Management Articles


Managing the Generation Mix in the Workplace - Tips to Manage the Generation Gap

By: Dale Mask

Dale Mask is the founder of Alliance Training and Consulting, Inc. He has given over 2500 seminars, workshops, and keynotes on Leadership, Management, and Human Resource topics throughout the US, Canada, and England.

Values often collide when members of different generations work together. In today's complex mix of generations, Traditionalists are found with Boomers and Boomers with Generation Xers. Trends toward later retirements mean 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. If managers are not prepared for these differences in values, it can create conflict, poor performance and low morale in the workplace.

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 them communicate with and motivate employees of a different generation than their own.

Today, the typical workplace population includes several generations. Although the specific birth year and name for each group may vary slightly from one authority to the next, here are generally accepted names and ages of today's workplace generations:

Traditionalists - Born prior to 1947

Baby Boomers - Born 1947-1965

Generation Xers - Born 1966-1977

Generation Y or Nexters - Born after 1978

Baby Boomers make up the largest percentage of the population according to U.S. Census statistics. Boomers are generally considered to be people currently between the ages of 42-60 (born between 1947-1965). When discussing this group, we can't forget the Traditionalists, the parents of the Baby Boomer. Traditionalists are the War Babies or the Veterans who are now older than 60. Then come the younger generations? The Generation Xers are people in the 30-41 age group (born between 1966-1977). And then we have our youngest employees, the Generation Y or Nexters. They are employees under 30 (born after 1978). They are the "cyber kids." They grew up using the Internet. To them, high-speed access to information is something that has just always been there.

Each generation has different work values.

Fundamental value differences exist between individuals of different generations. Understanding these values helps us understand differences that may arise in the workplace. When we understand the value system shared by generational groups then we can better understand their diverse beliefs and behaviors. We may not agree with the values of different generations, but we can strive to understand the mind-sets of different generations and how each group sees the world and the workplace

Just as it is important to recognize that many dimensions of diversity from race, sex, a culture that shape who we are and how we behave, we must also recognize values based on generations for improved understanding and communication in the work environment.

Research shows members of each generation have a tendency to exhibit similar characteristics. However, there are always expections and you should be careful not to stereotype employees based on these tendencies. But, let's look some basic workplace values of each generation group. Keeping the following points in mind can help you understand an individual's perspective and allow you more effectively manage their work and thier work environment.

Traditionalist Values:

Traditionalists' values are influenced by the experiences that often include the hardships of their parents and grandparents immigrating to a new country and making their way in a "new" land. The Traditionalist values are also impacted by experiences they had during the Great Depression and World War II both of which shape how they view the world.

Privacy - Don't expect members of this generation to share their inner thoughts.

Hard Work - They believe in paying their dues and are irritated when others are wasting their time. They often feel that their career identifies who they are. Trust - A traditionalist's word is his/her bond. Formality: This generation values formal dress and organizational structures.

Authority: Traditionalists have a great deal of respect for authority.

Social Order: Other generations may view this desire for social order and placement as bias, prejudice or even racism or sexism.

Things: This group loves their stuff and they won't get rid of it. Some would argue that they remember the depression days and you never know when you might need it.

Baby Boomer Values:

Baby Boomers represent the children of our World War II veterans. They did not go through economically hard times as their parents did. , they had the good life - the Traditionalists wanted them to have the best and as a result, the "Me" decade arrived.

Competition: Boomers value peer competition.

Change: Boomers thrive on possibilities and constant change.

Hard Work: Boomers started the "workaholic" trend. Where Traditionalists see hard work as the right thing to do, Boomers see it as a way to get to the next level of success.

Success: Boomers are committed to climbing the ladder of success. Teamwork: This group embraces a team based approach to business. They do not depend on the command and control style of the Traditionalist.

Anti Rules and Regulations: They were the "Hippies." They don't need to conform to the rules and they will challenge the system. Inclusion: This generation will accept people who will perform to their standards.

Fight for a Cause: While they don't seek out problems, if you give them a cause they will fight for it.

Generation Xer Values:

Generation Exers are both economically conservative, remembering double-digit inflation and the stress faced by their parents dealing with times of on and off unemployment. As a result, they do not rely on institutions for their long-term security like their predecessors did.

Entrepreneurship: Xers believe in investing in their own development rather than in their organization's. They are cautious about investing in relationships with employers because experience has shown that these relationships are not reliable.

Loyalty: To an Xer, loyalty may mean two-weeks notice. (If you want loyalty, get a dog, may be their attitude.)

Independence: Xers have clear goals and prefer managing their own time and solving their own problems rather by a supervisor.

Information: They want access to information and love plenty of it.

Feedback: This group needs lots of feedback and they use feedback to adapt to new situations.

Quality of Work-life: This generation will work hard but they would rather find quicker more efficient ways of working so that they have more free time. They work hard to move to move up the ladder, so that they can have more personal time for themselves and family.

Communication: Xers like quick "sound bites." Email is preferred over to long meetings and letters.

Generation Y (often called Nexters) Values:

Generation Y represents people who grew up during the high tech revolution. A world with high tech video games, ATMs and high-speed access is what their generation is used to. Providing frequent and systematic feedback in real time (as it happens) is critical when working with them.

Positive Reinforcement: This "cyber generation" values positive reinforcement at accelerated rates.

Autonomy: Nexters want more input into how they are doing and want to do it with a good deal of independence.

Positive Attitudes: Growing up during peace times, they have a very optimistic outlook on life in general.

Diversity: Through community and media coverage this group has grown up with more diversity than their predecessors.

Money: Generation Y is used to making and spending money.

Technology: Technology is their valued tool for multi-tasking.

Action: Generation Y like action, accept challenges and like the challenge of opportunity.

Managing the Generational Mix

How do we keep a group of employees with a diverse generational mix motivated in today's workplace? The first step to making the generational diversity work is to understand what motivates members of different generations. The second step is institute management techniques that are flexible enough to meet the needs of each generation.

Top business leaders recognize the changing demographics of the workplace affect morale and productivity. Many companies have incorporated an inter-generational training as a key component to their leadership development and management training programs. In these training sessions, participants experience how different generations react and interact with each other. The training focuses on opening the channels of communication, creating working environment to address the needs of incoming generations, and matching people and job responsibilities that challenge and motivate people appropriately.

We believe it is important to focus not only on what work needs to get done, but also on the values and work styles of the various generations who are doing the work.

© Copyright 2007, Dale Mask

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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