There has been much research and discussion around how work styles differ between the various generations currently active in our workforce. Organizational psychologists, as well as human resources experts, frequently demonstrate that inter-generational workforces can struggle, with everything from communication and soft skills to work ethic and values. These challenges need to be not only recognized but controlled in order to attain harmony and efficiency. This is exactly what is on display in Nancy Meyers’s new movie, The Intern, which proves that even though it might not feel natural, generational breadth in the office offers the chance to apply greater depths of knowledge and experience as well as extra energy and zest.
Each generation comes with contrasting stereotypes that we acknowledge exist. Let’s take a look below to see what those various generations are and what tends to make them distinct in the workplace.
Traditionalists (born before 1946)
- Believes firmly in “chain of command”
- Adherence to rules, discipline, hard work and trust
- Rewarded by satisfaction of a job well done
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
- Believes in “change of command”
- Believes in equal rights, involvement and personal gratification
- Rewarded by money and recognition
- Often out of touch with the technology of today
Gen X (born 1965 – 1980)
- Believes in “self-command”
- Believes in balance, diversity, lack of loyalty to an organization and a global mindset
- Rewarded by freedom
Millennials (born 1981-2000)
- The “me, me, me” generation
- Believes in achievement, fun, civic duty, sociability and self confidence
- Rewarded by a meaningful career
- Entitled to fast promotions whether through same or different companies
It is obvious that each generation is motivated by different beliefs, desires, skillset values, expectations and motivations. The question workplace leaders should be asking is: Are we using these stereotypes to our advantage, or simply joining the crowd as we roll our eyes and chalk it up to “that generation” causing you frustration? If it’s the latter, you may be assisting in the hindrance of productivity, limiting contributions and potentially demoralizing your team.
Once we are able to understand what the various differences are and agree that we should all be working together towards a common goal (even though each person may have a different approach as to how to reach this common goal), then we can move forward to create a game plan to make it happen. So, what are some simple ways we can promote harmony among the differing generations?
As Jamie Gutfreund, chief strategy officer for The Intelligence Group notes, as many as 86 million millennials will be in the workforce by 2020, representing a full 40% of the total working population. If you haven’t already, it’s time to take note of what makes millennials unique. Nearly 75% want flexible work schedules, not a rigid 8-5 shift. While not always the simplest adjustment to make it, it is a change that appeals both to millennials, as well as GenXers, who found it difficult to build successful careers while also pursuing parenthood, care for their own aging parents, and travel desires.
Communication is key when it comes to intergenerational harmony. The traditionalists like to have their value acknowledged, with appreciation expressed for a job well done. Baby boomers like to be looked to for their opinions. For Gen Xers, concise, results-oriented communication will typically get the job done. Millennials need regular communication and feedback, and they need to understand the reasons behind adjustments, and be a part of the planning and process design.
Many millennials are not as equipped as previous generations when it comes to some very essential areas of work, including writing skills. Businesses need strong writers for technical manuals, marketing documents, even basic client e-mails require a decent grasp of basic communication skills. We’re finding that millennials that can do this are in very short supply. Professionalism is another area of struggle. “They’re having a tough time getting into the professional world” says Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding. That said, millennials are significantly more prepared in areas that are imperative skillsets to have in today’s world, including being both globally-minded (they tend to be socially liberal and tolerant) and technologically savvy.
It’s also true that many young workers like to change jobs frequently. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. workers stay in one job an average of 4.6 years, and only 13% of millennials believe workers should keep a job for more than five years. This is a natural and understandable result of growing up in a time of unprecedented economic expansion, the dot com revolution, and rounds upon rounds of corporate downsizings. Millennials realize they’ll never work at one company for 40 years and retire with a gold watch. It’s not that they’re necessarily disloyal; they’re realistic. And, when they find a company that has adapted to the new realities of the workforce, they can and will stay.
People every day are questioning whether the age gap can be overcome. But while it’s a cliché, in a way, age really is just a number. We can all learn from one another and with one another. Every generation makes its mark on the world, and every generation is influenced by the world they grow up in, which will always be different. Employers should focus on appealing to a variety of generations simultaneously for long-term success. Remember: each generation is not worse, not better, just different.
Katrina Dietrich is the HR Consulting Manager at MCM CPAs & Advisor. Prior to joining MCM, Katrina developed a strong general HR background, gaining expertise in employee relations, recruitment, mentoring, training and development, in particular within the manufacturing and healthcare sectors.
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