The first step in bridging the workplace generation gap is understanding that you have one and how extensive it is. By identifying your employees’ generations (no, don’t ask how old they are), you can take the first steps toward bringing your team together.
From Harvard Business Review to Inc Magazine, articles about “Generations in the Workplace” abound. Some say there are five and other say four. Date ranges and the names of each generation vary depending on which article you read. However, the one thing that is constant is the fact that there are generational differences in the workplace and they can impact the productivity and morale of your employees. Managers, team leaders, and even informal leaders need to be aware of the differences in these generations the same way they need to be sensitive to gender, cultural, racial, and ability differences, not only from a legal standpoint (I won’t be going there today), but to ensure their teams function optimally.
Traditionals (Also known as the GI Generation, Greatest Generation, and other names)
These are the folks whose formative years were in the early 1960’s and earlier. Their generation is known for a strong work ethic, dedication to the organization, patriotism, fiscal conservatism, and social conservatism. Though this generation makes up the smallest percentage of the overall workforce, they are still present in many organizations, as some continue to work well into their 80’s. They remain in the workforce for many reasons from financial to self fulfillment.
Baby Boomers (Also known as Boomers)
This huge generation was born during the post World War II troop return. Their formative years fell approximately between the mid 60’s to mid 70’s. They faced large classroom populations and were the first to have to really “compete” for positions on school teams and for employment. They are a competitive, hard-working generation that isn’t afraid to put in long hours. Working their way up the corporate ladder, achieving success, and being recognized for these efforts is important to them. They helped create the workplace hierarchies that are still in place in many large organizations today. Baby Boomers also like people to follow the “chain of command” and to respect their “rank.”
Generation X (Also known as Generation Me)
Generation X spent its formative years in the 80’s. They were often left to raise themselves as their Boomer parents worked long hours. This generation was a “latch key” generation. They didn’t have mom waiting for them with milk and cookies when they came home from school. Gen Xer’s saw their parents’ dedication to organizations rewarded with layoffs and lost pensions, so they’re generally distrustful of institutions. Gen X was also the first generation to experience widespread divorce. Their new home life and self-direction created a generation that is self-sufficient and self-focused. Their motto could be, “Look out for yourself, because no one else will!” Gen X is also the most entrepreneurial generation of all the generations. Their need for autonomy and independence has seen them create a more efficient, “flat,” creative, and open work environment.
Generation Y (Generation Next, Generation Tech, and Millennials)
This generation spent it’s formative years in the early 90’s. They are the first generation to grow up with much of today’s technology. They’ve never gotten up to change the channel on a television or “dialed” a telephone. Their younger Boomer and Gen X parents took a 180 degree change in direction with their child rearing by giving them a voice and building their self esteem to make up for the lack of attention they received from their own parents. As a result, the people of Gen Y feel free to give their opinions, are used to being treated like equals, and expect to be rewarded for their actions. They are confident and expect to be challenged at work. If they don’t get what they need, they’ll have no qualms about going elsewhere to find it, not matter how long (or short) their tenure with your organization.
Many people from older generations lump everyone younger than 30 under the Millennial heading, but this is a mistake. Generation Z is here! The oldest of this generation was about 5-years-old at the time of the 9/11 attacks. We all know that the world changed significantly then. There’s a definite BEFORE and AFTER. This generation really only remembers AFTER, so they have different values and needs than Generation Y. They’re more competitive, entrepreneurial, and independent. Gen Z has a strong need for “security,” and they are the first true generation of digital natives. They have no recollection of a world without smartphones, emojis, and free WiFi. However, even though they grew up in a tech-heavy world, they are more likely to seek out opportunities for face-to-face communication than their Millennial counterparts.
These are the five generations you’re working with today- whether on the job, or in community organizations. Based on what you’ve read so far, how do you think the generational differences outlined above impact your working relationships?
Now that you’ve met the generations in the workplace, be sure to read next week’s post where I’ll share specific steps for communicating across and bridging the generation gap between the generations where you work.