Values often collide when members of different generations work together. In today’s complex mix of generations, Traditionalists are found working with Boomers and Boomers working with Generation Xers. Trends toward later retirement means that Traditionalists are still working and Generation Xers are quickly moving into positions of power and influence where they are supervising and leading members of older generations.
Each generation has different work values, different perceptions of authority, and different views about what is important in life in general. This is often referred to as the generation gap.
Understanding the generation gap can make the workplace more productive.
Inter-generational training can help managers understand what makes their younger and older employees tick. Here are some tips to help managers manage the generation gap. These tips can help managers communicate with and motivate employees of a different generation than their own.
Today, the typical workplace population includes several generations. First, let’s look at the delineation of generations (which can vary slightly according to which resource you are getting it from), and some of their common characteristics:
- Traditionalists – Born prior to 1947
- Baby Boomers – Born 1947-1965
- Generation Xers – Born 1966 -1977
- Generation Y or Millenials – Born after 1977
About 90-95% of traditionalists have retired from the workforce, and they can be also referred to as the ‘silent generation’. They are commonly characterized as:
Hardworking: Raised by turn-of-the-century farmers, Traditionalists brought a strong work ethic into the factories of industrialized society. Traditionalists grew up during lean times and consider work a privilege. This generation believes you earn your own way through hard work. Traditionalists are willing put in long, grueling hours to get ahead in their careers.
Loyal: Traditionalists are civic-minded and loyal to their country and employer. Many Traditionalists worked for the same employer their entire life and are less likely (than younger generations) to change jobs to advance their careers.
Submissive: Raised in a paternalistic environment, Traditionalists were taught to respect authority. Traditionalists are good team players and generally don’t ruffle any feathers or initiate conflict in the workplace.
Tech-Challenged: As a whole, they are less technologically adept than the younger generations. Traditionalists may struggle to learn new technology and work processes.
Traditional: Traditionalists value traditional morals, safety and security as well as conformity, commitment and consistency. They prefer brick-and-mortar educational institutions and traditional lecture formats to online, web-based education. In the workplace, they favor conventional business models and a top-down chain of command.
2. Baby Boomers:
Predominately in their 40’s and 50’s, they are well-established in their careers and hold positions of power and authority. Here are some common Baby Boomer characteristics:
Work-Centric: Baby Boomers are extremely hardworking and motivated by position, perks and prestige. Baby Boomers relish long work weeks and define themselves by their professional accomplishments. Since they sacrificed a great deal to get where they are in their career, this workaholic generation believes that Generation X and Millenials should pay their dues and conform to a culture of overwork. Baby Boomers may criticize younger generations for a lack of work ethic and commitment to the workplace. This can be a point of contention in the workplace, and proper training of management and workplace values that support both generations can significantly reduce workplace conflict.
Independent: Baby Boomers are confident, independent and self-reliant. This generation grew up in an era of reform and believe they can change the world. They questioned established authority systems and challenged the status quo.
Goal-Oriented: With increased educational and financial opportunities than previous generations, Baby Boomers are achievement-oriented, dedicated and career-focused. They welcome exciting, challenging projects and strive to make a difference.
Competitive: Since Baby Boomers equate work and position with self-worth, they are quite competitive in the workplace. They are clever, resourceful and strive to win. Boomers believe in hierarchal structure and rankism and may have a hard time adjusting to workplace flexibility trends.
3. Generation X :
Generation X marks the period of birth decline after the baby boom and is significantly smaller than previous and succeeding generations. Members of Generation X are largely in their 30’s and early 40’s.
Individualistic: Generation X came of age in an era of two-income families, rising divorce rates and a faltering economy. Women were joining the workforce in large numbers, spawning an age of “latch-key” children. As a result, Generation X is independent, resourceful and self-sufficient. In the workplace, Generation X values freedom and responsibility, and may display disdain for authority and structured work hours.
Technologically Adept: The Generation X mentality reflects a shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. The first generation to grow up with computers, technology is woven into their lives.
Flexible: Many Gen Xers lived through tough economic times in the 1980s and saw their workaholic parents lose hard-earned positions. Thus, Generation X is less committed to one employer and more willing to change jobs to get ahead than previous generations. They adapt well to change and are tolerant of alternative lifestyles. Generation X is ambitious and eager to learn new skills but want to accomplish things on their own terms.
Value Work/Life Balance: Members of Generation X work to live rather than live to work. They appreciate fun in the workplace and espouse a work hard/play hard mentality. Generation X managers often incorporate humor and games into work activities.
Generation Y/ Millenials:
Born in the mid-1980’s and later, Generation Y professionals are in their 20s and are just entering the workforce. With numbers estimated as high as 70 million, Generation Y (also known as the Millennials) is the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce. Some common traits of Millenials include:
Tech-Savvy: Generation Y grew up with technology and rely on it to perform their jobs better. They are plugged in and social, which can be both a blessing and a curse for the workplace (depending on what policies, processes, and workplace culture you have surrounding technology use).
Family-Centric: The fast-track has lost much of its appeal for Generation Y who is willing to trade high pay for fewer hours, flexible schedules and a better work/life balance, and prioritize family over work.
Achievement-Oriented: Generation Y is confident, ambitious and achievement-oriented. They have high expectations of their employers, seek out new challenges and are not afraid to question authority. Generation Y wants meaningful work and a solid learning curve.
Team-Oriented: As children, Generation Y participated in team sports, play groups and other group activities. They value teamwork and seek the input and affirmation of others. Part of a no-person-left-behind generation, Generation Y is loyal, committed and wants to be included and involved.
Attention-Craving: Generation Y craves attention in the forms of feedback and guidance. They appreciate being kept in the loop and seek frequent praise and reassurance. Generation Y may benefit greatly from mentors who can help guide and develop their young careers.
So, how do you manage this clash in values?
- What total rewards systems do you have in place? Financial compensation is only one aspect of a rewards package.
- Do you allow benefits such as telework/job sharing? If no, what else could be offered in its place?
- Do you have any mentoring/inter-generational cross training programs?
- Do you have compassionate care leave policy? According to Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) executive director Sharon Baxter, “with the exponentially aging baby boomer population, compassionate care benefits are quickly becoming an essential aspect of organizational policy. Employees need the reassurance that they will be secure should they need to take a temporary leave to care for and support a gravely ill family member.”
- What accommodation strategies do you have in place for older workers?
- When was the last time these systems were analysed/evaluated?
- Are employees aware of all the company benefits that exist? Would some training refreshers benefit long-term employees and bring newer employees up to speed?
Now that you have done this evaluation, ensure that inter-generational workers can understand the others’ perspectives as well.
- What communication systems are in place for this to occur?
- Are there any team building exercises or training that would leverage each workers’ skills, to allow for mutual respect and understanding?