baby Boomers are rule bound, unable to innovate and limit themselves by being slow to adapt to social media. They mentioned that Traditionalists were rigid and incapable of changing their minds and were inaccessible as leaders.

Where did Gen X fall?  They were quite vocal about the Baby Boomers overstaying their careers; micro managing and liking Millennials better because of their technological expertise.  They felt “skipped over” and lost because the Boomers have to “die before I can be promoted”. The Gen X group said Millennials are antsy to move up and are often selected because of technological skill.  The Traditionalists and the Baby Boomers really did not have much to say in the exercise, they were more focused on making sure goals were met and work was done.

Take a moment to think about each generation and you will get a better understanding of where their thought process comes from.  Traditionalists grew up during the depression.  They saw the sacrifices that their parent’s made and watched the Government create jobs and programs for the poor and elderly.  They are patriotic and loyal.

Baby Boomers, on the other had different exposure. They grew up focused on self.  Some studies even dub them the “me” generation.  They grew up in the Birth Control Era and saw Women’s Liberation come to fruition. Many were anti establishment. Looking at them in the workplace we see them as having an identity that is aligned to their work.  Many are loyal workaholics.

Compare them to the Generation X folks who were the first generation to have less than their parents and know it. Many were latch key kids raised in single parent homes.  They were taught that education was the key to success and they were the first mobile/ technological generation (think Walkman and really big cell phones). They lived in an era where technology changed quickly and job loss was rampant. They learned to always be ready for the rug to be pulled out from under them. In the workplace they see how they can fit any job because they have ‘”transferable skills” (even if they don’t). They have challenges with loyalty because they saw their parent’s lose jobs after 20-30 years of employment.

The Millennials are 80 million plus.  This is the largest group since the Baby Boomers. They were using technology by age two and technology changed and grew along with them. They grew up surrounded by Diversity.  In fact by the 1990’s 25% of new immigrants to the US were under the age of 19. Millennial kids were raised by Helicopter parents who hovered over them, scheduled them to death and got them involved with volunteerism, environmental consciousness and corporate social responsibility. This group was raised to think they could do anything and everyone got a trophy no matter how badly they played. They don’t understand the concept of compartmentalizing work and home because technology has always been accessible.

Interestingly enough, my focus group matched the research pretty darn well, with one exception. I found that the Millennials did not like the “everybody wins” mentality and that they prefer to be the stand out amongst their peers, even in a collaborative setting.

To help understand how to manage each group, I have some bullet points  that explain the main focus of the work life attitude. Please note that these are generalizations and they do not necessarily apply to all people in every group.

Work Ethic

  • Traditionalists- Hard workers who like a structured environment and a defined corporate hierarchy
  • Baby Boomers-Workaholics who are focused on quality and hoard information to protect their roles
  • Generation X-Self reliant workers who value autonomy, hate micro managers and are generally skeptical
  • Millennial/Generation Y-Tenacious workers who are goal focused multi-taskers who find it hard to separate work from life

Management Style (As leaders)

  • Traditionalists- Directive
  • Baby Boomers-Democratic
  • Generation X- Equality across the board
  • Millennial/Generation Y-Collaborative

Interactive Style

  • Traditionalists-Prefer 1:1 meetings
  • Baby Boomers-Love team meetings
  • Generation X-Entrepreneurial style-treat it like it’s your own business
  • Millennial/Generation Y-Lets collaborate, we are all in this together

Preferred Method of Communication

  • Traditionalist- 1:1 meetings, formal memos, telephone calls
  • Baby Boomers-In person meetings whenever possible
  • Generation X -Direct communication whether in person or by email
  • Millennial/ Generation Y – IM or Text

Here are a few simple rules to create collaborative cross-generational teams

1. Understand the differences in work styles, motivations and the way each group prefers feedback. In fact, when you hire a new employee ask how they would like to receive unpleasant feedback.  When the time comes and they need to be coached, remind them that they told you they preferred feedback in the way you are delivering it.

2. Seek a balance between building on the traditional procedures and looking at flexibility as an option.  Remember, it’s the Traditionalist view that built business as we know it today, but it’s the Millennials that are changing the world as we know it now.

3. Support the value that the Boomers and Traditionalists bring to the table. Recognizing that they are solid contributors motivates them.

4. Entertain new ideas and innovative thought processes.  Allow some thinking outside the box and changes in technology where you can.

5. Give opportunities for collaboration and ask employees to commit to a goal.

6. If all of this is new and you are just beginning to incorporate these tidbits of understanding you may want to decide what your vision and mission for the change is. Once you do that, be sure to communicate it.  We will be talking about this in a blog post all its own.

Happy Leading!

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